Even as an NPR associate was admitting that it had marginalized itself by targeting a liberal culture elite (which she generously estimated at 11 percent of the country), David Brooks was making the case that America needs PBS to provide it with a common culture. So which is it. Is public broadcasting the realm of a liberal culture elite or a defining common ground for what being an American means?
Public broadcasting does not represent a common culture, but a culture of consensus. It reflects a liberal worldview. And liberals have a great deal of trouble articulating what America is. Ask a liberal what America should be, and he'll chew your ear off. Ask him what's wrong with America, and he'll offer you a reading list. But ask him what America is-- besides a massive social service center or a collection of war crimes and corporations, and he'll have no real answer.
The liberal worldview is post-national and multicultural. If 19th and early 20th century liberals could articulate the 'Union' as the defining point of America, by the 21st century the "Union" has given way to the "United Nations" as the ideal. Global federalism replacing national federalism. Bigger and bigger forms of government which have no room for American exceptionalism or nationalism. Where Mark Twain could favorably compare American democracy to the national institutions of Europe and the Ottoman Empire, the modern day liberal avoids such dangerous ground.
Liberalism has embraced relativism, trapping it in a feedback loop of reflexive national self-criticism. Talk about the status of women in the Muslim world, and a liberal interjects by pointing out unequal salary levels in America. Mention genocide in the Sudan and he talks about Native Americans. Summon outrage over some a beam in the Third World, and the liberal finds a mote in your eye. There's a protective ideological short circuit in that thinking, a governor that cuts in to defend against dangerous ideas with an irrelevant counterattack.
Soviet citizens were trained to respond to all criticisms of human rights in the USSR by shouting, "But Negroes are being lynched in Alabama." One had nothing to do with the other. The chief function of such responses is to immediately deflect dangerous ideas before they can be considered. Liberals invert the Soviet practice by replying to any criticism of non-Western countries with, "But Negroes are being lynched in Alabama." Less a criticism than a magic totem phrase that keeps them from making value judgments. A "What right do you have to judge" invocation that completely fails to address the problem, but instead silences the entire discussion.
As the UN has replaced the American Union as the most moral form of liberal government, so too multiculturalism has replaced American culture. Once liberals decided that America was no longer the world's beacon of freedom, its lady with the golden torch holding open a doorway for exiles, its culture ceased to have any value. The E Pluribus Unum was no longer the American experiment, but the global one without need of any country. H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come had eclipsed Jefferson, Paine and Twain in their imagination. Their burning vision was no longer of a country that would be a model to the world, a shining city on a hill, a new Jerusalem-- but of an age of global revolution and international brotherhood. The American exceptionalism that they had embraced in the fevers of 1776 and 1861 was tossed aside. Now their mandate had become the Brotherhood of Man.
The Post-Civil War liberal enthusiasm for American Unionism had soured with WW1, soured, revived and then soured again with WW2. By Korea, American soldiers were mass murderers. By Vietnam, they were maddened apocalyptic monsters serving a state of lunatic statesmen. Today they're torturers and murderers engaged in a bigoted crusade that obstructs global understanding in the service of corporations and bible loving rednecks. This is the worldview of everything from the media to academia, and from the entertainment industry to the non-profits. They see themselves as engaged in a struggle with evil and the name of that evil is America.
This is what NPR and PBS and the whole ugly Titanic of liberal cultural warfare pits itself against. American exceptionalism is their mortal enemy. A sin of arrogance by a country with an ugly history whose every attempt at sovereignty and every effort to cling to freedom is an offense against their globalist ideals. O'Keefe's NPR sting captured that attitude on tape. But it is a wholly ubiquitous and unsurprising attitude. It's the default position among the liberal elite. And it radiates from everything they touch, from the pit of the lowest entertainment to the highest ivory tower of ideas. It has become an inseparable part of them.
Popular American culture is globally ubiquitous and meaningless. The world wears baseball caps and T-shirts, and listens to music from Cleveland, Detroit and New York and watches movies from Los Angeles. But as liberals have changed, so have the assumptions of the cultural products they make. The world still watches American movies, but they no longer convey that old American sense of optimism and confidence in wrongs being righted, but rather they speak an international language of opulence and cynicism. American culture has become kinetic, hyperactive in its dazzling displays of sound and light, yet conveying nothing except wealth and power. A foreigner watching Hollywood movies of the 40's and 50's could gain a sense of who Americans were, or who they thought they were. Today he knows American cities intimately without ever setting in foot in them, he knows that all Americans are rich, American women are easy, American life is violent and American government is corrupt. To the world, America has become a mirror of its sins and vices. Whatever fault they find at home, they see redoubled in American popular culture.
