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Print view: Chris Matthews, repurposed, rails against Trump. But where did Trumpism come from?
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WHERE DID TRUMPISM COME FROM! Chris Matthews, repurposed, rails against Trump. But where did Trumpism come from? // link // print // previous // next //

Steve Benen’s Hannityism: We’ll start by copping to a mistake. We were off by a week in the matter of the high Lady Collins.

On April 8, we suggested it might be time for the lady to pay a visit to Mitt Romney’s dog. In an act of heroic self-abnegation, Lady Collins held off till last weekend. Last Saturday, she was discussing a Romney campaign book when, without warning, she struck:

COLLINS (4/16/11): The book is heavy into policy and rather sparse on personal history, except for the parts that relate to his dad being a successful businessman and Mitt himself being an entrepreneurial hero along the deal-making, business-closing, job-slashing private equity line. Romney’s earlier book, “Turnaround,” had some great stories about his Mormon ancestors, including a great-grandmother who single-handedly drove her children to Mexico in a covered wagon during the Indian wars. “At one point along the way, she came across freshly slaughtered U.S. Cavalry horses. She paused only long enough to pry the shoes from the wasted horses, re-shod her own wagon horses, and journey on,” he wrote. Truly, “No Apology” could use a whole lot more of Hannah Romney and a whole lot less about the causes of the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Also, there is not a single mention in “No Apology” of the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. I regard this as a critical oversight, although perhaps it was Seamus that Romney was thinking of when he chose his title.

By our count, that’s the eighteenth column in which the lady has discussed Mitt Willard’s roof-strapped dog.

In a rare bit of good news for the republic, some of Collins’ commenters are starting to complain about this serial nonsense. But others can’t get enough of the high lady’s shaggy-dog tale. Here was Collins tenth commenter, opining at two in the morning:

COMMENTER 10 (4/16/11): Thank you Gail. The dog-on-roof story never gets old. In fact, it gets funnier and funnier every time.

Remember this the next time Digby tells you how stupid the other side is. Maybe it’s just our vast tolerance!

Lady Collins simply can’t stop. But then, neither can Steve Benen, who treated us to more of his Creeping Hannityism in this absurdly deceptive post from last Saturday. Looking ahead to Sunday’s shows, Steve was complaining about the way the line-ups are egregiously dominated by The Other Tribe:

BENEN (4/16/11): We're accustomed to seeing Sunday show line-ups dominated by Republicans. A couple of months ago, the viewers saw two Republican senators, three Republican House members, three likely Republican presidential candidates—and zero Democrats from Congress or the Obama administration.

Tomorrow's guest lists aren't quite that egregious, but ABC's "This Week" will have a segment that's likely to stand out.

The headliner will be Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who certainly seems like a wise choice given the larger circumstances. But after him, host Christiane Amanpour will host a "Tea Party Panel." From ABC's press release:

“Then, after the first 100 days of the new Republican Congress, the Tea Party has changed the debate in Washington. But for them, was the historic budget deal to cut federal spending a victory or a failure? Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL), Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), and Rep. Allen West (R-FL), all members of the House Tea Party Caucus, come to This Week to debate the looming debt crisis, whether they will vote to stop raising the debt limit, and if they are prepared for the potential fallout. And as Donald Trump courts Tea Party supporters as he weighs a bid for the GOP presidential nomination, do they think he can win?”

Atrios joked yesterday that the House Progressive Caucus will surely "have their turn next week," knowing full well that this isn't going to happen.

In 2009 and 2010, Sunday show line-ups like these were common because of the abundance of far-right activism. In 2011, Sunday show line-ups like these are again common because there's a GOP majority in the House.

They were common for eight years because of the Bush/Cheney White House. They were common before that because of the Republican Congress.

I'm wondering what the circumstances might be that would tilt the scales in the other direction, but apparently they don't exist.

Sean Hannity has treated the rubes this way for roughly a thousand years.

Maybe Benen is just incompetent. Assuming he has minimal skill, that post is deeply dishonest. Reading that post, you might get the impression that Sunday talk line-ups have routinely been deeply unbalanced, extending back for many years. We're accustomed to seeing this crap, Benen boo-hoos as he starts.

In fact, there was nothing wrong with Amanpour’s line-up. Beyond that, there was nothing wrong with last Sunday’s line-ups generally. And Benen was misstating the facts and the context about that shattering Sunday from “a couple of months ago.” But then, he’s now done so at least times.

