Six days and six nights of watching the two U.S. political conventions on TV is a rare experience of illumination and petrifying fear.
It is illuminated, again, but with the shock of the new, just how stubbornly and outlandishly partisan Fox News has been and remains.
It can't be easy, working for Fox. The sheer industry of its anti-Democrat, anti-Clinton agenda must leave some of the staff seriously tuckered. On Tuesday, there was the momentous achievement of a woman being nominated as candidate for president of the United States and, at Fox, it was all hands on deck to emphasize with mind-boggling, drumbeat regularity, that the Democratic Party is not united behind Hillary Clinton.
As for the suggestion that the Kremlin might be behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mails, Fox will have no truck with that. Fox anchors who are paid vast amounts of money to report, interview and analyze, like adult journalists do, become like 12-year-olds arguing about a sci-fi movie: "So, if the Russians are behind it, why didn't they hack Hillary's private e-mail server? Yeah, explain that one, buddy."
The asinine nature of U.S. political coverage on TV is at first bewildering and then terrifying. It becomes terrifying because you realize that it reflects accurately what it covers.
Hillary Clinton is a hard sell. There's that. And you realize the truth of that proposition rests not in her competence or experience. She has both in spades. But the truth of the hard-sell premise is anchored in a misogyny so deep-rooted it doesn't bother to disguise itself.
Even among Democrats there is a fierce reluctance to acknowledge that Clinton is vastly qualified for the job and fully designated, by a fair count of delegates, to the nomination. On Monday night, there was the chilling sight of Senator Elizabeth Warren being heckled as she endorsed Clinton. "We trusted you! We trusted you!" male factions in the audience chanted. They did that to women who are powerful in the Democratic Party, not men.
There's something simultaneously weird and familiar about that. Everything negative thrown at Hillary Clinton is anchored in old-fashioned mistrust of the female, and in an adolescent male manner. The slams against her are these: "Can't be trusted." "Deceitful." "Two-faced." "Secretive." Well, it was ever thus in the way immature young men and spiteful young women talk about a charismatic woman.
At times, listening to Fox News reporters and the network pundits who cling desperately to clichés, it has been like listening in on the teenage wasteland of petty male resentment and barely repressed rage against women.
Hillary Clinton isn't good on TV. That's a fact. There isn't an actorly bone in her body. You know that looking at her, as she tries to communicate gravitas, warmth or power. There's a disconnect between her and the fake female figure who can be powerful but vaguely flirty and charming. For the life of her she can't be one of the representative figures that the American culture understands – the flirt, the tough broad, the cool woman, the mother, the lovable but irascible intellectual. Just can't do it.
There was a time in the last few years when you could tell she'd been tutored heavily to be waggish and self-deprecating. On late-night talk shows she had this guffaw, a piercing laugh that would actually sound cloyingly weird. Then she dropped it, the fakery all too blatant. Hearing the laugh, you felt for her, this formidably able, complicated woman who had lived a life of deep consequence and accomplishments, and public pain. She was trying to seem run-of-the-mill, like the brilliant young woman at the dance, trying out the practised, long throaty laugh at some stupid joke, just to seem commonplace. She was trying to seem electable in the strangely superannuated American culture.
And so on Tuesday, they trotted out countless supporters to assert her greatness. It was a weird assortment of politicians, celebrities and ordinary Americans who respected the benefits she had brought to they lives. Some showbiz, some sincerity, in the way of these things. Madeleine Albright, Elizabeth Banks, Lena Dunham, America Ferrera, many others and then climactically – him, the husband, the ex-president, Bill.
It's so complicated, this thing with him and her. Some of us are old enough to remember Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, exuding sass, youth and energy. Now, after so much dirty water under the bridge, he appears on TV as an old roué; an ex-president, sure, but a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure, and a rake. While Hillary did the hard work of public service, fighting for social justice, without her husband's now-diminishing charm and magnetism. He started with a tale of romance and went on, and on, into her true accomplishments. And he had to.
She is, anyone watching knows, a hard sell. Not through her fault. Not through lack of steel, resolve and ability. Only because of the eccentricity of the American culture. Misogyny is a difficult dog to keep in the yard. It wanders out, undetected and lurks. But it is always there.
It's in that context of contemporary American culture and media that Hillary Clinton is a hard sell. There isn't a thinking person on the planet who doesn't realize that electing Donald Trump, an amateur, right-wing racist demagogue, would be America's greatest catastrophe since the Civil War. And still Hillary Clinton struggles to sell her capability; and you only have to turn on the TV to see why that is a petrifying truth.