For the past ten or so years, the right wing has been sounding the alarm about the greatest threat to American democracy. This great danger that threatens our way of life to its very core is not gun grabbing liberals, radical jihadists, or even burdensome bureaucratic regulations. All these things, to be sure, are overhyped as existential threats to the viewers of Fox News day in and day out. But the most feared and loathed of them all?
Conservative politicians, commentators, and celebrities warn us over and over again that we have become a nation of thin-skinned weaklings who are left bruised at the slightest offense. They rail against college students who demand safe spaces; minority groups who call out racism, homophobia, and other prejudge; survivors of trauma and abuse who find use in trigger warnings for sensitive content; and anyone else they deign “snowflakes” incapable of dealing with their version of the harsh truth. This meme is arguably so prevalent in right-leaning discourse that it was a major factor in driving a patently unqualified candidate all the way to the White House solely on the basis of his supposed ability to “tell it like it is.”
But what happens when the offenders become the offended? We found out just the other night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
In a particularly pointed portion of her collective roasting of Washington, comedienne of the night Michelle Wolf took aim at President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. While her full menu of targets ranged from Hillary Clinton to Scott Pruitt and Rachel Maddow to Vladimir Putin, Wolf laid into Sanders specifically for her day-in, day-out defense of the administration’s incompetence, absurdity, and corruption.
Wolf did not, it should be noted, attack Sanders’ appearance (though many falsely alleged that she did). Instead, she took aim at the simple fact that Sanders lies very often in her work for the Trump Administration. And she does: from the podium, Sanders has lied about the healthcare debate, voter fraud numbers, the president’s words encouraging violence, the private positions of anyone from FBI agents to GOP senators, the rigors of immigrant screening processes, wiretaps on Trump Tower, and the women accusing President Trump of sexual assault – to list just a smattering of topics.
The right’s own snowflakes, however, found Wolf’s willingness to challenge Sanders’ lies none too amusing. The Five’s Greg Gutfeld, who once gleefully mocked a female air force pilot with his colleagues on live TV, decried the “misogyny” in Wolf’s routine. Sean Spicer called the entire dinner a “disgrace,” despite the fact that he himself, once in Sanders’ position, famously lied that Trump had the most well-attended inauguration ever, period (despite obvious photographic evidence to the contrary). And Sanders’ father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, bemoaned the bit’s “bullying” – despite his own attempts at comedy on Twitter, which frequently include racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Unfortunately, the temper tantrum was in large part rewarded. The liberal media came to Sanders’ defense, with the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association going so far as to issue an apology. The whole pitiful episode showcased the extreme vulnerability of a media industry paralyzed by an inability to call out untruths and willing to be co-opted by bad faith criticism. It was also, perhaps, an eye-opening look into the common discomfort that people of power on both sides of the aisle feel when anyone gets to loose-lipped in challenging the status quo.
But where was the biggest opponent of political correctness throughout all this? The man whose political appeal is supposedly rooted in both his toughness and his willingness to say anything, no matter who it offends? Cowering, per usual. Far too fearful to attend a dinner where past presidents have been mocked - let alone shown a willingness to mock themselves - President Trump was exactly where his fragile feelings demanded he be: safely coddled by a rally full of his adoring fans.
Wolf’s routine has already all but faded out of public discussion; perhaps that was inevitable, given the age of Trump’s frantically rushed news cycle. But next time a talking head on Fox News gins up a fury over the latest complaint from the snowflakes on the left, it would be good to remember how they couldn’t even stomach a simple comedy routine – and one with a lot of underlying truth, at that.