What is it like to be treated like rubes? Consider the following facts:

Last Sunday’s guest lists: You'll note that Benen didn't link to last Sunday’s guest lists. He said those guest lists “aren't quite that egregious” as compared to the earlier Sunday, when he said no Democrats had appeared. But in fact, there was nothing “egregious” about Sunday’s guest lists at all. None of the four major programs (excluding Fox) were tilted toward Republican or conservative guests, with the possible exception of CNN’s State of the Union. Meet the Press featured a solo segment with Obama official Tim Geithner and a balanced panel. Face the Nation featured one senator from each party. (On Fox News Sunday, the panel tilted right, as it always does—but the guest list did not.)

In truth, the guest lists weren’t “egregious” at all. Steve knew that; the rubes did not.

Amanpour’s guest list: To state the obvious, a program’s guest list doesn’t have to be “balanced” every week. But there was nothing unbalanced about Amanpour’s guest list last Sunday. First, she did a full segment with Geithner, who expressed the White House position on budget matters; then, she did a segment with those House Republicans. To conclude, she offered a reasonably balanced panel. Her questioning of the Republicans was woefully weak, but nothing was wrong with her scheduling.

Guest lists from recent decades: Benen seemed to imply that unbalanced guest lists—even egregiously unbalanced guest lists—have been the norm since before the last decade. But where was the evidence of that? On several occasions, Media Matters has conducted exhaustive studies of Sunday guest lists. Steve didn't cite any such studies—presumably because they wouldn’t support the grievance he described.

Those Sunday shows from a few months ago: This post represented at least the third time Benen has complained about the February 13 Sunday programs. Here as before, he writes that those programs featured “zero Democrats from Congress or the Obama administration” as opposed to eight Republicans. Depending on how you want to score it, that carefully nuanced statement might even be technically accurate. But in fact, OMB director Jacob Lew had a solo segment on State of the Union that day—and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat, was featured on Meet the Press. (He balanced a first-term Republican congressman on that program’s panel.) Presumably, this helps explain Steve's tortured construction about “zero Democrats from Congress or the Obama administration,” although Lew is a cabinet member. Even with these corrections, that day’s programs still featured eight Republicans—and only two Democrats. (Pundit panels were basically balanced.) But as she introduced one guest, Amanpour explained part of the reason:

AMANPOUR (2/13/11): Back here in Washington, as the Obama administration was keeping a close eye on the revolution in Egypt, the American Conservative Union held their annual CPAC conference. Potential Republican presidential contenders were critical of the President's foreign policy. One of them, Newt Gingrich, a man who led a revolution of his own in 1994 when Republicans took control of Congress, joins us now.

Three of the Republican guests had been interviewed at the CPAC conference. It isn’t unusual for Sunday shows to tilt one way or the other at such times. As we’ve noted, you can only discern a general imbalance by conducting a multi-week study, something Steve chose not to do.

Benen got the rubes quite riled with this pathetic post. Sean and Rush have always toyed with the rubes this way. You will note that Steve's irate commenters, like those who call El Rushbo, enjoy being mocked this way too.

Are we really “accustomed to seeing Sunday show line-ups dominated by Republicans?” That’s what Steve told the rubes last weekend—and the rubes really ate it up. But he presented no evidence that anything like that is the norm. Were last Sunday’s guest lists not quite that egregious? They weren’t egregious at all!

“Creeping Hannityism”—that’s what we call it. But then, we call it something else too. We call it deliberate deception, of the type our side claims to hate.

WHERE DID TRUMPISM COME FROM (permalink): The downward spiral of David Brooks continues to amaze.

This morning, Brooks devotes his whole column to Donald Trump. As his headline has it, he seeks to explain “Why Trump Soars.” Incredibly, Brooks ends his piece with words of affection for Trump. Before you review that cloying conclusion, please note the five words we’ve emboldened:

BROOKS (4/19/11): Now, I don’t mean to say that Donald Trump is going to be president or get close. There is, for example, his hyper-hyperbolism and opportunism standing in the way.

In 2009, Trump published a book with a very Trumpian title: “Think Like a Champion.” In that book, he praised Obama’s “amazing” and “phenomenal” accomplishments. “Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen — and in an exceptional way,” Trump gushed.

Now he spouts birther nonsense and calls Obama the worst president in American history. Now he leads rallies that make Michele Bachmann events look like the League of Women Voters. Even angry American voters want some level of seriousness, prudence and self-control.

But I do insist that Trump is no joke. He emerges from deep currents in our culture, and he is tapping into powerful sections of the national fantasy life. I would never vote for him, but I would never want to live in a country without people like him.

“Now he spouts birther nonsense.” In an entire column about Trump’s “surge toward the top of the…polls,” that represents Brooks’ only discussion of this noxious conduct.

“I would never want to live in a country without people like him,” Brooks says of Trump as he closes. Alas! Given the broken morals of his High Pundit Class—given our storebought Career Liberal Culture—there is very little chance that Brooks will ever have to!

