The second most memorable thing Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was that; “people are saying America is more divided than ever.”
Okay, at face value, the line itself isn’t all that memorable, but her speech and the reaction to it fairly illustrate the very point, which is memorable in my book. When a line from a speech captures that much of its own context, that will get my attention every time.
Listening to Wolf’s jokes, I find myself wondering if we could really expect people to take some of these jokes in good fun? It isn’t always clear from the content, but the stone faces scattered among those smiling and laughing tell a pretty clear tale. For some at least, these were not jokes; they were attacks. From her deadpan list of inconveniences ending with; “Trump is President; it’s not ideal,” to the suggestion that Kellyanne Conway should be struck and pinned underneath a falling tree, it’s easy enough to understand why someone might not want to roll with the punches here. Sure, someone could laugh it off, but it would be just as reasonable to take these as indications of genuine contempt. We could pick away at this or that point, but the reality is that the room was already saturated with divisions far too great for people to come together in laughter.
That’s the nature of humor though; it’s almost always at the expense of someone else. So, it’s always fair to ask ‘with me’ or ‘at me’? In this case, a fair portion of the right wingers present (and many who weren’t) clearly figured it was the latter. Of course they tend to assume this about much of the media and the entertainment industries as well. With increasing frequency, they would be right about that, but there is certainly the trace of a self-confirming prophesy to all of this media and Hollywood bashing. They don’t seem to notice when their favorite scapegoats aren’t following the script. Wolf took some serious shots at the media too, pointing out that they are largely responsible for Trump’s success, but today the right wing has bundled her up with that very media and used the dinner as yet another example of an ‘elitist’ culture holding them in contempt.
Some of us on the left might be tempted to suggest that the best fix for this problem is for today’s right wing politicians to try to be less contemptible. And of course the contempt is mutual; it has been for as long as I can remember. With countless ‘conservatives’ still telling stories about a socialist Muslim from Kenya, I have a hard time swallowing the notion that those of us on the left ought to rein it in, and lest anyone suggest this is merely the fringe of right wing politics, let me remind you that one of those fringe lunatics in the birther movement is in the White House right now.
..placed there by a wave of contempt for liberalism.
That contempt for liberalism is so strong it seems hard to escape the notion that Trump was placed in the White House, not because anyone seriously thought he was going to make America great again, but rather because they hoped he would break America as we currently know it. Even now, his cabinet is undoing over a century of work to protect America from threats to our safety, both domestic and foreign. Even now, Americans in Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from a natural disaster, and from the willful neglect of an administration happy to kill Americans when he is offended by one of their leaders. We can debate whether or not Trump will ever do anything positive for this country, but there is little doubt that he is willing and capable of hurting a lot of people.
He was placed in office for precisely that reason.
…all of which makes it a little difficult to look at a speech such as that given by Michelle Wolf and say let’s cry foul this time. No, this, THIS, was going to far!
Still, the hypocrisy of the other guy isn’t much of an excuse for any we produce ourselves. Is there a serious argument to be made here? The main focus of scrutiny in this case seems to have fallen on Wolf’s comments about Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What did she say about Sanders?
Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get: you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time, don’t be such a little b—-, Jim Acosta.”
I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies.
It’s probably lies.
And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, is it Sarah Sanders? Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter.
People have been saying this amounts to making fun of Sanders’ appearance. Others have been saying, no it isn’t. And yes, the battle lines are pretty predictable on this one. The issue is already touchy, because a lot of folks have already taken some seriously cheap shots at Huckabee’s looks. What Wolf said is really mild in comparison to some of the comments and memes out there. In fact, she doesn’t appear to be commenting at all on Sanders’ actual body or face. The main joke here isn’t even about Sanders’ looks; it’s about her mistreatment of the press, and the fundamental dishonesty with which she has approached her work in this administration. In the process of making this perfectly valid, and perfectly relevant point about Sanders’ work, Wolf worked in a comment about Sanders’ eye shadow. That comment has become the focus of virtually all subsequent commentary on the dinner.
So, was this a comment about Sanders appearance?
I can think of two reasons to say ‘yes’ in answer to that question. 1) Sarah’s eyes have often been primary a focus of many of the cheap shots taken at her. So, when Michelle Wolf talks about Sanders’ eye shadow, she is hitting a theme well-primed by many others. If Wolf is actually commenting on eye shadow instead of Sanders’ actual eyes, then that’s a thin layer of powder away from a very common and very cheap shot. 2) More importantly, a comment about dress or make-up is already a comment about someone’s looks, and women in the public arena get dragged on that topic far more than men. Far from trivial, this is one of the double standards that makes it much harder for women to succeed in public life than men. Working that angle doesn’t just hurt Sanders; it hurts women in general.
If Wolf’s comment doesn’t measure up to the low standards of filth spilling from the mouth of Donald Trump over the years, it certainly doesn’t measure up to the high standard many on the left (and in particular feminists) have been trying to promote for about as long as I can recall. I don’t know that Wolf has ever committed to such standards, but the fact remains, she could do better. Hell, she was doing better! She was doing better in that very point. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a professional liar. That was the point of the very joke in question, and everybody knows it. THAT point remains sound, regardless of the cheap shot Wolf unfortunately bundled into it.
Some of us could wish that Wolf had left her brief foray into physical commentary out of her speech, but it’s there. I can’t help thinking that brief moment of self indulgence was a god-send to America’s right wing, because that’s been the very means they’ve used to draw attention from the rest of the Wolf’s criticism, criticism which is very richly deserved. While the denizens of echo chamber do the meta-hypocrisy shuffle, hiding their own double standards behind an accusation of the same, they have successfully shifted the narrative about this speech away from the many horribles now nurtured by the outright fascism which has taken over the Republican Party, horribles Wolf was right to call out.
Horribles like Sanders’ many lies.
It may well be that the whole country has reached a point where we can no longer expect Americans of different political orientations to sit peacefully together and laugh at the same jokes, but no, both parties are not equally responsible for helping us reach that point. With a President actively and openly supporting white nationalists while Democrats continue to embrace more moderate conservative policies, I don’t see how anyone could seriously embrace the ‘both sides’ narratives out there.
I don’t really blame right wingers for not wanting to sit through a performance like that of Wolf. I blame them very much for bringing us to that point. The Republican Party didn’t have to put a living joke in the White House; they didn’t have to support a man so corrupt and so incompetent that every spokesperson for him has had to bend over backwards lying for him only to find the man debunking their own spin even as they spin it. They didn’t have to make themselves so contemptible.
But they are.
The Republican Party of today is not conservative; it is not patriotic; and it is certainly not Christian. It’s leadership is none of the things they pretend to be, and they all know it. This is why they cannot abide humor like that of Wolf. This is why Donald Trump wasn’t even there, and this is why others walked out. They cannot abide an honest stand-up routine, any more than they can abide a competent journalist. And this is why they want to focus on that one joke; to keep our minds off Trump himself (and Pence, and Sanders, and all the rest of the circus) and to lay the grounds for retaliation against future critics.
Oh, I did say that the line about Americans being more divided than ever was the second most memorable thing Wolf said in her speech. So, what was more important than that?
Flint still doesn’t have clean water.