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Robbins: Elitism, arrogance threaten a backlash against Democrats

By Jeff Robbins - | Apr 24, 2024

“Trouble in River City” goes the famous line in “The Music Man,” one of America’s best-loved musicals, set in the fictional town of River City, Iowa, meant to represent the country’s heartland. It is in America’s heartland — not just geographic, but socio-political — that Democrats risk a backlash this November. For it’s a heartland that is home to Americans who may be repulsed by Donald Trump for infinite compelling reasons, but whose disgust with the elitism and arrogance of institutions they associate with Democrats may make it impossible for them to vote Democratic.

This past week provided two illustrations of the Democrats’ problem.

In an essay published in The Free Press, award-winning National Public Radio editor Uri Berliner detailed the pronounced liberal bias that has turned the once uniformly respected NPR into patently progressive-occupied territory. “People at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview,” Berliner wrote. Quite apart from the long list of examples of the political purity test that dictates what stories run and how they are reported, Berliner has the receipts. NPR’s editorial staff consists of 87 Democrats and zero Republicans, Berliner wrote in his essay “I’ve Been at NPR for 25 years; Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust.”

And Berliner is no errant, closeted Foxaphile. He voted against Trump in 2016 and 2020. “I’m Sarah Lawrence-educated, was raised by a lesbian peace activist mother, I drive a Subaru, and Spotify says my listening habits are most similar to people in Berkeley,” he wrote.

The financially troubled NPR plays to its customer base, which tunes in because it knows what it wants and it gets it. Once boasting a broad listenership, NPR’s reliably liberal take now generates listeners two-thirds of whom identify as either somewhat or very liberal. “There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” Berliner wrote. “It’s almost like an assembly line.”

Cue the phony-baloney PR hooey from NPR, which deserved every eye-roll it generated. “We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world,” was the slick non-sequitur issued by NPR’s leadership, which plainly was unable to deny a single fact presented by Berliner.

Then NPR suspended Berliner without pay for writing his essay. Not exactly a move designed to encourage the honest journalism NPR professes to stand for. Berliner promptly resigned.

Then there was the President of Columbia University, Dr. Nemat Shafik, who finally deigned to appear last Wednesday before the House Committee investigating the virulent antisemitism surging on college campuses. Shafik had cited “scheduling” issues in declining earlier requests that she answer the Committee’s questions. Maybe. Or maybe it was because for Jews, Columbia University has come to resemble Nuremberg University circa 1938, minus only the “Sieg Heils.” After Hamas’ massacre of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7 in their attempt to slaughter their way to Tel Aviv, Columbia faculty proclaimed Hamas’ gruesome murders of Jews “astonishing,” “astounding” and “awesome.” Columbia has become a hell for Jewish students, who have been insulted, threatened, bullied, assaulted and forced to run gauntlets of taunting students with masks and kaffiyehs calling for their genocide.

But there Shafik was, assuring congressmen that things at Columbia were copacetic, and that there were no anti-Jewish protests because they were “not labeled” as such. Meanwhile, hundreds of Columbia students thumbed their noses at their own president, making clear that she was dissembling, ramping up the calls for death to Jews to the point that a university rabbi urged Jewish kids to leave Columbia for their own safety.

The NPR debacle and the Columbia riots played out before a heartland already deeply suspicious of the direction the Democratic Party has traveled. And the heartland isn’t stupid. It knows that NPR and the Ivy League function as Democratic Party auxiliaries. Many in that heartland fear that the elitism and the arrogance on display last week are indicative of what an America under Democratic governance will look like. Democrats had better hope that it isn’t too many.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.


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