Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 9:05 pm

In which your news media attempt to polish a turd

A couple of months ago, I warned you that whatever came of Donald Trump’s likely disaster of a presidency, the news media would be of no use in helping us fight it. We got proof of that last night and today in the media’s coverage of Trump’s joint address to Congress.

To begin with, as several media fact-checking outlets reported, practically every factual assertion made by Trump was a lie. Despite having an army of researchers at his disposal, the president of the United States stood before Congress and told lie after lie after lie. One can only conclude that the lies were intentional, and that alone should have led to universal condemnation of the address.

But, no, it gets worse.

Trump highlighted his executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to create something called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, to work with people who are victims of crimes created by immigrants. He did this despite the fact that immigrants commit crimes and are incarcerated at a rate significantly lower than native-born Americans. He also did this despite the fact that it is quite reminiscent of the practice of Nazi Germany of publicizing crimes committed by Jews.

If the lies didn’t turn off the media, the Nazism should have. And if Trump had stopped there, it would have been bad enough.

But no.

As the grotesque centerpiece of his speech, Trump “honored” Carryn Owens, who was widowed in late January when her husband, Navy SEAL Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, was killed on a mission in Yemen.

Keep in mind that this mission was launched without adequate intelligence, one result of which was that both Ryan Owens and numerous civilians were killed. As commander-in-chief, Trump bears the ultimate responsibility for the outcome, yet earlier Tuesday he had tried to throw military officers under the bus:

“This was a mission that started before I got here,” the president said. “This is something that they (his generals) wanted to do. They came to see me; they explained what they wanted to do.

“My generals are the most respected we’ve had in many decades I believe.”

Indeed, The Washington Post quoted Trump as saying of his generals, “The y lost Ryan.”

Trump touched all the bases of appallingness in this set piece.

He insisted that the military had obtained actionable intelligence from the raid, a claim the military insists is not true.

He overlooked the fact that not only was Ryan Owens’s father, William, not present, William Owens has strongly criticized Trump’s handling of the raid, had refused to meet with Trump when his son’s body arrived back in the United States, and has called for an investigation of the raid.

And then, as applause for Carryn Owens filled the chamber, Trump added, “And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record” with that applause.

I am running out of words to say how vile this construction is. He was using  Carryn Owens as a hostage, a human shield against his manifest mishandling of the raid. And he managed, by remarking on the level of applause, to make it all about him, not Carryn Owens or her late husband.

One would think that a perceptive and competent media would recoil at this performance. And as I predicted, you would be wrong. While there were a few dissenters, many commentators focused purely on Trump’s tone — which was, in fact, significantly more reserved than in his previous speeches — in saying that he had been “presidential.”

I would expect a toad like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to say something like that, even if, in doing so, he was admitting that up until now, Trump has not been presidential. McConnell is about GOP power, not the public interest.

But CNN commentator Van Jones, normally a liberal stalwart, announced, “He became President of the United States in that moment. Period,” and added that if Trump can conjure more moments like that, “He’ll be there for eight years.”

Perhaps the second-worst offender behind Jones was Chris Cilizza, who writes for The Washington Post’s political column The Fix:

1. Trump rapidly grasped that this was a real moment — and he didn’t step on it by trying to immediately return to his speech. Lots of politicians, obsessed with making sure they got the speech out in the allotted time, would have moved on too quickly — missing the resonance of the cascades of applause that washed over the rawly emotional Carryn Owens. Trump understands moments; he stepped away from the podium, looked to Owens and just clapped. For the better part of two minutes, the only thing you heard in the room was loud applause and the only thing you saw was Owens crying and looking heavenward. Very powerful stuff.

Critics will say — and have already said — that Trump was using a widow’s emotion for political gain. But Owens willingly agreed to come to the speech knowing Trump would single her out. And, politicians of both parties regularly use these tragic moments to make broader points about our country and its policies. That’s politics. To suggest that Trump somehow broke with political norms here is to turn a blind eye to virtually every speech like this given by any recent president of either party.

2. Trump showed some grace. There has never been any question that Donald Trump is happiest when people are talking about, looking at and generally obsessed with Donald Trump. He’s never shown much grace in the public eye, often exhibiting a sort of ham-handedness in situations where some delicacy is required. But not Tuesday night. Trump, dare I say, gracefully handed the spotlight to Owens — even taking a few steps back to let her have that moment. For a candidate, a man and a president who has shown a stunning inability to ever make it about anyone other than him, it was a very deft move.

