Earlier this month an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Who Will Win the Internet?” caught my eye. The author, Kara Swisher, did not begin by making the question a multiple choice quiz, and it’s a good thing, because in her column she left out the obvious correct answer: Russia. She restricted the competition to domestic contestants and argued that the two primary combatants are President Trump and his followers and freshman Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her followers.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has become famous enough during her few weeks in the spotlight that she is now known widely as “A.O.C.,” like FDR and JFK. Even President Trump can’t get a three-letter nickname.
Swisher says Ocasio-Cortez is “the perfect foil” for the pro-Trump media. She is all over Instagram and Twitter, and not just about politics. Swisher says “the ability to take your message and yourself directly to people is perhaps one of this era’s most important talents.” Of course Trump is a master of this; it is one of the things that defines his presidency.
This brave new world is not limited to the Internet. The impact of conservative talk radio, which is ninety percent of all political talk radio, continues to grow and reached a new level in December, when Rush Limbaugh, whose weekday show is the second-most-listened-to radio program in America, and Ann Coulter, a fixture on Fox, shamed President Trump when it looked like he was going to cave on the border wall. The next day Trump announced he would shut down the federal government unless he got funding for the wall. And last Friday when he backed off, Coulter called him a wimp.
When you add Sean Hannity, who is on radio three hours and on Fox News one hour every weekday, to the mix, you get a steady drumbeat of conservative agenda creation and talking points. Hannity ladles up the same stew every day and night, adding new ingredients from time to time, and the power of the repetition is almost hypnotic.
There is nothing on the left to counter this. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now is on public radio and is a daily program of liberal news and analysis but, unlike Limbaugh and Coulter and Hannity, it is deadly serious and has little entertainment value. When key presidential policy decisions are profoundly influenced by conservative entertainers in the media, then the Fourth Estate needs to take a good look at itself and its proper role in our culture and society.
If there is good news for liberals right now it is that two female liberal Democrats are the visible and forceful face of the party and the movement: AOC and Speaker Pelosi. The bad news is that neither of them is running for president in 2020.