How nonsensical has Trump’s birtherism been? It has been very nonsensical. Before we discuss the harm it does—before we discuss where this lunacy comes from—let’s scan the ludicrous type of conduct David Brooks wouldn’t want to live without.

How ludicrous has Trump’s conduct been? It has been inexpressibly ludicrous:

“Now,” Trump “calls Obama the worst president in American history,” Brooks sadly notes. But for Trump, this makes Obama the third “worst president ever” in just the last thirty years! This is the way this big dumb clown was talking just four years ago, to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

TRUMP (9/24/07): [President Bush has] been so bad that I think probably a Democrat has a huge advantage [in Campaign 08]. Now, crazy things happen in life, but a Democratic candidate, whoever wins [the nomination], is going to have a huge advantage because of Bush. People don't like him. People think he's been a horrible president, possibly the worst in the history of this country.

BLITZER: You believe that.

TRUMP: Oh, he's been a terrible president.

BLITZER: You think he's the worst in the history of the United States.

TRUMP: I don't think you can get much worse. Why? I mean, who's worse? Give me a couple of names. Who could be worse?

BLITZER: Well, because in the last interview we did in March, you said he was the worst.

Blitzer seemed to be exaggerating. As best we can tell, Trump only said that Bush was “probably the worst” in March 2007. But by September, he couldn’t think of any president who had ever been as bad as Bush. Last week, though, as he spoke with Sean Hannity, recovered memory flowed in:

TRUMP (4/14/11): [Obama has] been a horrible president. I always said the worst president was Jimmy Carter. Guess what? Jimmy Carter goes to second place. Barack Obama has been the worst president ever. The history of America—Barack Obama is number one.

Using Nexis, we can find no sign that Trump had ever called Carter the worst president before last week, although it’s always possible. But as of last week, Obama was the third president in the last thirty years to rank as “worst president ever!” Perhaps because he was speaking on Fox, Carter was now the worst before Obama—and Bush disappeared from the list.

That said, Trump’s ugly recent buffoonism has extended well past this meager example. It’s hard to believe, but when he spoke with Hannity last Friday (part 2 of their talk), he even descended to this:

HANNITY (4/15/11): He went to a Muslim school in Indonesia. He talks about studying the Koran. He talks about one of the most beautiful moments being, you know, prayer times at sunset.

TRUMP: Look, he was born Barry Soetero. Somewhere along the line, he changed his name.

Truly, that’s just stunning—and of course, it’s balls-out false. And then, continuing directly, this ugly man offered us more:

TRUMP: Look, he was born Barry Soetero, somewhere along the line, he changed his name. I heard he had terrible marks and he ends up in Harvard. He wrote a book that was better than Ernest Hemingway, but the second book was written by an average person.

HANNITY: You suspect Bill Ayers.

TRUMP: I said, Bill Ayers wrote the book.

HANNITY: Why do you think it's Bill Ayers?

TRUMP: Because everyone says he's a super genius and he was a great writer.


Bill Ayers was a super genius. And a lot of people have said he wrote the book. While recently, as you know last week, Bill Ayers came out and said he did write the book.

We’re sorry, but the book in question really wasn’t “better than Hemingway.” Beyond that, Bill Ayers is not a super-genius—and Ayers didn’t say that he wrote Obama’s book. Meanwhile, note the way Trump assembles his knowledge. He “heard” that Obama got bad grades. Beyond that, “a lot of people have said” that Ayers wrote that book.

To refer to this swill as political porn would be far too kind. How does this bottom-feeding harm the republic? Millions of gullible voters simply don’t know that Trump (and Hannity) are playing them for fools. They come to believe the things Trump is saying; this heightens their distrust of Obama. Beyond that, it heightens their distrust of any claims from the mainstream press, since the mainstream press is so plainly hiding the truth about Obama. And as millions of voters are turned into fools, millions of voters who read liberal blogs are, in turn, transformed into tribal haters. At sites like Digby’s, the word “they” is used with increasingly reckless abandon—even as we assure ourselves that we are the most tolerant people who ever drew breath on the earth.

Tribal war is thus ratcheted up by Donald Trump’s disgraceful behavior. The sheer stupidity of our culture is taken to the next level. And this morning, Davis Brooks, in a deeply disgraceful moment, tells us he wouldn’t want to live in a country without such men. He wouldn’t want to live in a country that isn’t driven by ugly delusions.

There’s little chance he’ll ever have to. By now, we all live in the country Mark Twain described in his comical portraits from the frontier—a world in which various touring buffoons mislead highly gullible people. In the current instance, Brooks cheers one of the vilest charlatans on—and the editorial board at the New York Times still won’t discuss Trump’s behavior. In such ways, our highest-ranking “journalists” agree to accept our remarkable, gong-show political culture—as they’ve done for a very long time.

