Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, and the Grand Spectacle of Impotence
Two old, white, American stories converged on Day 2 of the RNC.
By Stephen Marche, July 21, 2016
History coughed up a grand coincidence on the second night of the Republican National Convention: Roger Ailes' Fox News reign came to an end under a flurry of sexual harassment charges while Donald Trump was officially nominated by Republicans for President of the United States. It could not have been more perfect. Donald Trump and Roger Ailes are twin souls—the great media manipulator beside the great media utensil. Maybe it's just that I'm lazy, but I can't help feeling that all the hard-working journalists on the half-empty floor of the Convention last night were missing the action; the crumbling media-political empire of American Conservatism that is the 2016 RNC was on Fox rather than in that merely physical space. The American right-wing spectacle-machine reached its nadir in the ideal fusion of medium and subject that is the candidacy of Donald Trump as presented by Fox News.
Day Two of the RNC will be remembered as the day the Republican party fell to its knees. Day One was a shitshow—the plagiarism in Melania's speech, the invocations of My Little Pony as a defense, the overt support of white supremacy, the presence of Scott Baio. But Day Two was where it got real. State by state, the representatives of the Republican party (with a few notable exceptions) fluffed Donald Trump, and for the rest of the party's existence, no matter what happens, Republicans will always carry this disgrace with them. The nomination was somehow, nonetheless, a throwback to a wide-eyed past. The nominators stood up and delivered their little paeans to their homelands, talking about the famous produce and the winning local teams and "the late, great Prince," and they were acting, more or less, that they came from a normal country, from the old America where it was important to boost your state.
Meanwhile, the web of Republican operatives—largely absent from the spectacle—were desperately trying to figure out whether Ailes was really out at Fox, and if so, how ugly the departure would be. It was this symmetry of Ailes' departure and the coronation of Trump that was so startling. For they live their lives by the same principle, and it is not money, and it is not even power. Rather, it is the pursuit of money and power in search of something else, and that something else is allegedly blowjobs.
We are now at the point in the cycle of the sexual harassment drama where the pattern of accusations, and their sheer bulk, tell a story of their own. Ailes was allegedly very direct with all of his victims, explaining the nature of the exchange in the starkest terms. From New York magazine:
He said, "That's the way it works," and he started naming other women he'd had. He said that's how all these men in media and politics work—everyone's got their friend. I said, "Would I have to be friends with anybody else?" And he said, "Well, you might have to give a blow job every once in a while." I told him I was going to have to think about this. He said, "No, if you don't do it now, you know that means you won't."He allegedly told that same woman his personal mantra: "You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys." He allegedly demanded this of many women he worked with. Fox News, under Ailes, became a media brothel for the Republican party. It laid with the big boys so that it could play with the big boys.
Donald Trump is a bigger threat than Roger Ailes, of course. But like Ailes, Trump is direct about his intentions. He famously told one profiler that the only company he enjoyed was "a total piece of ass." His business career is based on the grand American tradition that there's a sucker born every minute. In March, Trump said about Romney: "I could have said 'Mitt, drop to your knees.' He would have dropped to his knees." The Bushes and Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney all stayed away from the Convention. They know what Trump is asking them to do. He has now succeeded in getting the Republican party to do it.
Onstage, some of the political blowjobs were reluctant, some were enthusiastic. Chris Christie was angry. The utter humiliation of Paul Ryan was almost unbearable to watch, with his strange defense of the Republican intellectual tradition coming at the exact moment that tradition evaporated. There appear to be no intellectuals at the Republican convention in Cleveland. There are suckers and suckees.
Where Fox ends and the Republican party begins has been impossible to tell for many years. Corey Lewandowski, who worked for Trump and now works for CNN, gave the New Hampshire delegate speech—who exactly is he working for? I think Republicans don't know what else to do at this point. Sean Hannity could not stop defending Melania and her plagiarism of the speech. Laura Ingraham called Donald Trump Jr. a "future political star." Ben Carson literally compared their political opponent to Lucifer.
The Second Day was supposedly devoted to the economy: Making America Work Again. That was hardly mentioned. The evening was about Trump, and Benghazi, and the phrase "Crooked Hillary." What else could it be about? At one point, we were treated to a five-minute infomercial about a Trump winery in Virginia, no doubt a preview of the branded content we can expect from a Trump Presidency. The emptiness was literal as well. During primetime, the hall was half-full. Even Fox couldn't hide that fact.
And so the Convention and Fox lumber on, converging in this grand spectacle of impotence.