Well, no. As regards Point 1, Cilizza is engaged in the perennial DC media both-siderism that deprives the American people of an honest understanding of what is causing our problems. It’s true that both parties have used widows/widowers of fallen heroes in political appearances, but no one — no president ever — has used a newly minted, grieving widow as a human shield the way Trump did. As for Cilizza’s Point 2, the “grace” Trump showed was that of a person with narcissistic personality disorder who, for perhaps 30 seconds, became asymptomatic. Applauding that is like cheering a grown man for not deliberately shitting on the carpet.

Cilizza must have been stung by some of the comments, because he then posted on Twitter, “I ask again though: Why can’t Trump be praised for delivering a good speech full stop?”









But his column did not hide him, nor his Twitter feed give him shelter. Among some of the Twitter responses:

“Because speech as performance is meaningless to non-pundit human beings deeply impacted by the substance of a president’s policies.”

“Because you eat up everything he says, no matter how dangerous it is, as long as he leaves you out of it.”

“Only reason you think it’s ‘good’ is Trump avoided saying Jewish bomb threats = false flags. You know, like he did EARLIER THAT DAY.”

“Gee, Chris, you know who ELSE gave nationalist speeches while hating on immigrants?”

You get the idea: There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who aren’t employed by the Washington Post who were just happy to point his errors out to him.

But that’s not good enough. The errors do damage, and corrections or walkbacks, if any, don’t undo that damage. The media need to be calling out this bullshit for what it is, and they need to be doing it in the moment.

But that’s not going to happen. The earlier post I linked to at the top of this post goes into most of the reasons why, and the media’s performance after last night’s Trump speech merely confirms what I predicted months ago: We are well and truly on our own.



  1. […] SOURCE […]

    Pingback by In which your news media attempt to polish a turd – Greensboro 101 — Wednesday, March 1, 2017 9:09 pm @ 9:09 pm

  2. This probably off topic, but it is close and worth the read

    And even without anyone convincing anyone of anything at all, maybe just talking about this fundamental disagreement rationally instead of talking about each other could at least ease the frenzy of the fight.

    March 06, 2017

    Ace of Spades

    Charles Murray and the Flight 93 Election

    I was talking with a friend who was on the anti-Trump side of things. We talked a bit about our respective points of view.

    One point he made to me was that there were people on the anti-trump side who were persuadable, but the hot tone I take makes any points I make toxic by tone alone. (I suppose this is a criticism that I’ve directed myself at Trump enough times that I have to take it myself.)

    I got to thinking:

    1. It has always seemed to me that if an argument is not about something, then it must, inevitably, be about someone. That is, if you’re not debating an abstract proposition, you will, inevitably, debate who between you is the asshole.

    2. It has also always seemed to me that talking about something is harder and takes more work than talking about someone, which is why people, including myself, do so much of the latter and so little of the former.

    3. It also seems to me that there are a great many real arguments the anti-liberal right needs to have, but we are by and large not having them, in favor of either sniping at each other, or at Trump, or trying to say “See I was right about Trump,” or at McMullin, and forth. All of this makes for good catharsis and Tribe Reinforcement, but doesn’t really advance the ball in either direction.

    4. So I thought I would attempt to explain the pro-Trump side of things as non-insultingly as I could, about various subjects, and invite people to weigh in on the actual issues, instead of re-litigating, forever, the important political topic of Who’s the Real Asshole Now.

    Here’s a very basic disagreement we seem to be having, though few actually engage in an argument about it:

    How far along the decline do you imagine we are? How close to the Point of No Return are we?

    Because I guarantee you, your answer to this question largely determines your answer to the Great Trump Question.

    There are two answers on each end of the spectrum here. I will parodize both somewhat, with the caveat that these are supposed to be representative of the Strongest Form of each claim, and therefore probably do not actually reflect many people’s actual beliefs. However, let these stand as the two poles opposite each other. People will fall somewhere along the scale, nearer to one, or nearer to the other, but these parodized, hyperbolic claims represent the far end of each line of thinking.

    Proposition 1: The country, and the GOP itself, are in excellent shape as they are. The GOP has no need to rethink its foreign policy or its embrace of national building not just as a necessary evil in the post-warfighting phase of war, but in an actual goal of warfighting in and of itself.