For all that liberal filmmakers fly the occasional American flag in a crucial scene, or news anchors do their best homespun tone, or liberal musicians go on the occasional USO tour-- they don't believe in their own country. And it shows. This is Brooks' common ground culture and it doesn't look very pretty. You can hear it in Obama's teleprompter fed attempts at patriotism or Pelosi trying to speak about biblical values. You can stop by the local theater to see once again that the only heroic American soldiers in movies are fighting aliens, not terrorists. The tropes are there, but they lack content. The symbols are there, but there is no faith behind them.
NPR and PBS's exercises in faux Americanism fall into that same sad category. The tape rolls, the flag unfurls and there's nothing inside it except stories about diversity, British programs, liberals droning on about something no one can stay awake long enough to listen to, fake country color (which has come down a long way from Mark Twain to Garrison Keillor), the hobbies and shopping habits of the elite, their tastes and opinions. Their worldview leavened with occasional exotic imports to remind them of how broadminded they are. What does this all add up to? Nothing.
Multiculturalism is more of an absence than a presence. A throwing up of the hands, as if to say, "We don't know who we are, you guys get together and figure it out." Multiculturalism is a math teacher saying that every answer to X + Y = 4 is valid, except the ones she doesn't like. Multiculturalism is liberals saying that they don't know who they are anymore, but they know who they aren't. They aren't Republicans, they aren't into biblical literalism or flag waving or English Only signs or cheering the troops. They may not know who they are, but they damn well know who they aren't. They aren't Americans.
Defining multiculturalism as Americanism is not a definition, but an absence of a definition. And that's the definition that liberals are most comfortable with. The missing answer. The absence. The abyss. They don't know who they are anymore, but they damn well sure intend that no one else find out either. In the meantime they are citizens of the world, they are human beings who are concerned about the plight of other human beings so long as they are as different from them as possible. They are open-minded, tolerant and willing to listen to anyone who isn't an American.
Liberals have hijacked the culture with no real idea where to take it. Like stupid bank robbers, they're making their getaway, but where are they going? Anywhere but here. Anywhere but America. Their big idea is internationalism, the brotherhood of man, mingling with the nations of the world, tearing down borders and singing John Lennon sings. And to do that, they have decided they don't need to know who they are. Even as they spend half their time trying to discover themselves in self-help sections. Searching for happiness in other countries and cultures. Constantly exploring everything, even as the cold realization creeps in that they have nothing to come home to.
Their culture war has become an extended filibuster making less and less sense by the hour. They traffic in cliches, and the substance is completely lost. It's easy enough to see that in the media or in the entertainment industry. Or to listen to one of Obama's overpraised speeches, which have less semantic content than a box of cereal. NPR and PBS come down to the same thing. Much talk with no content. "Where's the beef?" "There isn't any. We all eat soy now."
NPR and PBS reflect the tastes and attitudes of a lost elite, a liberal bicoastal Brahmin caste forever at war with the untouchables of the heartland. Its public service is a service to that one percent of the country which treats NPR listenership and PBS viewership as hallmarks of its own superiority, toting PBS and NPR carry bags like Mensa membership cards. A sign to discerning people that you are a discerning person. A non-profit status symbol, among the many non-profit status symbols of the elite.
Liberals could easily fund all of public broadcasting with a shake of their wallets. But they wouldn't want to. Public broadcasting has an air of mission about it. Take the 'public' out of the equation and it all too quickly stands revealed for what it is, a status symbol and a club for the elite. A game played by the rebellious children of the upper class and middle class aspirants to that status. Its rules are arbitrary and so are its values. Like James Dean's rebel, it knows what it is against, but only has a faint idea of what it is for. It dresses up its simple thoughts in complex formulas, leaps from trend to trend to always be ahead of whatever it is escaping, and finds charm only in ironic detachment. And that ditzy elitism requires that its culture be worthless in order to be worthwhile, non-profit in order to be profitable and meaningless in order to have meaning.
The liberal aspires to be post-modern, post-consumer and post-American. He admires Banksy, wears shoes made out of recycled tires and prides himself on being ashamed of his country. His culture is as hollow as it is hypocritical, as antithetical as it is absurd. It is a culture of being against things. Of running away from things only to find himself doing them anyway. Tearing down art in order to reclaim it and collect it. Shopping for anti-consumer goods to take a stand against consumerism. Bashing his own country in order to be proud of it again. Thus the childish perversity of our cultural hijackers undoes themselves.