Correspondents Dinner (copy)

Michelle Wolf arrives at the 6th Annual Hilarity For Charity Los Angeles Variety Show in Los Angeles this spring. There were many opinions of her performance at this year's White House Correspondents dinner. Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File

Willy Sanjuan

Now that the dust has settled, it’s pretty obvious that one need look no further than the recent White House Correspondents’ Association dinner to see how bad and gaping the cultural divide has grown. And it’s not just the cultural divide, but sort of an alarming decline in basic manners and discourse — and on both sides of the spectrum.

In an era when people have gotten so accustomed to saying whatever they want through social media and are now translating into ordinary dialogue, what we’re learning is that anything goes.

I’ll give Michelle Wolf this much: She broke new ground during her 20-minute evisceration of the Trump administration in front of an overwhelmingly friendly audience and even took to task that audience for secretly liking (in a way) the president and not-so-secretly benefiting from him. But were her remarks witty? No. Funny? No. Clever, singeing without immolating, in any way delivered with a spirit of collegiality? No.

Whereas the rationalization is that this is Trump’s World, those who would appear to detest him the most further supersede Trump-like behavior in their manifestation of it, which kind of begs the question — where does all this end?

Peggy Noonan, in a column in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weekends ago, notes that the dinner not only hurt journalism and politics in general, but argues that it hurt America itself. “Each year,” she notes, “the WHCA dinner gets dirtier and grubbier and more partisan. Each year there is a heavier insistence on hitting the audience’s sweet spot, center-left sanctimony.”

Here are some of her salient points:

“The dinner hurts America in two ways. The first and most obvious is that it is, functionally, elite journalists telling half of America: We hate you. ”… “Second, the world is watching. It’s odd journalists forget this, but they do.”

Noting that ambassadors of all the foreign capitals send weekly reports home, she wrote, “This week they reported on the American leadership class — its great journalists and CEO’s and politicians — chortling over jokes that were primitive, squalid and deeply stupid.”

“People attend the dinner for reasons of vanity we all share — wanting to be on the inside, wanting a public affirmation of your importance. For Republicans and conservatives there’s an additional reason: to show what good sports they are. But they should never go again. There is no need for them to cooperate in their humiliation, and no gain in it. The people back home are not impressed. The people in the room are not touched. You look like a fool.” …

“The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is a blind, sick, stumbling horse desperate to be put down. Put it out of its misery."

As for the defense by certain comedians that “Michelle Wolf killed,” Noonan concludes:

“Let’s hope so.”

Comedienne Elayne Boosler, writing an opinion piece in the May 1 edition of Time, says outrage is how you know you did well at the WHCA dinner, where she performed at in 1993. Here are some of her observations in the Time piece:

“When I did the dinner, I was criticized for my jokes about capital punishment, abortion, gun control, sex education — all of which would sadly still work today, because we can’t make enough progress in this country. That’s why we need a Michelle Wolf, and the next comic, and the next, to get up there and keep saying so in front of people who write about government and those who make the laws.”

And what about Trump not being there? Boosler noted that Trump was the first president not to attend since 1981 when President Ronald Reagan called in by phone while recovering from an assassination attempt.

“Like all bullies, the current president is a coward. He’s capable of delivering his ‘witticisms’ against the media, Democrats and others only from a safe distance.” …

“By not attending, this president continues his bulldozing of American traditions like decency, inclusiveness and fair play. His review from afar? ‘This was a total disaster and an embarrassment to our great Country.’ He ought to know. The comic reflects the times.”

Maybe — they’re certainly capable of it. But as far as the WHCA dinner remarks are concerned, they more accurately reflect a disappointing, unnecessary, predictable, unamusing, dull and dispirited time. Were Trump a fringe media type or left-wing loony he might have fit right in. For most of the rest of us on either side of the spectrum — not so much.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@comcast.net.