Political Animal

Jimmy Fallon’s Surrender to Donald Trump

His words couldn’t be any more pathetic.

You could see the beads of flop sweat on Jimmy Fallon’s face on Sunday Today, as he tried to defend his reluctance to subject Donald Trump to intense ridicule on The Tonight Show:

He doesn’t like talking about politics? He prefers to talk about pop culture? Dude, Trump is both pop culture and politics. What kind of excuse is that?

Remember when Fallon shamelessly sucked up to Trump in September 2016? Fallon didn’t just play with Trump’s hair; in effect, he kissed his rear end, too. That Trump-Fallon interview was far, far worse than the still-controversial interview George W. Bush gave to Oprah Winfrey in September 2000; the difference between both interviews is that Winfrey, while perhaps not being as tough on Bush as she should have been, did not completely surrender her dignity and integrity, whereas Fallon wholly forfeited his. As Vinay Meron of the Toronto Star noted earlier this year:

The impact of Donald Trump on late night comedy is a captivating topic for a future academic paper, assuming the world doesn’t end in a mushroom cloud. Trump may be pox on humanity. But he’s also a gift to slingers of monologue barbs.

Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah have all emerged stronger inside the Trump cyclone. Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are on higher ground from a year ago, largely because they are seen as potential tour guides with GPS co-ordinates to the funny hot spots in this new dystopia.

Then there is Fallon, an outlier among peers in that he remains unchanged by the incoming president: he still has no point of view. In fact, Fallon may be the only late night host who has lost reputational cachet by refusing to exit his goofball bubble and take a good look around.

His interview with Trump in September was the most mocked late night segment of 2016. The low-point for most critics was when Fallon tousled Trump’s hair, which was widely described as “normalizing” a political candidate who kept saying and doing things that were wildly abnormal.

The bigger problem, as usual, was Fallon’s separation from reality.

His questions — “Did you always see yourself getting into politics?” “Have you ever played the board game Sorry?” “How do you not get sick from shaking all those hands?” – sounded like a first grader interviewing Mayor McCheese.

The difference between Fallon and ABC competitor Jimmy Kimmel is that Kimmel is willing to risk his career to cast a spotlight upon maladies in American society, instead of ignoring such maladies in the name of placating viewers and/or management. It’s not that Fallon is less talented than Kimmel or Stephen Colbert of CBS; it’s that, by his own admission, he’s not the sort of guy to use his talent to challenge authority.

Does every late-night talk show host necessarily have to be “woke”? Of course not. I totally understand the desire to avoid perceived hyper-partisanship, and the goal of bringing red-staters and blue-staters together. Barack Obama spoke to this desire in his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Of course, the problem is that sometimes one can go too far in the name of avoiding hyper-partisanship (as Charlie Pierce has suggested about that Obama speech). No viewer, progressive or conservative, wants to watch an absolute chump–which is what Fallon has revealed himself to be.

The Sexual Revolution Did Not Create Harvey Weinstein. Patriachy and Capitalism Did.

There is a a particularly repulsive footnote to the explosion of public consciousness around sexual abuse and exploitation caused by the Weinstein revelations. Religious social conservatives have been hard at work arguing that Hollywood libertinism, liberal sexual mores and the sexual revolution itself are to blame for the behavior of the Weinsteins of the world. Bret Stephens’ much-lampooned New York Times op-ed hit the “Hollywood values” angle, while David French took on the full-throated promotion of Handmaid’s Tale theocracy this weekend in The National Review.

Let’s be very clear about something: conservative social mores aren’t about protecting women and never were. They’re about controlling women.

The sexual revolution gave women options: the birth control pill allowed women to control their reproductive destinies and have children at a time of their choosing, which in turn gave them economic independence and the ability not to become indentured servants to whatever man happened to have sex with them and father children with them. The revolution empowered women to make choices of sex partners based not on the approval of their parents or the economic necessities of marriage, but based on their own personality preferences and physical desires. The revolution also allowed women to compete in previously gender-exclusive industries and become primary economic providers for households. In later decades it also allowed gay and gender-non-conforming people to pick identities and partners entirely of their own choosing.

All of this terrifies conservative men. Conservative white men have long lived in a bubble where they were able to objectify women and use both physical and economic coercion to force more talented, more capable and more physically attractive partners to stay with them despite their own gross deficiencies.

