Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 7, 2016 7:30 pm

Jay Rosen on what the media missed, and me on what we need to work hard to miss

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has posted a piece titled “A Miss Bigger Than a Missed Story,” his final reflection before the election on how badly U.S. media have lost the thread of this election. It’s not that long, and its underlying thread is how politics simply doesn’t deal in reality anymore and how unprepared the media  have been for that change. He makes clear that this trend didn’t arise overnight with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real value of the piece, though, is this conclusion:

Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.

“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Trump’s campaign was “openly intended to distort reality” because that is a show of power. Power over his followers. Over the other candidates he humiliated and drove from the race. Over party officials who tried to bring him to heel. And over the journalists who tried to “check” and question him.

That last graf is really what Donald Trump is up to, and it’s the one I want most to commend to the attention of my friends at the Times and the Post and Politico and CQ and The Hill and all the other primary drivers of national political coverage in this country.

I’ve made quite the pest of myself with y’all by emphasizing that this was the campaign that repealed Godwin’s law. That tenet of Internet dialogue holds that the longer a discussion goes on, the greater the likelihood that someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Naziism. A corollary, also itself often referred to as Godwin’s law, is that whoever does so automatically loses the debate.

But in this campaign we have seen a candidate, Donald Trump, who has, in no particular order, advocated torture; advocated massive forced relocations; espoused racism, sexism (including sexual assault), many other forms of bigotry, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualismHe has embraced some of the most virulent anti-Semites currently operating in U.S. media and made them a key part of his campaign. His campaign’s final television ad was one long anti-Semitic dogwhistle. Look, I realize no one wants to look hysterical AND that comparisons to Hitler/Naziism have been overplayed on other subjects in the past. But, kids, at some point, if the jackboot fits, you’ve got to wear it. Trump and his campaign have been functioning in exactly the same way, with largely the same result, as all of the big totalitarian propaganda efforts of the 20th century, from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to China. And while some in the media get this, way too many are still in denial.

But, you say, Trump isn’t going to win tomorrow.

And as I write this, that looks like it’s probably true. My own prediction remains what it was once the two major-party nominees were determined last spring: Clinton wins with at least 310 electoral votes, and the Democrats tie for or retake the Senate. (Fun fact for us North Carolinians: Our polls close at 7:30 p.m. In 2012, the Associated Press called the state for Romney at 10:53 p.m. If North Carolina gets called for Clinton, particularly if that happens a lot earlier than it did in 2012, it’s game over for Trump. Clinton can afford to lose North Carolina. Trump cannot; he simply has no road to 270 electoral votes without us.)

But a huge number of Americans have supported Trump, and in so doing, they’ve demonstrated that they’re OK with the hatred, they’re vulnerable to the propaganda, or both. And those people will still be around and still creating trouble Wednesday and probably for years, perhaps decades, after. This campaign hasn’t just injected massive doses of hate into our political mainstream, as Rosen and Stanley point out, it has tried to make that the new reality.

Even worse, I can guarantee you that right now, this minute, someone both smarter and more disciplined than Trump already is plotting how to build on Trump’s accomplishments to capture those voters in off-year state and local races and in a race for the White House in 2020 and beyond.

That is what our news media will be facing, and denialism could be lethal to the American experiment as well as to nontrivial numbers of individual Americans. I realize that after this longest and ugliest of campaigns, no one wants to hear this — and God knows I’d love to be wrong about it — but I think the media, and all Americans of good faith and good sense, must fight this, starting immediately. I pray to God we’re up to it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 7:49 pm

I don’t usually gloat …

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

… but sometimes the levels of Stoopid demonstrated by people who REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER are just so off the charts that mockery is the only sane response.

Exhibit A: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and current irrelevance Victoria Jackson, whose behavior in recent years has been so off the charts that I even briefly suspected that it was the most sophisticated satire in history …

… joined by another fictional irrelevance, Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine:

But wait! You say that’s not enough Republican butthurt? You say you want MORE?? Well, let Salon.com oblige you with “The 20 Biggest Sore Losers” from last night. And if you’re a real glutton for conservative punishment, you can always don hazmat gear and go wading through the miasma of FreeRepublic.com. (No, I ain’t linking there.)

One other thing: I’m seeing some cautionary communications from conservatives suggesting that Obama has no mandate to do anything. Hmm, well, let’s see. George Bush electoral votes, 2000: 271. George Bush electoral votes 2004: 286. Obama, 2012: 332.

I’d say that at the very least, Obama has a mandate to ignore the wingnut right’s bullshit, press an agenda of jobs, infrastructure investment (including global warming and related environmental issues) and health-care reform, and unleash hell on the obstructionists. That doesn’t come anywhere near the “shred the Constitution” mandate upon which Bush the Lesser embarked in his first term, but, gosh, Obama only got 16% more electoral votes. Inasmuch as he’s black and all, he’d’ve needed at least 600 electoral votes to claim that kind of mandate.

