After all, it wasn’t some Klan newsletter that first brought Trump to our attention: It was Time and Esquire and Spy. The Westboro Baptist Church didn’t give him his own TV show: NBC did. And his boasts and lies weren’t posted on Breitbart, they were published by Random House. He was created by people who learned from Andy Warhol, not Jerry Falwell, who knew him from galas at the Met, not fundraisers at Karl Rove’s house, and his original audience was presented to him by Condé Nast, not Guns & Ammo. He owes his celebrity, his money, his arrogance, and his skill at drawing attention to those coastal cultural gatekeepers -- presumably mostly liberal -- who first elevated him out of general obscurity, making him famous and rewarding him (and, not at all incidentally, themselves) for his idiocies.The first problem with this is that "those coastal cultural gatekeepers" turned Trump into a celebrity for doing something other than what he's doing now. If Ted Nugent had turned to electoral politics, as he's occasionally threatened to do, and were now the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination with a hate-filled platform similar to Trump's, would that be the fault of a million high school kids who bought Cat Scratch Fever in the 1970s? Should they have known at the time that they were helping a future demagogue rise to power?
But more important, Lewis is blaming liberalism for something that wasn't done out of liberal intent at all. Sure, many of "those coastal cultural gatekeepers" regard themselves as liberal, but celebrating plutocracy is elitist by definition, even when the plutocrats write checks to Planned Parenthood or (sometimes) back Democratic politicians. Also, Trump's rise coincided with the Reagan-era backlash against 1960s values: By the 1980s, it was cool to be rich and unashamed of it, a notion the media embraced because the public was clearly embracing it. And Trump was sometimes lionized specifically out of an impulse to bash liberalism: When he persuaded New York City to let him renovate Central Park's Wollmann Rink, his work was used to shame the city government, and anyone who claimed that government is capable of being run efficiently.
Lewis smugly writes:
Liberals were sure the devil would come slouching out of Alabama or Texas, beating a bible and shouting about sodomy and sin. They didn’t expect him to be a businessman who lives on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Rick Santorum was a threat, but your run-of-the-mill New York tycoon just couldn’t be, not in the same way -- because even if the latter was unlikable, he was known, he was covered, he fell within a spectrum that the morning shows and entertainment press are comfortable with, much more so, anyway, than they are with what the slow learners among liberals still blithely call “rednecks.”Actually, no, that's not true. Eight years ago, many of us thought it was quite possible that Rudy Giuliani would be bestriding the same balconies Trump is bestriding now, in the same jackboots; it could have been Chris Christie after that if he hadn't tripped himself up. We know that a lot of the right's fattest checks are written in Manhattan, and we know that Fox News is not only based here but draws a lot of its most noxious talent (O'Reilly, Hannity, Jeannie Pirro) from the metropolitan area.
When, a few years ago, Trump started going on about Obama’s birth certificate, no one said, “Hey, maybe we don’t want to associate with this guy anymore.”Actually, everyone I know said that, but we have no cultural power. Some people who do have cultural powere called for a Trump boycott, but it was advertisers, not liberals, who kept Trump afloat. (Oh, and Fox News, which gave Trump a regular segment on Fox & Friends precisely when he turned to birtherism.)
Instead, the Washington Post invited him to be its guest at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Its editors wouldn’t have extended the same backslapping generosity to David Duke or Alex Jones or any of the other rustic zealots with whom Trump is now, unquestionably, on all fours.Alex Jones? Maybe not. Paula Jones? She was invited in 1998, when she was accusing Bill Clinton of bad sexual behavior. It's all about the frisson, don't you know?
Lewis -- who attended Brown and Columbia and lived in Cleveland, London, and New York before decamping to the hipster mecca of Austin -- wants to pin Trump on liberals. But the culture's embrace of Trump wasn't truly liberal, and no one who's remotely liberal wanted to have anything to do with him as a politician four years ago, much less in the years since. Conservatives made Trump a political force. They own his candidacy.