We fiddle, and the republic burns.
It's sickening. Donald Trump, man-child arsonist, is day by day torching the most sacred American values -- threatening the welfare of millions, undermining the pillars of our democracy, igniting the ugliest impulses of the society's id -- and we, the media, are covering it like a bemused recap of House of Cards.
The rapacious CBS Chairman Les Moonves and the cable-newslike channels are delighted at the spectacle; disaster is always great for ratings. But this is not a show, to be consumed and titillated by and parsed. It is a conflagration of hatred and authoritarianism on its way to consuming us, or at least that which makes us us. Trumpism is raging out of control and the Fourth Estate responds how?
By going through the motions.
The usual false balance. The usual staged cable bickering. The usual dry contextual analysis. The usual intermittent truth-squading to garnish our careless daily servings of uncontested hate speech, incitement and manifest lies. The usual reluctance to “be part of the story” -- which, in fact, we are inextricably part of because we in large measure created it by giving oxygen to his every incendiary outrage and being our soundbitten, compulsively enabling selves.
It is precisely this craven faux objectivity, after all, that fueled the historically ruinous Iraq war. It is just this fetishized impartiality that gave us a decade of stenography as the country's political center moved to the far fringes of the right. (Alas, this is not my first call to vigilance.) When one side of a story is madness, medieval anti-intellectualism, scapegoating. demagoguery and lies, the neutral broker in the middle has in fact made a choice. The wrong choice.
The only right choice is for truth. And righteous condemnation, not ghettoized on opinion pages but front and center. Every day.
Are we not supposed to be the watchdogs, the speakers of truth to power, the guardians of democracy? It's time for a gut check. Colleagues, stop gawking. Stop debating. Stop obsessing on the process. Stop being distracted by the daily Trumpruption. Stop analyzing his “policy” positions, his vp choice, his potential Supreme Court nominees, his unreleased tax returns.
This reflexive focus on the latest development, the political ebb and flow and the architecture of the coming election simply buries the lede -- that the man is monstrously unfit and un-American -- and normalizes the grossly, tragically abnormal.
He is racist. He is misogynistic. He is a xenophobe in the nation of immigrants. He has repeatedly incited violence. He shows neither understanding nor respect for the balance of powers, or any other aspect of the Constitution. To protect his personally thin skin, he has promised to weaken the First Amendment. He shows no appreciation for the role of government, but embraces a dictatorial vision of executive power, threatening to unilaterally scuttle international agreements, repeal legislation and default on the national debt.
He supports torture and war crimes against civilians.
He has played footsie with and failed to disown some of his most extreme supporters, including avowed racists and anti-Semites. He has ridiculed the disabled. He has disparaged the heroism of POW John McCain. He has defended the size of his junk on national television.
Oh, and he's a pathological liar.
Barry Goldwater? Sen Joseph McCarthy? Pat Buchanan? Statesmen and pussycats all compared to Trump, rabid predator and evil clown.
So if all of his horrifying disqualifications are as stated -- and they are -- why has there been no media crusade to deny him the presidency? The press jumps to warn America about missing children, tainted meat and approaching dustings of snow? Why are we not on high fucking alert?
Well, there are actually three impediments. The first is the aforementioned fairness imperative, which is obviously well-intentioned and laudable -- until it bends over backwards into a paralyzing contortion. As so often documented, the balance reflex often endows false legitimacy on illegitimate positions, among them climate denial, the anti-vax movement, creationism, Birthers, 9/11 Truthers and a whole host of objectively indefensible fantasies, superstitions and conspiracy theories.
The second countervailing force is simple fear. For three decades, the media have faced the accusation from the right that it is infected with liberal bias. The likes of Fox News Channel, Drudge Report, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, NewsMax, The Daily Caller and Glenn Beck have risen in direct response to the supposed juggernaut of pinkoism they face in what Sarah Palin calls the lamestream media. To crusade against Trump would be the smoking gun the political right is looking for, proof positive that they were right all along.
