The right wing frenzy and eagerness to have everybody in the country share their largely fake outrage about Michelle Wolf’s remarks at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner offers some insight into political life in the US and the plight of the right wing, including the Trump administration, in that climate. First, it should go without saying, but unfortunately must be said, that nothing Michelle Wolf said is even remotely close to the verbal abuse the country, particular groups in the US and even particular American individuals, have been subjected to by Donald Trump. When our President has boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy”, urged attendees at a rally to “knock the hell out of” demonstrators, referred to Mexicans as “rapists”, described Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman” and, perhaps most offensively, referred to Nazi demonstrators as “some very fine people,” supporters of that President can’t be taken too seriously when they get upset that a comedian makes jokes about sex and her genitalia or suggests that Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducts herself at White House Press Conferences like a gym teacher.
Wolf’s comments are very much in line with the political times. The Trump administration has been mired in corruption, aligned with far right political views, but has also been deeply mean-spirited. This administration has sought to harass trans people out of the military, take away protections against discrimination in the health care sector for trans people and has crafted an immigration policy that has torn apart families. The President himself has referred to a football player engaged in peaceful, constitutionally protected protest as a “son of a bitch”, excluded Democrats from State Dinners and almost daily offends some group of Americans with his Tweets. The cruelty of the Trump administration has not been limited to human beings as the administration has also lifted laws limiting the import of ivory into the US.
It is a mean time in American politics, primarily because of the temperament of the President. Wolf’s monologue was made in that context. Republicans who found Wolf’s comments out of bounds because she was mean to Sarah Huckabee Sanders and made jokes about Donald Trump’s decades long history of overstating his wealth, are revealing that they are either hypersensitive and unable to take the kind of comments that the President makes on an almost daily basis, or are simply playing a political game to mobilize their base. My money is on the latter, but the former cannot be entirely ruled out either.
There is another issue that is part of the story too. Wolf’s comments were not that mean-spirited or offensive, but they were biting, hard-hitting and did not spare the media some well needed criticism. Wolf, who based on her comments is not big fan of Donald Trump, did not spare MSNBC, the print media, CNN or Hillary Clinton, but it was her comments about how the all Trump all the time media environment is good for the media’s profits, but bad for democracy and America, that has probably contributed most to the mainstream media supporting the right wing criticisms of Wolf. “What no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you…He’s helped you sell your books and your papers and your TV. You helped create this monster and now your profiting off of him.” If Wolf had not said those words, her speech would have been received differently, but by making those comments she told an important truth to an audience that badly needed to hear it.
It is possible that the conservatives expressing real or feigned outrage at Wolf’s speech, and those in the media more broadly who share these views are reacting to something else. While Wolf’s comments may have been more offensive than any similar speech in the past, they are also a reminder that gatherings of the media political tribes, where animus can be put aside for an evening, like the White House Correspondents Dinner, no longer have a space in Donald Trump’s divided, hyperpartisan and mean spirited America. For those in conservative media who have always tried to keep one foot in mainstream respectability, Wolf’s speech is a reminder that is no longer possible. Spokespeople like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and more importantly media enablers of Trump’s viciousness and democratic rollback from previously respectable or semi-respectable media outlets and even those from more moderate media outlets who simply profit from the fight, will no longer be given a free pass. For the huge majority of Americans who were not at the dinner and who don’t make their living talking about Trump (I do it on a volunteer basis), this is very good news.