Bob Ehrlich Commentaries
Ignore the Media, Focus on the Counternarrative
As the respective parties promote their conflicting visions of reality for the voting public, an overused rhetorical term appears with ever-increasing frequency: “narrative.”
The versatile noun pops up in seemingly every media report, as left and right strive to steer the national conversation. (That the major media’s coverage of politics has descended into the narrative business in lieu of hard news is a critical but separate issue.)
The left’s favorite narrative is by now familiar. It’s all about a racist, nativist, mean-spirited America led by a dangerous, racist demagogue focused on placating the wealthy, destroying the environment, backtracking on international obligations and infecting the vulnerable.
You can observe all of this playing out any day or night on MSNBC or CNN or public television. If you choose to read about it, identical storylines appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and dozens of other left-leaning big-city newspapers and magazines.
A significant majority of Washington insiders will happily regale you with additional NeverTrump narratives.
After all, Mr. Trump is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to sticking it to D.C.’s traditional party establishments. And they hate him for his efforts — more than you will ever know.
With five months left until Election Day, the left is riding the tide of twin anti-Trump narratives: COVID-19 and the racial and law enforcement repercussions following the George Floyd murder.
The intended beneficiary is of course Joe Biden, but the listless, often confused former vice president is a mere shell of his former self. He has not had a news conference in 84 days. His narrative is accordingly reduced to a pathetic singular notion: “I’m not Trump.”
But there is another even more hostile narrative reserved for a special group: those refuseniks who depart from traditional stereotypes, the few who possess the intestinal fortitude to resist their assigned political lane.
These then are the people of the counternarrative, a brave subset (someday to be studied by cultural anthropologists at Berkeley) of souls representing a cross-section of races, ethnicities and sexes who simply refuse to let others set the terms of their personal politics.
Their mere existence — let alone willingness to engage those who bear false witness against them on the national stage — triggers the worst of progressive inclinations, including the usual indictment of “sellout.” (Recall Joe Biden’s reflexive assertion that if you vote for Trump, “you ain’t black.”) That such groundless character assassination is spread with a minimum of protest from our self-appointed cultural value makers is both revealing and a matter of record.
So who are these outliers?
Well, you know them when you see them, although they are generally confined to Fox, talk radio and selective conservative websites. “They” are Trump-supporting African-American police, clergy, academics and athletes; campus-based free speech advocates; right-wing (and particularly occupationally brave) Hollywood actors; educators for school choice; NBA executives willing to oppose Beijing’s malign influence; Hispanics for border security; free traders frustrated by Chinese market manipulations; and Jewish resisters to the BDS movement.
There are others, but you get the point. These icebreakers make progressive activists lose sleep. They are in fact an existential threat to those determined to normalize cancel culture. No surprise here: Identity politics and its attendant emotionalism is so much easier than having to think, debate, engage and compromise.
The vast majority of Americans who continue to support free speech, respectful discourse and diversity of opinion must care for these dissidents. Indeed, life is always hard for those who swim against the popular tide.
Life is harder still when that tide no longer countenances First Amendment freedoms. But it just may be that life for those who so often find themselves in the crosshairs of cultural elitists is most difficult in the time of Trump.
The bottom line must be apparent for all to see: In America, what you look like should have nothing to do with your political opinions. There is no acceptable media-manufactured narrative to the contrary. It really is that simple.
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