Viewer Discretion is Advised

Perhaps the 2016 presidential race can be best viewed as a fight between Rachel Maddow’s America and Megyn Kelly’s America.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of both MSNBC and Fox News, and it’s only fitting that the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential candidates embody the distinctive traits of the respective stars of both channels. Hillary Clinton has all of Maddow’s wisdom, chapter-and-verse policy knowledge, and courage in the face of relentless attacks from the other side of the aisle; Donald Trump is the male Kelly, someone who has become famous as a result of irresponsible and undeserved media hype, someone who has been able to fool millions into believing he has substance, someone who has proven that, thanks to public gullibility, one can indeed turn chicken-you-know-what into chicken salad.

I burst out laughing when I read Eric Boehlert’s observation that Kelly had a “…dream of becoming the next Oprah or Barbara Walters”; that’s one dream that will never come true (comparing Kelly to either Winfrey to Walters is like comparing Justin Bieber to Prince). However, if Kelly had a dream of becoming an idol to the ignorant, she has already achieved that goal–as has Trump, the man who infamously mocked Kelly’s menstrual cycle. After all, as Media Matters has documented, Kelly’s attitude towards America’s diversity is indistinguishable from that of Trump’s.

Maddow, on the other hand, is a kindred spirit to Clinton. Both women believe in the power of effective and efficient government to improve the lives of average Americans. Both women have condemned the normalization of nonsense in American politics. Both women have given voice to the concerns and hopes of America’s most vulnerable and victimized.

Despite her higher media profile, you have to think that Kelly is resentful of Maddow’s journalistic credentials, contemptuous of the fact that Maddow has reached a level of respect and credibility among serious news observers that is permanently inaccessible to her. Similarly, it must grate at Trump’s soul to know that he could never achieve the public stature that Clinton has earned through her decades of public service.

Maddow and Clinton are real; Kelly and Trump are artificial. The MSNBC star and the former Secretary of State can relate to those who have struggled and have overcome tremendous obstacles in life; Kelly and Trump can only truly relate to elites, though they’re both skilled at pretending to represent the views of the common woman and man.

The question is, will intellect defeat ignorance on November 8? Does the American electorate want a reasoned approach to the nation’s problems? Or do voters want empty flash with a memorable hairstyle?

The outcome of the 2016 election will determine whether the decades-long right-wing effort to dumb down the United States has finally succeeded. The idea of Trump being taken seriously as a presidential candidate would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Times have changed…and not for the better.

A decade ago, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly embodied the wisdom vs. wingnut divide in US politics. Today, Maddow and Kelly represent the divergent visions that will confront America at the ballot box this fall. Will the voters choose to lean forward, or embrace a machine that is backwards?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.