A world where a woman had to marry the first man she had sex with, is a world where superior women could be saddled for the rest of the their lives with inferior men based on a single mistake. A world where women were trapped at home with children while men dallied outside it, was one where men could grope and fondle their secretaries in abusive relationships while women had far fewer opportunities for relief from their oppressive marriages and domestic prisons.

When all else failed, the watchful eye of a patriarchal God would keep women in line, subservient to their domineering marriage partners. This same angry divinity did not, of course, prevent men from sexually exploiting and harassing any woman unfortunate enough to be within their economic power.

The sexual and civil rights movements changed all that. Not only could women pick their partners–and as many of them as they wanted–suddenly the pool of potential partners opened to men (and, eventually, women) of all races, too. Much of conservative resentment ever since, distilled to that now-so-common “cuck” insult in Trumpian circles, has centered around abject terror that white women would find men of color or other women a more pleasant alternative to their own less attractive and less interesting selves.

Which brings us back to Harvey Weinstein. Liberal culture and Hollywood values did not create Harvey Weinstein. Patriarchy and capitalism did.

Harvey Weinsteins have existed ever since the dawn of civilization when rich and powerful men have predated on exploited women in no position to defend themselves, long before the sexual revolution and in eras governed explicitly by strict sexual moral codes. Aflred Hitchcock did it to Tippi Hedren. Thomas Jefferson did it to Sally Hemmings. Supposedly Christian men from popes to barons have done likewise. Rape and abuse of women by men is the norm in social conservative society, whether in Christian Victorian England or Islamist Afghanistan; liberal sexual mores are the cure.

Harvey Weinstein isn’t just an alleged rapist and abuser. He’s a gross, wildly unattractive man who used his financial position as a capitalist owner and his patriarchal position as a man of power to force himself on women who would never have been in his league voluntarily. Harvey couldn’t compete for the affections of the women he wanted, and he didn’t bother to try. So he used money and power to get what he couldn’t objectively earn through charm, effort, grooming and good will.

This is the conservative program in a nutshell: allowing mediocre white men to use unjustly gained money and social privilege to earn rewards they do not deserve, protected and enforced by arsenals of private firearms and an angry, judgmental God. It’s a program that the sexual revolution has done a great deal to destroy, but there remains much work left to do.

May the work continue.

Don’t Be Afraid of Steve Bannon

There is a tendency on the left to overestimate the abilities of conservative campaign gurus and spinmeisters after a bitter defeat. In the aughts, Karl Rove was seen as the Svengali mastermind of Republican politics, a nefarious force smarter and more cunning than all the left’s braintrust put together. It turned out not to be true. Karl Rove didn’t have “the math” and never really did: Rove mostly got lucky by a combination of butterfly ballots in Florida, and happening to hold power during a terrorist attack that saw Democrats cowed into submission rather than holding the president and his team accountable for their failure to protect the country.

Steve Bannon is taking on a similar mystique for some. But Bannon is no more special than Rove. Yes, Bannon saw what most of the left’s most prominent pundits and consultants could not: that Donald Trump could easily win the presidency by playing to racist and anti-elitist sentiments. That’s not so special, however: yours truly predicted the same thing, even down to detailing his path to victory, right here at Washington Monthly back in February 2016.

Like Rove, Bannon’s success is part insight and part luck. Without the intervention of a great many factors, including but not limited to Russian interference, Comey’s letter, depressed Democratic turnout, and errors in messaging and campaign mechanics by his opponent, Trump would not be president. As it is, he still lost by over three million votes, and required a narrow electoral college bank shot to seize the presidency. Since then, his administration has been a complete disaster. Trump has sunk to abysmal approval ratings despite an economy that is strong by traditional metrics, and without an overt policy blunder like the Iraq War. Instead, Trump’s decline has been entirely self-inflicted, largely through the pursuit of overtly racist idiocies prompted by the likes of Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Which brings us to today. Bannon is “going to war” with the GOP establishment, even going so far as to countermand Trump’s own endorsement in the Alabama Senate race and force the president to back a loser.

But his statements show that it’s all bluster and no real strategy. Democrats seem poised to take back Congress precisely because of Republican extremism, not because institutional Republicans are inadequately racist and nationalist.