Monday, November 5, 2012 10:38 pm

Summing up

Outsourced to Pierce:

It is vitally important that the Republican party be kept away from as much power as possible until the party regains its senses again. It is not just important to the advance of progressive goals, though it is. It is not just important to maintain the modicum of social justice that it has taken eighty years to build into the institutions of our government, though it is. It is important, too, that that you vote for one of these men based on whom else, exactly, he owes. Who is it that’s going to come with the fiddler to collect when you get what you’ve bargained for?

Barack Obama owes more than I’d like him to owe to the Wall Street crowd. He probably at this point owes a little more than I’d like him to owe to the military. The rest he owes to the millions of people who elected him in 2008 — especially to those people whose enthusiasm I neither shared nor really understood — and he will owe them even more if they come out and pull his chestnuts out of the fire for him this time around. He may sell them out — and, yes, I understand if you wanted to add “again” to that statement — but they are not likely to revenge themselves against the country if he does and, even if they decided to, they don’t have the power to do much but yell at the right buildings.

On the other hand, Willard Romney owes even more to the Wall Street crowd, and he owes even more to the military, but he also owes everything he is politically to the snake-handlers and the Bible-bangers, to the Creationist morons and to the people who stalk doctors and glue their heads to the clinic doors, to the reckless plutocrats and to the vote-suppressors, to the Randian fantasts and libertarian fakers, to the closeted and not-so-closeted racists who have been so empowered by the party that has given them a home, to the enemies of science and to the enemies of reason, to the devil’s bargain of obvious tactical deceit and to the devil’s honoraria of dark, anonymous money, and, ultimately, to those shadowy places in himself wherein Romney sold out who he might actually be to his overweening ambition. It is a fearsome bill to come due for any man, let alone one as mendaciously malleable as the Republican nominee. Obama owes the disgruntled. Romney owes the crazy. And that makes all the difference.

I expect Pat McCrory to be elected governor tomorrow and for his coattails to bring this state’s electoral votes back into the red column. And I expect McCrory to spend the next four years signing every damn-fool piece of lunacy the teabaggers in the General Assembly send his way, because that’s the GOP base in this state now, and McCrory has ambitions. And the damage from this dynamic will be significant. Make no mistake. If we’re not careful, by 2016 we’ll be well on the way to making Mississippi look good.

But, if honest ballots are counted honestly, Barack Obama will win re-election with a minimum of 300 electoral votes. And given issues ranging from Iran to global warming, that might be the difference between life and death, both here and abroad, to millions of people. Me? I’ve already voted. I am disgruntled, very much so. But I am not crazy.

A final word to my friends in deep-blue states who aren’t totally happy with Obama’s record and are thinking about casting a protest vote for Jill Stein or Roger Rabbit or whomever: I hear you. But know this: Those crazy folks I mentioned above intend, if Obama wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote, to claim that Obama is not a “legitimate” president. They will go through every hare-brained legal exercise they can find to try to prevent him from returning to the White House, and there are at least four Supreme Court justices who will nod and smile at any damn-fool argument these crazy people try to make. Yes, yes, George Bush lost the popular vote in 2000.  But expecting logical consistency from crazy people, although not necessarily crazy itself, is a fool’s errand. Let’s just erase this contingency by giving Obama a popular-vote margin not even well-organized, well-funded crazy people can steal.

Monday, October 29, 2012 7:12 pm

Pierce on Sandy and who we are as a nation

As I write, I imagine that all kinds of hell is breaking loose in the Northeast, the kinds of hell that, among other things, make it difficult to report in real time on what kinds of hell are breaking loose. I’ve covered hurricanes before, and believe me when I tell you that it is No Damn Fun, from getting sandblasted by what used to be that dune over there to living on Lance Toastchees and bottled water from your trunk for four days while wearing the same clothes and being unable to bathe to trying to navigate a car that don’t float when half or more of the bridges are underwater. People, including myself, joke about the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as the Angel of Death, but I’ve done Cantore’s job (albeit for a different news outlet), and I would have to think very, very hard before doing it again, for love or money.

It’s bad enough in any one location. But when all hell breaks loose in a huge region, and when that region is the most heavily populated of its size in the country … well, we have no precedent for this. And when it happens a week before a presidential election, the potential for feces to hit the fan is shattering the glass on every meter in the boiler room.

