Michael Wolff: DNC Was Desperate, ‘Radical,’ Clueless About Disaffected White Voters

AP Photo
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Michael Wolff shares his experience at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, which he describes as dystopic and bizarre propaganda festivals.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

[T]he real importance [of the conventions] is not to people on the floor, but to television viewers and — for the first time with great significance — social media consumers. A key part of the propaganda strategy is to force the message through the media filter and make it part of the public perception, hence the repetitions, straight-faced lies, celebrity endorsements, promotional films, sob stories and choreographed demographics. The result is quite a distortion between the real event and the televised one. Protests that were mere murmurs became roars on TV; patently insane (or inane) moments — the Benghazi rescue duo at the RNC — are suddenly serious and meaningful stuff. And, of course, cable news experts — hundreds, it seemed — are there to make politics seem rational and to take speakers at their word. This is all part of how you get someone like my friend Aarthi, an astute, reasonable and otherwise skeptical woman, to tweet about Hillary Clinton’s lusterless, cut-and-paste acceptance speech: “I think every woman in the US will remember where they were when Hillary accepted the nomination to become President.” That’s a propaganda accomplishment.

Certainly it was a propaganda victory and precursor to a nice bounce that, emerging after four days of Clinton encomiums and Trump bashing at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia — at a remote location from the city itself, with most people in the arena held there from midafternoon until midnight — it was for nearly every attendee impossible to believe there could be any way in hell that Trump could win. Although, of course, there is.

The Democrats’ strongest card was to present Trump as an existential threat and to foresee the breakdown of democracy’s fail-safe mechanisms. This also was quite an alarming approach. The guttural “Lock her up!” chants at the RNC seemed extreme enough. But in a way, the Democrats’ position was much more radical. Trump cannot be allowed; Trump is immoral; Trump is — the ultimate disqualifier — insane. In other words, if Duck Dynasty-type voters carry the day in November, that would not be an example of democracy but a failure of it.

The historic departure here is in arguing legitimacy over policies. In this, the Democrats appear to have two fears. The first is that traditional political techniques don’t work anymore and that Trump has significantly more mastery over the new techniques. The Democrats have spent $68 million on advertising so far. Trump: $6 million. How do you fight someone who doesn’t have to spend? The second is that the party’s own policies, pushed left by Bernie Sanders and focused on usually undependable young voters, are up against a backlash that it doesn’t know how to defuse and is opposed to accommodating — a protest vote by culturally adrift, undereducated white voters without precise political moorings, an identity group the Democrats hardly knew had an identity (this already may be a cliched portrait of the Trump voter, a broad approximation of people whom the media doesn’t know). As President Obama acknowledged, seeming to scratch his head, it’s not right nor left anymore, but something much more fundamental and frightening — but beyond that, he seemed as clueless as anyone.

The Democrats’ approach, in a convention whose television ratings outpaced the Republicans until the final day (Trump himself remains a bigger draw than Hillary) was to argue that there is an onrushing Trump apocalypse, but not to address any of the issues causing people to vote for the apocalypse. “Some people are angry, I get that,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but, more clearly, she was wholly bewildered, and not getting at all — along with the entire lineup of Democratic speakers — whatever it is that’s bothering Trump voters. In fact, if anything, the Democrats doubled down on many of the issues and cultural currents that seem most threatening to the Trump side, rather believing that Trump’s illegitimacy gave them the freedom to go increasingly left.

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