On making my peace with plying the pundit trade from flyover country

Erick Erickson has, in the last couple of days, published two pieces on how his decision to stay in central Georgia has affected his career. One appears at The Resurgent and one at Townhall.

Early on, he considered moving to either Washington, D.C. or New York. Although he has done well for himself staying put, he is aware of the opportunity cost of staying put:

It has taken some time for me to come to terms with the fact that my career will not be what it could have been and ideas like this probably will not happen because I refuse to move to those cities. But the more I see and hear today, the more I know I made the right decision and what might have been lost career wise has been found soul-wise among my family, friends and church.

The recent revelations about the extent of debauchery in those cities, as well as Los Angeles, has confirmed his conclusion that he decided well:

It makes me not want to be anywhere near the entertainment and news industry. There are really good people in the business. I have encountered them. But I have encountered some I thought were good people and they have turned out to be monsters in the shadows. What’s worse is how the behavior seems to be widespread — lots of people knew about it or were victimized and few people said anything. How many more stories will come out?

In mid-1955 (there’s that time again; you’ll recall how it figures into the post immediately beneath this one), when National Review began publishing, while it exhibited touches of wit and whimsy, it held itself to the highest standards of discernment, erudition and civility. As the years progressed, particularly after conservatism experienced some political success, most notably Reagan, more magazines and some new think tanks came along that upheld those standards. Then came talk radio, and the potential of that medium’s entertainment factor became obvious to a growing number of aspirants to a broadcasting career.

Cut to the present — the Trump era — and those peddling the advent of some kind of “populism” that looks askance at the calm exchange of ideas and an art of persuasion that presumes a certain level of refinement on the part of the average American, are arguing that such standards are a hindrance to the realization of conservative goals. If one can exhibit a brash attitude, the argument goes, one can get a wide airing, on television, radio and the Internet, and in print. And have a shot at the highest echelons of celebrity that pundits can achieve.

It’s hard to see how the prospect of that kind of celebrity could not infect one’s more admirable goals. Cruises hosted by magazines. Invitations to be panelists at conferences. Being called an expert in one thing or another when introduced on television shows. Maybe even lengthy profiles on oneself in mainstream magazines. Hobnobbing with a greater concentration of attractive people. Who can deny the exhilaration that would come with oneself, even more than one’s ideas or principles, being considered intriguing and worthy of scads of attention?

Speaking of National Review, last August, David French (who lives in a small Tennessee community) made the noteworthy point there that the biggest venues involved in the business of of giving conservatives exposure do so from a dollars-and-cents calculation:

The problem goes well beyond this cocoon effect, into the very moral and intellectual heart of the conservative movement. Like any human enterprise, Fox is filled with a wide variety of people — some good, some bad. But it is, at heart, a commercial endeavor, rather than an intellectual or spiritual one. Its fundamental priority is to make money, not to advance a particular set of ideas or values in public life.
To be clear, one of the ways that it makes money is through a very deliberate strategy of counter-programming the mainstream media. But that is an economic determination far more than an ideological one, which means that Fox’s priorities will never exactly match the conservative movement’s.

All this resonates with me, as I am well into the middle years of my life and still plying the polemicist’s trade in central Indiana. It’s not the kind of place where one finds a great number of cocktail parties and conferences for right-of-center pundits, save for the occasional event in Indianapolis or some near by university, but Erickson’s peace-making with his choice is one I can relate to.

The more I see people I formerly admired sign onto nebulous Trumpism, the more I have to conclude that hunger for ratings is at least a factor. Laura Ingraham’s degree of media presence has surged since she hopped on that bandwagon. Has her own show on Fox now!

And the more I see of the depravity that permeates the media world generally, the more grateful I am that my own involvement with it is leavened with daily interactions with people who work with their hands and come home every night to spouses and kids — in time to have supper with them.

Much of my writing over the last few years has been for local and regional magazines, profiling small business people (for a business periodical), farmers (for a farming publication), and people involved in enhancing life in our community (for a general-interest city magazine). Walking plant floors or fields with these people, conversing with them in their downtown shops, or the offices of the agencies for which they work, has kept me in touch with a social fabric that may not have the cultural impact it once did, but that is where real caring, real dedication and real wisdom are found.

As post-America becomes wackier, I take more frequent inventory of my motives for chronicling the process. There’s an anchoring effect to maneuvering through a physical and immediate social environment that is at least relatively unpolluted by what I’m reporting on. It’s easier to find places to go off and pray. My level of trust in my neighbors, my spouse, even my drinking buddies, is of the highest order.

I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t do well where daily environmental reinforcements for sane living were absent.

I’m really and truly not after being a big shot. Now, seeing my principles prevail, that is worth toiling after with all the intensity I can bring to bear.

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