It looks like the presidential election might be over already. Thank God. But the creatures that spawned the Creature from the Reality TV Lagoon are likely to be with us for a while yet.
I refer to the lords of talk radio, whose unrelenting sledgehammer attacks on conventional governance finally coughed up presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. He has been, sure enough, unconventional. But unlike most iconoclasts, Trump seems to have been blissfully unaware that there were conventions, customs and rules that people live by in the real world.
The handful of right-wing talk radio hosts who created his candidacy are not quite so innocent. They have, over the past several decades, spewed forth a river of words that would, if put into books, have the heft of about 2.5 million Bibles, by my rough estimate.
In the way of real substance, they have not said enough to fill a Tuesday edition of the Billings Gazette, but that is beside the point. They have never been about truth, logic, or even a consistent message. They have simply been about stirring up their listeners in pursuit of aims that they have pretended are conservative.
So it has been fascinating, if that’s the right word, to listen to them in the past few weeks as their man slowly collapses, like a statue of Saddam Hussein, only before the revolution.
You might wonder why I listen to them at all. Well, it’s never been a habit and I can’t say I listen much, but I do tune in when I’m in the car on occasion, and since they have all mastered the art of filling hours of air time with a few talking points endlessly inflated, a little listening goes a long way.
Of the Big Three still standing, Glenn Beck is not a Donald Trump supporter, but only because he went off the rails long ago and now lives in an apocalyptic universe of his own imagining. He is definitely waiting for the Messiah, but the smidgeon of sense he has left told him it wasn’t Trump.
Rush Limbaugh is, if I may borrow George Will’s recent description of Donald Trump, “a venomous charlatan.” He has always been bereft of principles, but now we know that he is basically just another kind of Trump. Not Trump the innocent man-child who has written more books than he has read, but Trump as a calculating egotist, a radio host who looks in a mirror while ostensibly addressing millions.
And it is still possible to feel sorry for Limbaugh, as I did this week when he tipped his hand in the middle of mounting a defense of Trump’s “locker room talk.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I happen to have been in locker rooms,” Limbaugh told his listeners. “I was required to go there as part of my job, and I’m telling you it’s unmerciful what can be said, the practical joking, it is a man’s place. You had better be ready. And if you have any vulnerability, it will be found, and you will be teased beyond your ability to take it.”
It appears, then, that poor Rush was unmercifully bullied as a boy, and for the past 30-some years he has been taking his revenge on the universe by speaking into a microphone. I believe Freud called it an oral fixation.
That leaves Sean Hannity. He does not appear to be deranged, like Beck, or to be a charlatan, like Limbaugh. He is—how do I put this?—just plain dumb. He wasn’t an early supporter of Trump, but only because he has never been an early supporter of anyone. He always hedges his bets, fawning over anyone who looks like a potential winner, and then embracing the actual winner with a passion that is as unseemly as it is embarrassing.
Recently he has been out-Trumping Trump in his denunciations of Hillary Clinton, but new listeners should know that every Democratic candidate Hannity has ever “covered” has been unfavorably compared with Lucifer.
A few days ago, I listened as Hannity was having one of his echo-chamber bromance conversations with Newt Gingrich, who actually is a close friend of the Prince of Darkness, but whom Hannity seems to regard as a combination of George Washington, Moses and Ward Cleaver.
Hannity and Gingrich were trying to outdo each other in describing Hillary Clinton’s heinous crimes, equaled only by their indictments of the wicked people working to crush Trump. At one point, Hannity hopped onto the back of a shark and jumped over another shark, while eating a shark sandwich.
What he said, basically, was that Donald Trump was being taken down by a cabal consisting of the Democratic Party establishment, the Republican Party establishment, the media establishment and the “globalist establishment.”
It was so strange, like living in the last days of the Civil War and listening to one of the defenders of the Confederacy already constructing a myth that would make the Old South noble, that would wash away its sins and blame its fall on an unholy alliance of abolitionists, Jews, New York financiers and filthy immigrants.
On the morning of Nov. 9, we can only hope that Trump will shuffle off into the shadows, too toxic even for reality TV. We can almost hope, after the inevitable post-mortems are through, that he disappears entirely from public life.
But Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck? On the morning of Nov. 9 they will flip a switch and get back to “work,” starting the countdown clock for Election Day 2020. God save the Republic.