Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Old School"

"You're my boy, Blue!"

That should be what I mean by the title.  If you still don't get it, just move on.  I have low tastes sometimes, best not to dwell on it.  But I'm putting something together here, gathering bits to twig and straw to build a kind of nest; I'm getting old, it seems the appropriate activity somehow.

It turns out Trump won because of the "old old", not because of "fake news" being devoured by devotees of social media. That's crucial background as we observe the professional passing of Bill O'Reilly, a man news reports say was championed and defended by Rupert Murdoch, but finally forced out by Murdoch's sons.  That generation gap, as we Boomers used to say, is significant.

O'Reilly, it seems, stayed on the air because of old people:

The first was typical of the cultural conservatism of our age, and generally consisted of free-floating anger at any figure or institution that didn’t uphold what O’Reilly called “traditional values.” A college professor would call America a fascist country, or a retailer would announce that it would greet customers with “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” O’Reilly would rant and rave; he would call for people to be fired; he would bemoan that America was becoming less religious and less white. (One of his many silly books was called Culture Warrior; the latest is Old School.) Sure, Limbaugh and Hannity would occasionally focus on culture instead of politics, but for O’Reilly, it was what fueled the show, and what really got him exercised. (Much was made of his Levittown upbringing and disdain for snobby elites.) Even better, he didn’t appear to be faking it in the way one often suspects of certain right-wing hosts. All of the details that have leaked out about O’Reilly—from the harassment claims to the violent way he behaved toward his ex-wife—strongly suggest that he was not playing a character when he fumed on the air.

But the aspect of The O’Reilly Factor that always shocked me was a different kind of resentment, which took the form of the anchor’s unrepentant solipsism. It’s simply impossible to overstate how much of each night’s show was consumed by O’Reilly’s own grievances. He skirmished with everyone from Matt Lauer to Rosie O’Donnell to Al Franken, and those fights would invariably become the topic of the day on his show. He spent countless hours talking about himself—usually as the victim of various conspiracies. (Frequently, George Soros was the conspiracy’s prime mover.) He would drone on about the New York Times and how it was out to make him look bad. It was endless, and it was exceptionally boring—to everyone except his legions of viewers and fans.
Grandpa Simpson without the charm, in other words.  And not coincidentally, perhaps the secret of Donald Trump's success:

I never really had a theory for how this supposed man of the people got away with talking about nothing but himself. Then Donald Trump came along. Here was another rich guy who built a following speaking up for the working man. Like O’Reilly he seemed entirely driven by resentment: at President Obama, at the media, at the people who doubted him. And like O’Reilly, he spoke almost entirely of himself. His stump speeches were shocking, in part, because they were rarely about anything other than Donald Trump. When I would see him talk to a bunch of working-class voters in the Midwest and appeal to them by describing his own battles with CNN, I was surprised. But not as surprised as I would have been if I hadn’t been watching O’Reilly all these years.
I was surprised, maybe because I never watched O'Reilly (really couldn't stand him, for reasons I'll get into below).  None of his schtick ever appealed to me, but it's practically the dictionary definition of "Cranky Old Man."  Trump is 70 (older than your humble host, but only by a few years, and those years begin to matter more and more as age turns adults into children again), and it's no real surprise he sounds like O'Reilly.  O'Reilly has always struck me as preternaturally old, especially in his FoxNews incarnation.  So what's going on is the aging of America, and the last gasp of the "old old" before they, in large enough numbers to matter to the body politic, shuffle off their mortal coils.  It's been building since FoxNews went on the air, and now it has reached its apotheosis in the man in the White House.

It's no surprise, by the way, that O'Reilly is being replaced with Tucker Carlson.  It's also doubtful Carlson will ever have the audience share O'Reilly did.  He's too young for the crowd that watched O'Reilly, but he's young, too; compared to O'Reilly, anyway.  He's more Nelson than Grandpa, too; but that's another story.