Finally is the third obstacle: Godwin's Law. First promulgated by lawyer and author Mike Godwin to chasten Internet debaters who veer inexorably toward analogies with Nazism, it has done a good job of dissuading serious commentators from trivializing complex issues with glib “logical extensions” to the Holocaust. To invoke Hitler, et al., is considered -- in the pundit class -- to be rhetorically cheap, if not hysterical.
This bias against overreach is all well and good when the logical extensions must extend a ludicrous distance. But Trumpism has changed the calculus. In this scary moment, comparisons to European-style fascism are suddenly non-trivial, because the playbook is hauntingly familiar: Vilify sinister “others.” Preach hyper exceptionalism. Seek vast executive power. Prey on a sense of humiliation at the hands of enemies, foreign and domestic. Portray yourself as supremely imbued to personally deliver a hitherto lost destiny.
Indeed, if ever there were a sign of perilous times, this would be it: debates, raging for the past two weeks in prominent media channels, over whether Donald Trump is himself a fascist. Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan says it's a fair characterization (“Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader…in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation.”) Neocon historian Michael Ledeen, in Forbes and elsewhere, says fiddle faddle. ("Being a strong leader isn't enough to make you a fascist.”)
But even this debate is just a spat about how many Nazis can fit on the head of a pin. One scholar looks to 20th-century Europe for dire cautionary tales. The other enumerates the many reasons, from the dictionary of political science, that the comparisons are specious -- all amounting to this:
Robert Kagan: “Look out! He's got a rifle!”
Michael Ledeen: “You fool. That's a shotgun.”
Next: Blam. Blammm.
As Adam Gopnik observed in the last issue of The New Yorker, the assault is long since underway -- not potentially, not hypothetically, but in word and in deed already now.
One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day.
The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power. The right thing to do, for everyone who believes in liberal democracy, is to gather around and work to defeat him on Election Day.
At long last, colleagues, have you no sense of history? It has happened before. It is happening elsewhere. It is happening here. Gopnik's broadside is and must be the model for journalistic action, not to wallow in distraction, but to focus singlemindedly on the Trumpian core.
Heed not the (apocryphally) detached Nero but the resolute Cicero, who denounced Lucius Catiline in the Senate not once but four times, lest the scheming demagogue overthrow Rome.
When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?
Such audacity must not be amplified. Do not enable Trump, do not elevate him -- do not above all market him. Every bit of deference -- and worse, every outrageous daily sound bite -- is a bellows to the flame.
Fires burn on oxygen. We must cut off the supply.
There's a fourth component to this: money. "News" that's driven by profit is deeply analagous to the German economy under the Nazis doing well with stolen possessions and arms spending.
As opposed to whom? Why don't you write a balanced article and talk about both sides? You have no credibility when you just attack one side that you apparently have a huge bias against
The Donald is merely a pimple waiting to be popped. The fact his generation tolerated his antics all these years is more significant than his presidential run, which is not popular but paid for with cash. It's good that we run two of the most unpopular candidates in our history against each other for the last baby boomer presidential race. Each of the elders shows off the massive work that generation leaves behind for the rest of us -- from their worldview to the very mechanism which grants them power via their money -- it is time to quit participating in the shock and awe and get used to the idea our post WWII world is broken.
This is not the first time we have needed to reinvent ourselves, and it won't be the last. We have gone through about 5 cycles over the past 240 years, and only one civil war. It's possible we can elect either candidate and change will happen anyway because it is inevitable, and since both candidates represent a vote for the past, the future will push in on either one. The Donald and the Hilliary are a perfect couple for change because by the time this is over, younger people will reject them both, or either. Both parties have choosen the worst possible leadership from a generation that's out of ideas. That's my 50 cent prediction, lol.
Bob, I am not a fan of either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. I am a fan of clearing up the national debt problems, terrorism and the overall economics of the USA.