And yet there also is likely to be an enormous point of clarity coming out of this event, as Charlie Pierce explains:

However, as to the campaign itself, and taking as axiomatic that almost anything can “impact” an election as close as this one apparently is shaping up to be, there’s absolutely no telling what the effect of massive four-day weather event in the middle of this week will have on the events of the middle of next week. Certainly, in situations like this, the president has several trump cards he can play simply by virtue of being the incumbent. He can act as president. He can engage FEMA and the rest of the federal disaster apparatus to help those governors, Republican and Democratic, who are in the path of the storm. (He just might be in more pictures with Chris Christie over the next week than with Joe Biden.) He can demonstrate, top to bottom, by example, why “leaving it to the states” and, worse, “the private sector can do it better” are empty platitudes. The storm is hitting 12 states. This is something we need to do as one country. …

The problem, of course, is that a good piece of the political opposition doesn’t recognize this president as president when the sun’s shining. The people who will tell you that disaster relief is best left to the states, or to the private sector, are going be howling at the White House if some cat isn’t brought down from a tree in Cape May in less than five minutes. There are a thousand things that can go unavoidably wrong in a situation like this. It is the most fertile environment imaginable for unpredictability. The good news for the president is that he’s in charge. The bad news for the president is that he’s in charge, and the opposition is still truthless, and demented.

(Pardon this interruption from your host for this illustration of just how demented that opposition is:)

(We now return you to Pierce:)

Here’s the last thing that I’d like to throw out there before we all go 1856 all over for a while. This entire campaign has been fought out over the issue of whether or not we are all members of a viable political commonwealth with implicit mutual obligations to act through our government — a self-government that is, or ought to be, the purest creative project of that commonwealth — for the common good, or whether that government is some sort of alien entity repressing our fundamental entrepreneurial energy. Over the next few days, I believe, we are going to see that argument brought to the sharpest point possible. If you want to see how this event will “impact the election,” look to what answer to that question emerges from the storm. It will tell us a lot about the election, and about ourselves.

When the Framers put the phrase “general welfare” into the preamble to the Constitution, things like Sandy were what they had in mind. And whether we remember that fact over the next week and more will determine whether we keep, and whether we deserve to keep, the “Republic, if you can keep it” that Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots bestowed upon us when that document was signed.

Buyer’s remorse, Zombie Election edition

To probably no one’s surprise, I voted for Obama. But this ad from film director Joss Whedon makes me think maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 12:34 am

Quote of the Day, Aftermath of the Second Presidential Debate edition

Commenter Frank Armstrong at Charlie Pierce’s place:  “I think tonight Barack’s name was Inigo Montoya, and Willard did something bad to his father.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012 11:33 pm

Media criticism

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 11:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Sarah, Proud and Tall, on Peggy Noonan,

Our Lady of the Pickled Dolphins

:

Peggy thinks that the Joe Soptic Super PAC ad is an appalling personal attack that makes Obama “look perfidious and weak” and so he should disavow any such combative behaviour, but she also seems to think that Mitt should stop being so nice, take his gloves off and start fighting back. This seems a little inconsistent, but it’s hard to type and make a coherent argument at the same time, especially when you have your pearls clutched in one hand and a mason jar of gin in the other.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:05 pm

Generosity

I’m a little late to this, but apparently GOP presidential candidate and pre-Vatican II Iron Catholic Rick Santorum said this:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.

Whereupon which Erik Kain observes:

This is either straight-up opportunism dressed in religious drag or it’s one of the dumbest things to have fled a politician’s mouth in, well, days.

Aw, Erik, why such a pinched, crabbed, constricted outlook? Couldn’t it be both?

Friday, December 23, 2011 7:54 pm

Why SteveM at Balloon Juice, whom you’ve probably never heard of, is a better political analyst than Tom Friedman

Because he says stuff like this:

In all likelihood, we’ve got 2000 all over again. Romney now, like Bush then, hasn’t always spoken like a flaming wingnut throughout his political career (and didn’t fully behave like one in the governor’s office)—which means that Romney now, like Bush then, is going to be called a “moderate” during the general election campaign no matter what he says in his speeches. Romney’s Massachusetts past, like Bush’s cooperation with Texas Democrats and prattle about “compassionate conservatism,” is going to give him carte blanche to say anything without the mainstream press grasping the fact that if he’s talking wingnut, it means he intends to govern as a wingnut.

Some beat reporter from 2000—I think it was Adam Clymer—said after Bush took office that his right-wing leanings were obvious all through the campaign if you just bothered to read his policy proposals and listen to him on the stump. This stuff was hiding in plain sight. Everyone just ignored it. And they’re probably going to ignore it again.

I cannot and will not predict at this point who will get the GOP nomination. But I’m confident that if Romney is the nominee, this is exactly how it will go down: The mainstream media will ignore what’s in plain sight.

UPDATE: Also at BJ, John Cole deftly eviscerates Rich Lowry and National Review Online, and by extension the entire GOP establishment, which apparently are freaking right the fark out at the prospect that racist anti-Semite Chomskyite goldbug Ron Paul might actually get somewhere in the Iowa GOP caucus:

Basically, Rich Lowry wants you to believe that Ron Paul is too racist to be President, but just racist enough to be a Republican in the House for several decades.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 8:04 pm

Memo

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:04 pm
Tags: , ,

TO: All political candidates/campaigns
FROM: Lex
DATE: 10/29/08
RE: Campaign phone calls

Both Ann and I have already voted. You may stop calling us now. Thank you.

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