This seems to me to be a pretty good description of O'Reilly:

That was O’Reilly, though: a man who built an empire pretending to be something he wasn’t. He was a smug rage-volcano who spewed cant and bluster, who called his shtick common sense, and who yelled at dissenters until they backed down or changed the channel. For 20 years, he was the biggest bullshitter on television. *
It's also a pretty good description of Donald Trump; and the evidence is slowly mounting that Donald Trump's schtick is already wearing thin.  The Texas Lyceum says that Joaquin Castro polls ahead of Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate already, albeit by a narrow margin.   It's too early to make much of such things, but then again, Joe Ossoff just won a 48% majority in a crowded field for a House seat that has been GOP since 1979. and his nearest GOP competitor only won 18% of the vote.  Joaquin Castro is known to some in Texas, but Ted Cruz is known to everybody.  And looking at Donald Trump in the White House, even Texans aren't so sure they want Ted Cruz back in the Senate (and hasn't he been subdued lately?  Wonder why that is, huh?)  Cruz appealed to the same cohort as Trump, even though Cruz is much younger than yours truly.  But Trump has sucked all the air out of that particular room, and he may well be damaging that brand as soundly as George W. did the Bush political name.

A lot of the country is looking around and deciding old people, the "old old" especially, really shouldn't be left in charge of things.  We have to clarify this isn't a 'never trust anyone over 30' movement; Bernie Sanders is older than Trump, but he stays remarkably popular.  He has his cranky side, his "old man" qualities, but he doesn't rely on them the way O'Reilly did and Trump does.  I think, quite seriously, Trump is running the Nation's Cranky Grandpa routine into the ground, and burying it.  Rupert Murdoch would haves stood behind O'Reilly, despite $13 million on payouts and more stories of harassment coming out daily; it was his sons, hardly Millenials themselves, who forced the issue.

Not all of the nation's "old old" are guilty of being Grandpa Simpson or Bill O'Reilly or rabid Trump supporters, of course.  We don't need to vilify any individual or group of individuals; but if the concept serves to rally more people younger than the most elderly of the elderly to get involved in politics and actually vote against the gerrymandered districts that are supposed to guarantee one-party success in perpetuity, then maybe the times they are a changin' after all.  Maybe the good thing about O'Reilly being forced out is that, like the special elections to come after Georgia, the public may be paying attention to the Cranky Old Man and realizing we don't want him in charge, that having a bullshitter in the White House is no way to run a country.  O'Reilly's fall may be the result of Trump's rise; but his fall also presages Trump's fate.

*If you really feel like chasing that down, read about O'Reilly and the "Paris Business Review."  It's a Trumpian example of the utility of pure fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. For the more sensitive among us who might read forward and get triggered by candor, let me issue a cautionary direction:


    Shorter analysis: old people are killing us. As a demographic they have failed to mature and develop wisdom and so instead they indulge in the worst of human nature: childishness, petulance, and willful ignorance. Theirs is a life lived by tantrum and endless grievance and gladly supported by right-wing hate media, of which O'Reilly was a huge part. They have a thirst that cannot be slaked for hearing their darkest impulses justified by talking heads, yet when the stream of hatefulness they expose themselves fails to fill in the bottomless well of their victim complexes or wrench culture backwards to fit their anachronistic preferences they become increasingly apoplectic. Their spite doesn't ebb and flow but rather ferments over the years, becoming more and more toxic with age so that now it's not uncommon to find silver-haired Florida retirees who, when they are not out on the golf course, use eliminationist rhetoric toward liberals on Twitter while thumping their chest proudly over our country being scrubbed clean of immigrant "vermin."

    Old people are killing us. Literally. They are a reliable cheerleading section for every nonsensical foreign war that comes down the pike, no matter how many lives are surrendered by our young people in uniform. They fight to make sure that they receive the lion's share of government monies for healthcare without regard to the mortality rate that ensues among those younger than them. They faithfully vote for candidates who represent big polluters and fossil fuels as if asthma and cancer didn't exist. They grouse over dollars being spent to protect women from domestic violence and fill their yards and Facebook timelines with signs in support of police that simply mean they want them to continue killing blacks unabated.

    The question I have is: what is it about our culture and many other cultures of this era that prevents people from becoming wiser, better, more moral or spiritual with age? What is that that ruins them, turns them into bitter, inflexible automatons? Why are they generally beret of empathy or mercy, even among the religious?

    I don't have the answer. And I fear there is no remedy for this madness that comes with age.