More importantly I am for a unbiase neutral press including columists. There has been a sea of American blood given by hundred of thousands, both home and abroad to protect your right to write this column of yours and name calling.
a unbiase neutral press including columists
oh, really? you might want to brush up on the first amendnment. freedom is what those people died for.
Well said, Craig Mcdaniel.
The fact that this rant appears in the wake of Memorial Day is ironic. Instead of mourning the loss of our fallen soilders, this is a good time to thank God for the brave women and men who came before us willing to fight Nazi's and other for the preservation of our rights. Even the right to call a presidential candidate a Nazi. TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) presents in very odd ways.
A unbiase neutral "Reader" of the national press, local press, online press and columists deserve better than biase comments, cussing and name calling.
Those who died for their country did so also for their neighbors, friends family, love ones and fellow citizens so they can have a free country and a free press.
Thank you Garfield for proclaiming the Truth. Now what do we do about this troll? I'm willing to run anything to deflect the attention from The Monster whose influence is spreading way too fast.
mssrs mcdaniel and swan:
you literally have no understanding of our constitution, core values and history. it's astonishing. as for wartime sacrifice, you are arguing against yourselves. sad. scary.
I love the Unite States and the rights given to us far more than you will ever admit. Even though I have some gray hair and older bones in this body of mine, I would help to defend this country if called upon. And if I died in the process, I would have died with honor defending my fellow citizens. Are you man enough to say the same?
On my website, I post a message to all of our members about all of the holidays. For this Memorial Day weekend I posted the following:
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND MESSAGE 2016
If you scoll down you will see nearly 70 comments from members who have a special appreciation of this holiday. I sincerely hope you do read the comments about their relatives and love ones, many of did give the ultimate saciface. These comments are not "Scary" to put in your own words and neither am I.
Finally I have a picture taken of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier taken on Sunday. This soldier, whoevere he or she is, was an American defending our rights and love of this country. Without the bad mouthing, cussing, name calling but with honor and respect.
One only needs to look at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to have a understand of what the constitution, core values and history it represents. So in the end, you are the one who should question your own values.
First, let me make a suggestion:
"a unbiase neutral press including columists" should be
an unbiased neutral press including columnists
A journalist's mission is to seek the truth and report or comment on it. To question is to seek truth. What is biased is the reporting on Trump that seems to take everything he says without so much as a "huh?" Where is our "Woodstein"? Trump is an ignoramus who has gotten this far due to our willingness to trade serious political discussions for bead and circuses. He is not qualified. He is not worthy. Dump The Drumph.
Well said, Mr. Garfield. Your measured and thoughtful response is as refreshing as it is unusual on this post.
Dear Mr. McDaniel: Do you pay MediaPost monthly, yearly or on a per-ad basis for your constant referrals to your product and website?
... Just curious. I've got a few items on eBay that I was hoping to tout here.
@Craig Mc Daniel... So, which branch of the service did you serve in? Or, like Trump did you claim that avoiding veneral disease was the same as serving in Vietnam. Based upon your comments, I asume that like Trump you view McCain as not being a war hero because he was cowardly enough to get himself caught.
Mr. Lantz, I charge nothing to be a member of ST nor do I pay MediaPost. Both sites are advertised revenue driven. In 13 years we have over 58,000 sweepstakes and contest advertising post for sponsors. Yes we do get paid on many of the advertising post, however when I put up a holiday post, they are free annoucements. This is the first time I ever posted a comment about any announcement on ST or any Holiday.
I will make this offer to Mr. Garfield, he can in his own name for MediaPost can write or use this commentary on Sweepstakes Today and to invited our 326,000 to comment also on his commentary. In return I get the same privilege offered by MediaPost as a guess writer. I will say that I am not a fan of Mr. Trump but I do feel that trashing any candidate including Mrs. Clinton is wrong. The Presidency should be about real issues, not one-liner comments.