And his prediction to the Values Voter Summit that Trump will win 400 electoral votes in 2020 is simply preposterous on its face. It’s no better than even odds that Trump will even finish out his term, much less sweep to a Reaganesque landslide in three years. During the same speech, Bannon quipped a line destined to be fodder for the inevitable 2018 campaign commercials accusing Trump of actively blowing up the ACA exchanges and driving up premiums in a bid to kill the program.

Like Karl Rove before him, Steven Bannon is a paper tiger. Democrats need only muster courage, conviction and hard work to teach him the same lesson they taught Rove in 2006.

Want to Stop Sexual Predators Like Weinstein? Stand Up to Bullies

Each hour seems to bring new and revolting revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged rape and sexual predation. In the wake of the news has come a lot of soul searching: how did we let this happen? Why didn’t people expose him? Is it a Hollywood problem, or pervasive in society? How many more Harveys are there?

The answers aren’t the ones we want to hear. The reality is that institutional sexism and sexual abuse are pervasive across nearly all industries. But they are especially severe in highly competitive fields where a small number of people, mostly men, have enormous wealth and power. Harvey Weinsteins are everywhere, not just in Hollywood but on Wall Street and small towns and throughout society. Women (and some men) who face this sort of abuse are rarely listened to or believed, and the career consequences they face for speaking out are enormous.

Stopping these predators requires that our culture do everything it can to address fundamental sexism at all levels. Men–especially those who are not subordinate to the predators–need to do far more to stand up and hold them accountable.

The most common defense that men make in these cases is that they didn’t know about the behavior. Harvey’s brother Bob Weinstein says that he knew his brother was physically abusive and a serial philanderer, but didn’t know about his predatory behavior. Many others have acknowledged that Weinstein was a cruel bully, but say they weren’t aware of the level of his depravity. The same goes for many of Donald Trump’s acquaintances, who often acknowledged his abusive personality but claimed not to be aware of his much more serious assaults. Trump, of course, has not suffered the same repercussions from his base as Weinstein has from Hollywood and the left, which says a great deal about America’s current political divide.

Saying “I knew he was a bully, but I didn’t know he was a sexual predator” is no excuse. Bullies are bad enough in their own right, and many bullies are also sexual predators. Rape is principally a crime of power, and those who take delight in brutally exercising power over others tend not to limit their behavior to the family and the workplace. The social science is clear that bullying behavior and sexual abuse are intrinsically connected.

American culture is extremely forgiving to bullies. Our libertarian ethic celebrates those who rise to wealth, fame and power by stepping on the backs of others. We are the nation that elevated Bob Knight in sports and Donald Trump to the presidency. Even when we try to address bullying in schools, we do it with hamfisted “zero tolerance” policies that more often than not punish the victims of the bullies when they finally dare to fight back.

In our business environments, American human resources departments find it’s always easier just to go along and get along. We promote bullies or move them out of their positions. Our at-will firing laws allow abusers to get rid of employees who resist by dreaming up excuses that don’t technically violate any labor laws.

The social and business science has already proven that bullies do far more damage to organizations than whatever energy they provide. But still our culture allows them to thrive and even works hard to help promote them.

Men like Weinstein and Trump should have been cut down to size decades ago. Instead, it was just easier to ignore them, laugh, and schmooze at parties with them.  Thousands of men in their orbits stood by and did nothing, even though they knew how socially and financially predatory they were.

Americans often have a reputation for brashness and rudeness. But in the end, we’re not too rude. We’re simply too nice to rude people. We  yell at customer service reps and politicians, and savage one another for our politics on social media. But by and large, we don’t stand up to the petty tyrants in our lives. We’ll fight with anonymous people on twitter and savage celebrities, but stand idly by when a boss abuses an underling in our presence, or when an entitled rich man inveighs against a barista or an airline stewardess. Our supposed American courage and bravado fails us on these occasions.

The Weinsteins & Trumps of the world can be stopped. It’s easier to stop them when they’re lower on the totem pole. But it takes all of us. Those of us who know a bully in our company or organization and have the power to stand up to them, should do it. It will mean the world to many. It may even save another person from suffering a sexual assault. Abusers in the workplace are all too often abusers in the bedroom as well, where there are fewer witnesses to stop them.

The only thing we have to lose is our acquiescence to rich, evil, powerful men.