Sigh. Trump’s campaign announced today that he’s “definitely not” doing the Fox News debate on Thursday night. And thus American politics enjoys another bizarre “first.”
Trump has been toying with whether he would participate or not, having complained that Fox host Megyn Kelly was unfair to him in a previous debate, and he didn’t think she ought to be on the panel for the one this. And sure, that was whiny and petulant.
Fox didn’t cover itself with glory, however. Fox taunted Trump with a sarcastic “statement” released to Mediaite:
We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.
This probably seemed funny and clever at the time.
One by one, the institutions we have long counted on are stumbling. Fox is just the latest in an extended line of them. In this case, Fox could have played it straight: could have showed respect for the process and the people – who take Trump seriously – by sticking to its guns, but keeping all its communications temperate and restrained. Instead, it prioritized showing sophomoric contempt for Trump.
It’s as if this ongoing earthquake in the affairs of men won’t end until the contempt of every last institution for the ordinary people is finally exposed.
I don’t think, actually, that taunting Donald Trump – and hating Ted Cruz with a psychotic, near-demonic fury – is all our entrenched institutions are good for now. But it does seem that they’re destined to go through a ritual of self-exposure at this epochal turning point our world has reached.
There is sadness in seeing that Fox has clocked itself in the head this way. I’m sure the Ailes team will insist it hasn’t, and it’s not like viewers will rush suddenly to CNN or MSNBC instead. But the endings are going to be real, for those who keep dealing in contempt, rather than goodwill and respect, for the urgent concerns of an overburdened American people.
Memo to our civilizational institutions: don’t be contempt-dealers. The people have been bearing the costs of the old consensus on their weary backs for too long. It’s not they who are headed for the ash-heap of history.
Meanwhile, take heart. The center not holding doesn’t have to be a cataclysm (even if it feels today like that’s all it can be). It can be an opportunity, as long as we are still standing here – if we will treat it as one.