In the case of the Times editorial board, they were there at this culture’s birth, as they themselves spread wild claims all around about Clinton and then about Gore. For ourselves, we remembered those wildest political days as we watched Chris Matthews, and two handsome stooges, during last evening’s Hardball.

By now, of course, Matthews has been repurposed; he supports the Democratic side, pimping in that direction. For that reason, he rails each night against Trump’s conduct. Last night, he invited a pair of acolytes to help him deride Trump’s conduct. Josh Marshall and David Corn knew just what they should say—and what they shouldn’t. (To watch the whole segment, click this.)

Warning! If you understand Matthews’ role in the culture of the Clinton-Gore years, what follows represents a truly remarkable discussion. And don’t worry: Marshall and Corn do understand the things Matthews did in those years:

MARSHALL (4/18/11): By some measure, [Trump] is the front-runner now for the Republican nomination. That doesn’t mean he’s likely to get it. But you know, that, that—that segment really shows you Donald Trump’s mentality, which is that the birther issue is a great product. And it is a great product. People love it.


I think the key is that, as you said, this is an issue that really divides the base of the Republican Party. And Donald Trump is in a position where the normal rules don’t apply to him. He’s in, you know, the Donald Trump alternative universe. And the thing is, he would never, ever be the nominee of the establishment of the Republican Party, to put it mildly.


MARSHALL: So he has to play that sort of anti-establishment position that, you know, Sarah Palin was playing, and she’s now falling to the side.

MATTHEWS: David, I think it’s one of those tests where you say to the people, “If you’re not willing to trash-talk Barack Obama, don’t talk to me. Because we hate him.”

CORN: Right.

MATTHEWS: So basically, that’s what the right are saying. “You got to say stupid things because that’s the price of admission to our clubhouse. If you`re not willing to say he’s a–he’s not an American, don’t talk to us.”

“What does Donald Trump care most about in life these days? It seems to be ratings, ratings, ratings,” Corn said. “And when he says people love this issue, that’s spoken like a true demagogue.”

As people of his low class always do, Matthews put the principal blame on the foolish and gullible voters, not on the craven and powerful leaders. (When he described “what the right are saying,” he was speaking about Republican voters.) Aside from that, we’d say that this exchange was highly accurate. But what made this exchange so remarkable? Just this: Especially during the twenty months of Campaign 2000, it was Matthews who lived “in an alternative universe” where “the normal rules didn’t apply.” It was Matthews who shaped a new journalistic culture in which “you had to say stupid things because that was the price of admission to our clubhouse.” For the twenty months of Campaign 2000, guests on Hardball knew the rules: “If you’re not willing to trash-talk Gore, don’t talk to me, because we hate him.” A few weeks after September 11, it even reached the point where Matthews was willing to go on the Imus show and say, “He’s not an American:”

MATTHEWS (11/2/01): He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even.

Incredibly, no—we aren’t making that up. And don’t worry: Marshall and Corn know this history. They know they mustn’t bring it up “because that’s the price of admission to our clubhouse.”

More disgracefully, they also knew they mustn’t challenge Matthews back in real time, when it might have mattered. As Matthews trashed Gore for two years, they kept their pretty traps shut, like all the other career players did.

Matthews insulted Gore for two years, in amazingly ugly ways. George Bush ended up in the White House.

Matthews helped create the ludicrous culture in which Trumpism thrives. Aside from Rush Limbaugh, we can think of no one who played a larger role in the invention of this culture during the Clinton-Gore years. Matthews’ motives were a bit different from Trump’s; presumably, Matthews was serving the interests of his owner, Jack Welch, who was in turn making him a rich man. But his insults were every bit as stupid and ugly as Trump’s—and they went on for two years.

Night after night, the insults rained as Josh and David—and Joan Walsh—kept their pretty traps shut. They didn’t do so because they were “tolerant.” They did so because they were on the make. Today, they’re cable stars.

To this day, liberal “leaders” won’t tell you.

It’s hard to find sufficient contempt for the players involved in this world. (We speak as folk who have always liked Corn, a good guy, a great deal.) For David Brooks, who wouldn’t want to live without Trump. For the New York Times editors, who are too craven to speak. For people like David and John and Joan—and for our tribal spear-carriers, who won’t sell out their friends.

Even in the face of this mess, your leaders hand you the pleasing lie—your only problem is you are too tolerant! Actually, the problem is different:

We regular liberals tend to be gullible, much like the other tribe. And we have been played again and again, by the folk who get sold as our leaders.

Chris Matthews, repurposed, now rails against Trump. But people, where did Trumpism come from? The lunatic culture Trump now drives was invented on Chris Matthews’ show.

The ugly insults litter our archives. David and Josh, well-trained lads, were quite careful. They didn’t tell.