Chuck Todd: Isn't Trump sort of responsible for Samantha Bee's tone?

It was a big day on NBC for “remember, Trump is worse” reminders. Megyn Kelly got it going this morning.

Todd took the baton this afternoon. Via Newsbusters:

TODD: But at the end of the day, I mean, you know, it’s like —how is it that the president is not responsible for this tone? You know, you can’t help and say it starts at the top. He regularly berates and mocks the looks of any of us. I’ve been one. And so when he expresses, I can’t believe they said that about me, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.

PONNURU: I think that’s true. But I think it’s also true that the criticism of him doesn’t land to the extent that nobody in our culture is adhering to the old standards of civility.

TODD: No. Apparently only Donald Trump is allowed to cross a line. It is interesting to me. Everybody else in our society has been punished for things Donald Trump doesn’t get punished for. Roseanne Barr, he has said statements that many people have found racist, he hasn`t paid a price. Roseanne Barr has paid a price.

Meh. This argument is a hard sell to righties who remember the Bushitler nonsense of the last decade and the way Mitt Romney, who’s now regarded as a model of decent, rational Republicanism, was demagogued as an avatar of the “war on women” during his campaign. There probably has been some measurable coarsening of political discourse traceable directly to Trump, if only because people (especially politicians) instinctively try to follow a formula that works. Trump got elected president being “politically incorrect” and projecting “strength” by taking nasty, juvenile shots at his enemies, ergo there must be a secret to success in that. And meanwhile his enemies, having been hit by a series of low blows, might understandably be tempted to respond in kind.

But Bee’s C-bomb wasn’t aimed at Trump himself, was it? It was aimed at Ivanka, who doesn’t stoop to Trumpian rhetoric. And tellingly, Bee has been plenty nasty to righties who have no connection to the Trumps. I quoted this bit yesterday from Caitlin Flanagan’s piece last year about the sad state of late night but it bears repeating:

In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.”

If Bee and the woke brigades are nastier than they used to be, it’s not because Trump’s nastiness has somehow infected their brains, it’s because they hold the people who voted for him and who support him in more contempt than they held Republican voters in the past. It’s a “deplorables” thing. That’s how you end up with jokes about a sick kid’s “Nazi hair” at CPAC and Trump’s daughter getting called a “c*nt” for posting a pic of herself cuddling her baby at the wrong political moment. The story of the last election is that the cultural divide between red and blue America (and working-class and college-grad America, probably more aptly) is widening; the less common ground there is, the more inclined each side is to see the other as an enemy, not an opponent. It’s *probably* true that Bee never would have stooped to calling Ann Romney a “c*nt” but that’s not because Mitt wouldn’t ever have said the things Trump said on the “Access Hollywood” tape. It’s because Romney’s electoral coalition would have been (a little) less alien and contemptible to Bee et al. in terms of culture, education, and class.

But rest assured, she, Colbert, Kimmel, and the rest would have been plenty nasty to President Romney or President McCain, who’s now approaching secular sainthood in big-media coverage as his health fails. We know this because we’ve lived it. We lived through their presidential runs, we lived through the Bush presidency. There’s a baseline of nastiness that the entertainment industry will take towards a Republican president and nothing will change it. In fact, notwithstanding the noisy #Resistance from late night and elsewhere, I’m not sure that Trump is more of a hate object than the average Republican is. He’s a different kind of hate object, but there’s a certain amount of partisan outrage on each side that simply must find an outlet and will find it, regardless of how. If Romney was president and running a squeaky-clean White House, he’d be getting ripped apart for some policy or other which barely draws comment under Trump because the outrage is already directed elsewhere. A case in point: If the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria under President Romney had been a quarter of what it’s been under Trump, he’d be savaged for it — not necessarily unreasonably — whereas it’s been barely a blip in news coverage this week under President Trump. Why? Because with Trump the “reasons to hate” list is already overflowing and with Romney it would need filling out. But it would get filled out, one way or the other.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the activist wings of both parties, which includes entertainment on the left (go look again at how Bee described her own show last night), genuinely despise each other and feel no common ground. That’s where the nastiness comes from. To the extent Trump makes it worse, it’s because he embodies the things lefty activists most despise about the right, not because he likes to make fun of Chuck Todd’s “sleepy eyes” or whatever. The interesting question is whether late-night would have been a bit less oppositional politically under someone like Romney or McCain than it’s been under Trump. I can see it both ways but I’m inclined to say no — not because they’d hate Romney or McCain just as much but because the influence of Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” is so heavy on all of them that they would have felt compelled to do some woke truth-to-power shtick no matter what. The left expects it of their daily comic commentators now.