The contrived uproar over Michelle Wolf’s comedy routine at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner is just that—contrived. It doesn’t merit dignifying as even a tempest in a teapot. In truth, her act was surprisingly tame, muted, even reserved. It didn’t begin to roast the attendees in a manner appropriate to the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict on our country and world.
The media poses as a watchdog of the public interest, a “fourth estate” holding the powerful to account. But it’s a pose. It is critical to their maintaining credibility with the population they are assigned to pacify. For that is their real function in the cultural food chain: pacifying the people into quiescence and docility, even as their country is being stolen and wrecked out from beneath them. That’s what they get paid the big bucks for. It was Wolf’s naming that single fact that ignited the most contrived indignation.
Consider five areas in which the reality of our situation as a nation—or species—is catastrophic, and which it has always been in the media’s power to reveal, but they haven’t. Rather than inciting outrage or leading resistance, the media has offered pacification, literally tranquilization of anger, urgency, and anxiety. As members of a mass society, we can only know what we are told by its mass media. And they have methodically, systematically bred a nation of confused, timid, neutered sheep.
First, consider the economy. Since the 1980s and Ronald Reagan the economy has been rigged to transfer wealth and income from the mass of workers to the very smallest sliver of the very rich. It’s worked. We have inequality not seen since the days of feudalism when the Bourbons, Hapsburgs and Tudors ran the show. When the economy crashed in 2008, Obama transferred $17 trillion to the banks so they would not be hurt, even as millions of citizens lost their homes. The same lard-the-rich policies have been enacted in taxes, regulation, anti-trust enforcement, foreign trade policies, etc. The economy is literally juiced on the adrenalin of debt. The national debt has increase 20-FOLD since the time Reagan took office. Any idiot tossing around half-a-trillion-dollars a year can fake the illusion of prosperity. The debt itself amounts to a democratically-imposed sentence of quasi-slavery on every citizen and every newborn who will toil for the lenders every day of their working life.
Second, consider democracy. It was supposedly enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, the best academic scholars—Gilens and Page—say that democracy exists in our country only in concept, as a quaint relic of a misty but long gone past. The reality is that we live in an oligarchy, rule by the rich. The desires of the vast majority of the people have “a near-statistical zero probability” of becoming policy while the interests of the wealthy overwhelming dominate legislation, court decisions, and government administrative rules. Gerrymandering, vote suppression, dark money, and legalized bribery are all normalized and have transformed a conceptual democracy into a working auction where the operative phrase is not “one man, one vote” but “one dollar, one vote.” And it works, at least for the wealthy.
Or, consider our civic sphere. One of the central organizing principals of our country is civil liberties, that people should be free from unwarranted intrusions by the government. That is what the Bill of Rights was about. Yet, we live under successive governments that claim the right and carry out policies to read every email, listen to every phone call, monitor all social media, hold citizens indefinitely without charging them with crimes, have the army operate within the nation, even execute citizens without any due process on no more than the word of the president alone. This is by any measure a police state. You might not have experienced its force yet, but it has been put in place in the certainty that it will need to be used in the near future. And by the time that occurs, it will be too late to reverse.
Fourth consider international affairs. George Washington wisely advised in his farewell address that the nation should “avoid international entanglements.” Since World War II, the U.S. had invaded, bombed, or overthrown governments in more than 40 countries. In this 21st century, George W. Bush invaded Iraq on false pretenses, ruthlessly sold to the American public by the media on false pretenses. More than a million Iraqis, mainly women and children, were killed. He tried an attempted coup in Venezuela in 2003. Barrack Obama bragged openly about bombing 7 countries. The U.S. has carried out coups in Ukraine and Honduras, fought for 17 years in Afghanistan, destroyed Libya and Somalia, sponsors the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in the world, in Yemen, through its agent Saudi Arabia, and has invaded Syria with armies of jihadist mercenaries. And those are just some of the exploits we know of. All of it sold to the American public by a stenographic media practicing a faux patriotism on behalf of the weapons makers, financiers, and imperialists. Everything normal here.
Finally, consider the environment. Scientists tell us that climate change portends an existential threat to much of life on the planet. That’s not me saying it, it’s the scientists. Polar ice caps, there since the last Ice Age, are melting at astonishing rates. Oceans are warming rapidly and acidifying. The Amazon rainforest, sometimes called “the lungs of the planet,” is being decimated. Species are going extinct at rates not seen in millions of years. The ozone layer is depleted. Half of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has died in the last five years. Monster storms and pandemics are beginning to appear with regularity. The sum of these effects—and they are only some of the assaults on the global biotic carrying system—signal a planetary-wide ecological collapse from which there is no possible escape. We don’t know when it will occur, but it’s like attacking a person’s lungs, liver, kidney, intestines, and heart, and then injecting them with a flu strain. How will they fend? How will we fend?
These are the realities of life in the U.S. today. There are many more similarly dystopian realities. But these are the most important ones because the whole founding concept of America can be boiled down to these five things: democracy, civil liberties, and economic opportunity in a context of natural bounty and avoiding international entanglements. All five have essentially ceased to exist, all under the studious, watchful, shepherding eye of the media. The media has been the institution, the instrument in our society, that has acted to pacify the public while all of these fatal predations on our essential sacraments were being carried out.
How many times do we get fed the lies by the media that transferring wealth and income to the already-most-wealthy will make the rest of us better off? How many times do we get fed the lies by the media that we have to surrender our civil liberties to remain “safe?” How many times do we get fed the quadrennial lies by the media that the ritual of voting changes anything of substance? How many times do we get fed the lies by the media that destroying other countries is necessary because they pose a mortal threat to our country? How many times do we get fed the lies by the media that our lifestyle is a providentially appointed right, so that nothing can be allowed to interfere with it and nothing can possibly go wrong with consuming more, and more, and more, and more, and more? And more.
The stunning thing is how well the media has masked its own role as the midwifing agent of these multiple transformations, and championed the utterly bogus, deceitful fiction that they are there to keep a check on power. They are the power, pulling down their six- and seven-figure incomes. They are precisely the stenographers of still-greater power, dutifully, rarely even artfully, always relentlessly disguising the slow-motion evisceration of democracy, civil liberties, economic opportunity, natural bounty, and international peace. They exist not to explain, but to mystify. Not to clarify, but to occlude. Not to empower, but dis-empower. Not to focus action, but to re-channel it into distraction, diffusion, attenuation, cross-chatter, and impotence.
They have done their job, brilliantly, so much so that we cannot even tell truth from fiction any more. We don’t have the intellectual or moral tools for ridding ourselves of scumbags posing as statesmen. It’s why they make the big bucks but so desperately resent Michelle Wolf pointing that so obvious fact out. It’s the Greatest Show on Earth! Yowza, yowza, yowsa! Come see the two-headed, 500-pound bearded lady biting the heads off of live, three-headed chickens, while she swallows the authenticated Sword of Damocles and keeps 17 saucers spinning on the stage, all at the same time!
Is this a great country, or what? Or, what? The media pretends to be shocked—shocked!—at Michelle Wolf’s indelicacy. She didn’t even get started.