Politics & Prejudices: Triumph of morons

"... the media are probably the most powerful of all of our institutions today, and they are squandering their power and ignoring their obligation ... we have abdicated our responsibility, and the consequence of our abdication is the spectacle, and the triumph, of the idiot culture."

— Carl Bernstein, "The Idiot Culture"

There's a sort of rough justice about Donald Trump being taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

After all, we live in what you might call the Age of Trump; of bombast and noise and the worship of celebrity for celebrity's sake. We've turned politics and government into objects of scorn and contempt, and set up a system that ensures that our leaders can almost never accomplish anything meaningful.

We've seen a political party evolve from Abraham Lincoln to an era when a posturing clown can jeer that a woman reporter who asked him questions he didn't like was a "bimbo" who had "blood coming out of her wherever" — and afterward still be the leading candidate for the presidential nomination.

More on the Trump card later. But first, it's notable that in Michigan, we've developed a political culture where most of the attention for weeks has been focused on Todd Courser, a truly scary religious fanatic and hypocrite. You don't have to be a psychologist to conclude that he doesn't seem sane.

Courser's rhetorical style, self-aggrandizement, and belief that God speaks with him are eerily reminiscent of people like Jim Jones and David Koresh. He seems to have been off the charts in terms of being both arrogant and stupid. I can't recall anything quite so boneheaded as his idea that by spreading a phony story that he'd paid a male prostitute for sex, he could "inoculate the herd" into not believing he was screwing fellow state rep Cindy Gamrat.

Fortunately, his megalomania seems to have been so great that he apparently never considered suicide.

Yet even after Courser spent years trying to bring the "decent" Republican Party down; even after this sanctimonious adulterer fired an aide who refused to take part in a bizarre and possibly illegal cover-up of his slimy sexual affair, the governor didn't even have the guts to say he should quit.

The most that wimpy little Rick Snyder would say was there may have been "a breach of the public trust."

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a man quick to poke his nose into virtually every issue that has nothing to do with his department, declined to launch an investigation, leaving that to the legislature. Schuette, of course, desperately wants to be the GOP nominee for governor next time, and is afraid to do anything that might annoy any fraction of the far right.

That seemed a little too cautious here; within hours after the scandal broke, nobody was supporting the thoroughly obnoxious Courser or Gamrat, his little disciple and plaything.

Events were moving fast, and it is entirely possible that both of them might have resigned by the time you read this. Most Republicans want them gone far more than do the Democrats.

The spectacle of smug religious conservatives caught in a sex scandal is scarcely new. The real tragedy of this titillating nonsense is that it helps make it that much more certain that our near-worthless lawmakers will once again fail to do anything real about our real problems, like the roads.

Instead, they'll spend the rest of the session examining whether the dynamic duo illegally used state resources to spread their fantastic and probably illegal blackmail scheme.

Courser and Gamrat will soon be a bad memory. But it is important to consider the political culture that created them.

For years, Republicans have systematically bashed government in general, and treated politicians of other parties with contempt and scorn. Worse, they encouraged their pet media attack dogs like Rush Limbaugh to treat Democrats and liberals as subhuman creatures unworthy of respect.

This began during the Clinton administration, when no sexual or other rumor about the President and First Lady was too filthy or fantastic to air. (True, loose-zippered Bill made things worse by living down to his enemies' expectations.)

Things got even worse when President Obama took office with the coming of the Tea Party — billed as a new movement, but largely a creation of the GOP establishment as a vehicle for their less well-heeled and less-educated supporters to vent their thinly veiled racism.

Most Tea Partiers cannot accept that we have a black president, and believe that Barack Obama has to be illegitimate in some way; hence the crazy "birthers," who refused to accept that he was born in Hawaii, despite clear proof.

They also psychologically need to believe that he is a Muslim and a socialist and anything bad they can think of.

What seems never to have occurred to the establishment Republicans is that there was bound to be blowback. The Tea Party utterly failed to cost President Obama re-election.

Republicans also might have taken control of the U.S. Senate as early as 2010, if it hadn't been for bizarre Tea Party candidates who unexpectedly won primaries and cost the GOP seats in Delaware, Nevada, Missouri, and Indiana.

Worse, if John Boehner and his pals had spent a few hours reading about radical revolutions, they would have learned that they tend to devour their own parents.

To Michigan Republicans' horror, the ranting Courser very nearly toppled Bobby Schostak as state party chair in 2013; the establishment guy was saved only by Snyder furiously lobbying the delegates.

Afterward, Todd Courser gave a long, sobbing speech about himself and his calling from God that should have made it clear to everyone that he was in need of expert help.

But instead of helping him get it, they helped him get elected to the legislature. Nationally, meanwhile, the party that has spent years bashing government and those who know how to run it has at least got its full reward:

Donald Trump.

Nobody would have taken this self-indulgent billionaire seriously as a presidential candidate a generation ago. That's when we still respected the most complex and powerful and, frankly, important office in the nation.

Now, after eroding and finally destroying that respect for decades, Republicans are reaping what they've sown, with hordes of the ignorant flocking to Trump because he gives them a show. "He tells it like it is," his adoring followers say.

Two decades ago, we got our first taste of this with Ross Perot. Now, we have Trump; richer, more flamboyant, far more vulgar, and the leading candidate for president.

Carl Bernstein, one of the two reporters who exposed Watergate, the biggest political scandal in American history, neatly defined what's happening in an essay in The New Republic.

What we are witnessing, he wrote, was "the emergence of a talk-show nation, in which public discourse is reduced to ranting and raving and posturing." True enough.

But what's amazing is that he wrote those lines in 1992, before the Internet really got going, before Rush and all his imitators, before the Age of Trump. I wish I could buy Carl a drink and talk about how he sees the nation now.

Except I'd be afraid he might order Fentanyl.

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.
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