    The GOP has no need to do anything at all to help working class voters who find many of the jobs they used to do have now been outsourced to foreign countries, and must now compete for the diminished number of jobs remaining with the large numbers of foreign replacements who have been insourced. That these people are now taking opiods and killing themselves in large numbers just indicates they weren’t of terribly fit stock in the first place and were ripe for replacement. And if they want to improve their lives, they should just Learn Computers Or Whatever.

    And as for the Left: Nothing is really different about the left. It is just the same annoying creature it always was. Despite the claims from The Crazies, the left can be dealt with the way it always has, through piecemeal appeasement and serial surrenders which exhaust them by making them march to precisely where they wanted to go in the first place, but at a somewhat slowed and awkward pace.

    Surely, we need not fear their rising militancy and violence. Only kookoobananas cowards who are also racists would take seriously the claims government operatives are now targeting conservatives and the media seems to be deliberately stoking grievances which prompt leftists to then commit acts of violence — acts of violence the media does not report, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight.

    Proposition 2: The world is on fire and America is essentially dead. Everyone responsible for this should be dragged through the streets and then raped by Kodiaks. We had nothing to do with any of this ourselves, it’s all a conspiracy of the corporations and monied interests to screw us over. No one in the GOP believes a damn thing they say and their promises die on the day they trick us to reelecting them. No one in DC knows a damn thing about anything and no one who has ever written about DC should ever be read again. Their works should all be consigned to the Purging Flames.

    Okay, sorry, I couldn’t parodize the second one as well as the first because quite frankly I believe in the second one much more than the first. But I did try, and I think I should get credit for that.

    The consequence of this question is this:

    There is Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. The theory is that people seek the next good on the hierarchy, but only after they have secured the good on the rung below it.

    I’m putting this hierarchy in reverse order of the way its usually presented. I’m starting with the basest, most fundamental need first, then moving down to the more abstract needs.

    The hierarchy goes like so:

    1. Physiological.

    2. Safety.

    3. Love/Belonging.

    4. Esteem.

    5. Self-actualization.

    All of those things on that list are good, but no one worries about self-actualization if his physiological needs are not met: What he worries about is his physiological needs. He needs food and water and air and warmth before he thinks of anything else first.

    (BTW, even those needs have a hierarchy: first air, then water, then food, then warmth, then shelter. This is a biological priority: you can go two minutes without air before you die, two days without water until you die, two weeks without food before you die… etc.)

    Now let me adapt this into the hierarchy of political needs:

    1. Security from bandits, invaders, Vikings, street criminals.

    2. Security from harassment or assault from government officials themselves. (Note that 1 and 2 can easily flip depending on which is more threatening, but generally, states are formed to defend a land against outside conquerers and then that state moves on to conquering its own people.)

    3. Security from social or cultural degradation and being assigned to an officially or semi-officially inferior caste — think “Civil Rights.” Think casual slurs directed at any group.

    4. Big picture, gut level, philosophy-defining questions, such as on abortion, the sanctity of marriage, whether the state will permit personal property or whether it will all be shared, whether criminals will be treated leniently or punitively, etc.

    5. More wonkish refinements of the big-picture gut level items — whether or not we’ll have a border adjustment tax or an Ex-Im Bank or whether we will declare as a nation that we will go to war with Russia if it threatens Estonia, even though we all know it doesn’t matter what we say, we won’t go to war, but it’s important for our self-esteem to claim we might.

    Many in what I would casually, and perhaps insultingly, call “The Establishment” seem to feel pretty secure on the first three levels of the hierarchy of needs, which then permits them to spend most of their thinking on the fourth level and the fifth level.

    Fine. I applaud them their success. A feeling of security in the world usually derives from success, and I would not fault any man for having succeeded and enjoying the fruits of that (which, in this case, is specifically the freedom of fear about political needs 1-3).

    However, while I would applaud them for their success, I would also counsel them not to universalize from their own experience, and not to assume that because they feel insulated against the loss of a certain need, that it’s silly, crazy, or base for other people not as well-situated to fear for the loss of — or be currently suffering from the loss of — that need.

    Stated as offensively and provocatively as possible (and I’m cribbing this from a cynical friend): Morality is a luxury good. Rich, prosperous countries breed a value of life. Desperately impoverished people will murder people for a meal.

    To have one’s most elemental political needs satisfied and thus be free to think only about our Estonia policy is also a luxury good.

    And not everyone has that luxury.

    I never read this article before the election, though I was aware of it, and saw it quoted: The Flight 93 Election. It’s now revealed to have been written by Michael Anton, now serving on Trump’s NSC.

