The pundit class has really lost it with this election cycle. Trump’s de facto hostile takeover of the GOP has unmoored professional opinionaters on both sides of the aisle to the point where they sound like the crazy guy who hangs out by the gas station and yells at you when you kick his imaginary dog. The drooling drunk who knows the government’s tracking his thoughts via satellite.
Usually, the pseudo intellectuals who’ve built up a petty brand with liberal publications and conservative think tanks are content to produce inane commentary supporting whatever opinion their pay masters desire.
But these aren’t usual times.
Back in the good old, analog days, paid political opinionaters could delude themselves into believing that they were influencing the intellectual currents of the post Cold War world. Thomas Friedman could puff his chest up for ‘discovering’ his Flat World hypothesis like the proud seventh grade intellect that he is. The overgrown D&D dorks over at the Weekly Standard could cast themselves as Churchill forever staring down whatever villain was their Hitler Stand in this week.
Then came the internet. Then came blogs written by amateurs that were more insightful and well-reasoned than the work of folks who did this for a living. It was a blow, but the self-delusion still held. Who was getting invited to galas? Who was on ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday morning or chatting with Terry Gross on NPR? Not the trolls and autodidact philosophers on the web.
They weren’t the source of the despair. The real source is having to constantly ignore where your salary comes from. That five-bedroom house with a trophy wife in McLean, VA is all yours because you shilled some policy on behalf of a guy who’s much richer than you. A guy who probably doesn’t care about you and would pay you less if he could. Those anonymous bloggers didn’t have to quiet that creeping awareness that you’re just a mouthpiece for whatever corporate interests your editor sold you out to.
That reputation you think you have. That sense of fearless intellectual fortitude that’s the defining feature of the granite jawed hero in the movie playing in your head is a lie. It was always a lie. The truth is that you’re a shill, a hack. You were always a hack, you just rationalized the truth away because you had nothing else that justified looking down your nose at ‘the masses’.
You can suck dick for money in a bathroom for twenty-dollar bills or you can enjoy a six figure salary writing long articles justifying the next war the American corporate/imperial complex wants. A whore is a whore. You’re kind were always whores, but the whole system was corrupt, you told yourself. You were a foot soldier fighting for conservative culture (whatever that actually means today) or progressive ideals (whatever the hell those are anymore) and you could go to sleep at night, content that you advanced some cause that would make the world a better place, as long as you didn’t think too hard about it, or ask too many questions.
Here comes Trump, the guy who’s been calling the bluff about this entire charade since he threw his hat in the ring last summer. The big money backing you doesn’t like Trump. They let you know it and now you have to dance to their tune by denouncing him even harder than the next one like school children on the playground announcing ‘No I hate Ewoks THIS much!’ The big money behind your salary doesn’t like Trump because he’s bad for their little rent seeking crony operations. Your job as a pundit is to legitimize the voice of desperate billionaires so the ‘little people’ will care.
Once you’ve whored your reputation for influence, you’re always a whore. You can cover up the slut tattoos, pick up that bible and pray at church as if you’re no different from the virtuous girls who’ve attracted your scorn, but it never works. Friends from your past life will always turn up at the most embarrassing times, insisting on treating you as if didn’t try to kill your old self.
Now whether you’re Ezra Klein or William Kristol, you have to convince yourself that Trump, a man running as a mid-century lunch pail Democrat with some media savvy, is literally Hitler, an existential threat to the Republic. You have to convince yourself that this man is a grave enemy to the concept of democracy because it quiets that dawning realization that your paymasters would sell you down river in five minutes if they figured you weren’t worth the investment. What’s worse, those commenters are openly mocking you, ignorant of your elite credentials and connections.
If Trump wins, it means that you really have no influence, probably never had any that mattered. You were just a nice piece of furniture that some oligarch bought to show off amongst themselves, an accoutrement of virtue signaling, useful only for your steadfast loyalty to some cause and willingness to find to justify through means inane, shallow and deceitful. A Trump victory would mean that you sold your soul for pocket change and a nice house in the suburbs, the masses didn’t buy your scam.
What’s worse than realizing that you’ve been a whore, is realizing that you’re an irrelevant whore. Instead of servicing an exclusive set in the VIP suite, you wake to learn that you’ve been sucking off the old hobo who lives behind the dumpster. And those teenagers who sniff glue by that dumpster before their evening shift at pizza hut have been laughing at you the whole time.
It’s a doubt that’s been seeping into your conscious for years, and the only way to silence is to yell louder, to denounce more. If you can convince yourself that Trump is the Manchurian Candidate for World War III, then you were a valiant hero all along. The kind of brave soul that George Orwell would toast in the afterlife. You think if I make this point harder, maybe they’ll believe it.
And more important, maybe you will too.