There is no "neutral" press as long as human beings are involved. We all have biases, assumptions and personal history shaping our view of the world. A good journalist takes all this into account, and tries to present an honest appraisal of the facts as they know them.
But a truly "neutral" observer does no one any good. That's what Garfied is talking about when he refers to some journalists as "stenographers," simply reporting what people have said, without looking deeper at what the reality is.
If someone argues the Earth is flat, and a scientist is given equal time to say, "No, in fact, it's round," is that good journalism? No -- it's a travesty of make believe over reality. One side doesn't merit having its point of view taken seriously.
Donald Trump has dominated the news cycle for six months by saying outrageous things that he knows the mass media will pick up and run with, knowing most TV types are too cowed to examine what he is actually saying, or why.
Cheers for Garfield for taking him on. It's about damn time.
Bob, I hope you can hear my appreciative applause all the way from Australia.
We're headed to a national election in June, and the Leader of the Opposition called Trumo "barking mad" (which I think is being kind). Of course the conservatives called that a threat to Australia's national security. We live in odd times indeed.
Bob and every other non Trump supporter -- stay calm -- the BEST thing that can happen to this country is to have Trump win.
When Obama won the election we all assumed racism in our country would surely decline as we recognized an African American to the highest position of leadership. Well, the opposite occurred as racism rose up and dominated more rationale behavior.
The worst kind of racist is a silent one. Give Trump and his supporters the microphone so racism can feel like its safe to come out from its hiding spots and watch as human kindness rises up and takes on this ignorance now that we can find it.
As editor, I get comments from readers that don’t get posted publicly. Most of the ones about this column were from people who 1) don’t believe we should cover politics; and 2) felt Bob unfairly attacked Trump.
Re. No. 1, we don’t cover politics per se. We cover it as a form of marketing that sells a product -- in this case, a candidate.
Re. No. 2, we cover stories about consumer marketers that make false or unhealthy claims.
Bob does not report news for us. He is columnist. The real question is whether his opinions are relevant to our readers. I believe they are because Bob is a media critic calling out journalists for not doing their job. In a previous column, he described it as “journalistic malpractice.” I think it is the right way to characterize it.
If a marketer makes false or unsafe claims that jeopardize the public, it is the job of journalists to inform it.
Bob could just as easily have been writing about the press’ failure to cover the recall of an unsafe airbag. In this case, he chose to write about the recall of an unsafe bag of hot air.
Okay, so I have opinions too. And this is an appropriate public forum for expressing them. You are welcome and encouraged to do so as well.
Can you imagine a Trump Presidential Library? Neither can I.
Thanks to you and Bob Garfield both!
@Mike Einstein: Threre's one right here. Everyone should go visit it:
"But this is not a show, to be consumed and titillated by and parsed." You think? Some people, some Bernie supporters for example, think, yeah, this is a really freaky show:
“A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”
Die-Hard Bernie Sanders Backers See F.B.I. as Answer to Their Prayers
Bob Garfield is right on. In fact, he has woke me up enought to put my qualms about Hillary aside and get active, very active, in the campaign.
Joe Mandese: Well-put, and reasons why I enjoy following MediaPost.
P.S.: And since you're here, could you PLEASE do something to help us poor fools who accidentally submit duplicate posts?
"The Sky is Falling," said Chicken Little. Hysteria. On the positive side, a lot is being talked about and revealed by this election that needed to come out. Regardless of who gets elected, I hope the fundamental issues driving discontent with both parties, economics and internatinal affairs can be dealt with in open discussions and not behind closed doors.
Bravo, Bob. I've been a journalist for many years and it's horrifying to see the media "normalize" this monster. When the NYT did a huge feature about Drumpf's foreign policy "ideas" I just scratched my head. You might be interested in a piece I wrote for HuffPo about Drumpf's appeal -- it has to do with "terror management theory" which posits that reminders of death (which surround us all the time) make it easier for jerks like Drumpf to hold sway. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bronwyn-fryer/death-and-the-donald_b_8751304.html