    Basically it posits that after eight years of Obama and a culture becoming increasingly comfortable with rule by progressives (and rule by progressive fiat as well), and with the prospect of another eight years of President Hillary Clinton on the horizon, there was no other choice for the country but to storm the cockpit and take the controls and take a chance on either saving itself or crashing — hence, The Flight 93 Election.

    Either we do something dramatic, or it’s all over, and we just give up.

    I didn’t really read this article before the election — and still haven’t finished it, to be honest — for a simple reason: I already believed it. It was nice to see someone saying what I already knew to be true, but I didn’t really feel I had to spend too much time confirming my own bias.

    This is why I said I’d become a Democrat if Hillary won — I thought it was over. I still think it’s over, if I’m being honest. But if the Democrats continue 16 straight years in office, with no chance of punishment for any transgression and thus the perfect freedom to transgress on whim, then I’m damn sure not going to continue wearing the uniform of the army that’s surrendering. I’m going to change uniforms — I have to meet the second need, freedom from government harassment, before I bother thinking about the third, fourth, and fifth level needs.

    Either we’re fighting to win or I, personally, am not fighting at all. It’s one thing to fight in vain for a lost cause; but to make yourself an enemy of a state for a cause no one is really fighting for?

    Now that’s crazy.

    So thus the importance of the question: How far along the decline do you think we are? How close do you think we are to the point of no return?

    How menacing do you think the left’s ever-more brazen mobs are?

    How insulated do you personally feel from the violence that is happening more and more, and with less and less condemnation of the Political-Media Establishment?

    And in pondering that question, read this account from Charles Murray about the mob that assaulted him and put a female professor in the hospital, and then ask yourself:

    Do you really think there will be any legal consequences for the mob?

    Or do you think the Political-Media state will tacitly bless their assaults as “understandable” and hence not punishable?”

    Does it not seem to be an inside-outside game going on? Community-organized violent demonstrators who are then protected, if not outright blessed, by official government institutions and all of the media to go even further than they’ve gone already?

    A mob that gets cracked down on by government agents is a one-day crime story.

    A mob that gets protected by government agents is a serious political story.

    That there is political violence is not itself alarming. That government actors, rich institutions, and the putative Fourth Branch of Government support political violence is gravely alarming.

    Do you think there will be more of this, or less of this, in the year to come? And if you say less — well, what would cause there to be less of it?

    Strongly worded columns?

    You know, conservatives kind of used to make fun of people for suggesting that actual aggression and lawlessness could be deterred by a strongly-worded statement from state.

    Maybe it would take uncouth Trumpian tactics to actually impose some sense of liberalism on universities — genuine cash-money force, like the vulgar and inconceivable suggestion that maybe the government can start turning off the money spigots for universities that do not defend all students actually-mentioned-in-the-constitution civil rights.

    As ghastly and as gentlemen-do-not-read-other-gentlemen’s-mail as that may sound to some.

    But seriously fellas, I gotta know what you think is going to cause this to abate.

    Because this tactic is being used more and more, and it’s succeeding more and more — without negative consequence.

    And people don’t stop using a tactic just because it’s too damn successful.

    So help me out: what is the plan here?

    Do you think “The Crazies” might have a bit of a point when they say “I voted for Trump because I’m fucking afraid of what’s coming next” or “I don’t care if Trump’s a bastard, and I don’t care if he’s not really conservative, I feel I need protection and no one else is even pretending he’s willing to risk a damn thing to provide it?”

    You can either think half the country is “crazy,” or you can consider the possibility that people who do not have a great deal of money, or media presence, or connections to the political machinery of the country feel like they’re in a more precarious position than you are not because they’re crazy but because they actually are in a more precarious position than you are.

    I think it would be helpful to have this debate — maybe I’m wrong; maybe I am crazy. Maybe I can be persuaded on this point. I’m stubborn, but I’ve been convinced to abandon a position before.

    And maybe the people disputing this dire reading of current circumstances might themselves be persuaded that if it weren’t for their bank account — “Fuck You Money,” as Howard Stern used to call it, a sum of money that permits you a certain amount of freedom because you can always say Fuck You and live on your savings for a few years — or for the protection they can expect from friends in the media and government, they too might fear what’s going on in our country right now.

    And even without anyone convincing anyone of anything at all, maybe just talking about this fundamental disagreement rationally instead of talking about each other could at least ease the frenzy of the fight.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Wednesday, March 8, 2017 7:59 am @ 7:59 am

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