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Trying to find the demilitarized zone in our culture war

Of all the quotes that garnered media attention during the unprecedented presidential campaign, I was genuinely shocked two times. Neither one came from the unprecedented candidate, Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton on Sept. 9 at an LGBT dinner: "To be grossly generalistic (sic), you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic. You name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to websites that used to have 11,000 people -- now 11 million. He tweets and re-tweets their hate-filled rhetoric. Now some of those folks -- they are irredeemable but thankfully not America."

Les Moonves, chairman of the board of the CBS Corporation, to a reporter for the Hollywood Reporter Feb. 29: The presidential candidacy of Donald Trump "may not be good for America but it's damn good for CBS..Man who would have expected the ride we're all on now?.. .The money's rolling in and this is fun."

"I've never seen anything like this"  Moonves  said, "and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry, it's a terrible thing to say. But bring it on Donald. Keep going."

Trump ended his presidential run with a whopping percentage of the American vote. To consign half of his voters to a "basket of deplorables" is to undermine hopelessly her own eloquence elsewhere about serving all Americans, even if she wasn't the slightest bit wrong about "deplorables.".

If you have any hope for decency in America, you could only shudder when you saw videos of furious people at Trump rallies standing on the edge of Trump's pen for the working press shouting "Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!" Deplorable, at the very least. But being so flip about numbers that you put 20 percent of America among them is simultaneously wrong, impolitic and appalling.

For a network uber-honcho to say for public quotation that Trump's outrage machine is a license to print money, is to slime the First Amendment with capitalism at its ugliest.

I was horrified that he'd actually said it to a member of the working press. That's the sort of thing a cynical executive chortles to his buddies while having cocktails. Or in a van with Billy Bush on the way to a soap opera. It's not what you say to anyone in America who can read.

It gave television's whole game away for 2016. It subscribed to the essential premise of Reality Television and TV wrestling: bad behavior=good television=advertising money.

And the result of that? American democracy, as it was once known, is moribund. The First Amendment may be the greatest idea in the history of civilization. But its propounders never imagined it was designed to operate in the world of 24/7 cable news and the bottom-feeding Internet.

Curbing freedom of expression isn't the answer. But blowing the whistle on capitalism's moral rot is long overdue.

This is the worst culture war I've ever lived through. I hated all that "us vs. them" bushwa in the '60s too -- the way "Coming Home," for instance, just couldn't wait to make its Vietnam war soldier an impotent lover, for instance, or the way John Avildsen's "Joe" (portrayed by Peter Boyle) signified his comic stupidity by not being able to pronounce the soft "g" in the word "orgy."

In a post-"Saturday Night Live" world, the educated classes can be as contemptuous of "low-information" citizens as H.L. Mencken was when he called them the "booboisie."
The election of 2016 proves that to be the credo of fools.

There is nothing more important for a new president to do now than to try to find some demilitarized zone for us all to live in safely while the political combatants in the culture war figure out how little good that war is doing any of us.

I understand Trump's voters a little, I think. I don’t share their politics, but in any census, I can be lumped in with many.

I am, in other words, a white man of senior years. I am of a chronological age with many of them. We all grew up in a a pre-SNL/Internet era where our teen selves would have consigned the era we're living in to the Twilight Zone. Where else could we imagine an America of same-sex marriage, state governments legalizing recreational marijuana, a black family moving out of the White House and a female candidate coming close to moving in?

I love what has been happening in the "high-information" precincts of the 21st century even though I know it has put so many of my contemporaries into what Alvin Toffler once wisely called "future shock": people, that is, who have tried living in a world much too far in advance of the world they grew up in and then despaired--a world whose contempt for them they understand all too well.

When it comes down to a righteous "us" vs. a deplorable "them," you always have to beware. "They" always have a chance, especially if their anger has never been properly understood.

Some peace and wisdom need to be found even if so few of us right now can imagine where.

The role of the "news media" has indeed been "deplorable" in all this. Ask Les Moonves why.

Somehow, American business -- including all American electronic media--has to unlearn the '80s business model of profit uber alles; of happy investors and unhappy workers; of wealth vs civic responsibility.

Virtue has to be allowed to stand a chance. With America's information classes convinced of the rule of irony, that won't be easy.

Those purporting to be in the information business have to somehow figure out ways to put the truth of that information above all else, including profit.

And when they do, we have to hope that those who will be in charge for the next four years, can find where the demilitarized zone is in our horrifying culture wars.


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