David French writes, “Don’t fire Colbert, fire his crowd.”
“To wander around America is to discover the happy reality that most liberals and most conservatives are perfectly nice, not particularly smug, and seldom if ever vitriolic,” Conor Friedersdorf recently observed in The Atlantic. Yes indeed. And to wander around a college campus is to discover the “happy reality” that most students and faculty members dislike rioters and radicals, and just want to finish their degrees or immerse themselves in their research.
The problem is that this silent majority is largely irrelevant to the prevailing discourse. Our political and cultural agenda is typically dictated by those who care the most, and right now those who care the most also tend to hate their opponents on the other side with a fiery, reflexive passion. Colbert’s crowd may be smaller than, say, the less-political Jimmy Fallon’s, but it is much, much more likely to set the terms of the American discussion. In short, the people who truly care move this country, and the people who truly care are truly angry. Their anger is so all-consuming that it often forecloses the possibility of a debate about ideas.
One of the more remarkable things about the 2016 election was that it was simultaneously the most vitriolic of my adult lifetime and the least ideological. Trump and Clinton were and are extraordinarily malleable, driven by self-interest above all else. Trump shifts positions almost daily. Yet the partisan devotion remains.