Martin Luther King Jr.’s instructions to bus riders trying to integrate buses, 1956 — “observe rules of courtesy”
Over the weekend we got to see Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on CBS News’ “60 Minutes”… Did he disagree with Donald Trump’s [fantastical made-up fantasy] claim of millions of illegal voters in the last election? Mr. Ryan: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”
This is actually quite serious. The supposedly “responsible” or “traditional” or “establishment” leaders in the Republican Party [see also Reince Priebus and VP Mike Pence] are actively helping Trump weaken our democracy.
It is time… way past time… for the non-insane press, which is now just one segment of what Americans regard as their news and information system, to call a spade a spade.
Here’s a list — ranked, roughly, from best to worst — of news headlines covering Ryan’s remarks:
Raw Story: ‘I have no knowledge of such things’: Paul Ryan plays dumb on Trump’s big lie about illegal voters
Huffington Post: Paul Ryan On Donald Trump Tweeting Lies: ‘Who Cares?’
Wisconsin State Journal: Paul Ryan: ‘Who cares’ what Donald Trump tweets if problems are fixed
To their credit, the Wisconsin State Journal did publish something. But why is the headline so ambiguous? After reading the headline, would anyone know what the story is about? The story is: Trump manufactures a self-serving lie, a YUUUGE lie, a lie corrosive to American democracy. And Paul Ryan fails to marshal courage to say bupkis.
Now we shall have a President-elect who just lets the Big Lies fly.
It’s not as if past Presidents have never misled us. But in the past Presidential lies were relatively rare and then carefully constructed. They were reviewed and polished by high-level wordsmiths and cautious handlers before being rolled out to the public. Think Condi Rice’s line, “…there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” That was a work of art delivered on behalf of her President. It was scary as hell, and uncheckable by the press. True, it was checkable by U.N weapons inspectors, but that’s another long story.
But now Trump. Now we have a President-elect who wakes up at 3 in the morning and delivers a load of obvious rubbish via Twitter. Being who he is, he has 16.5 million Twitter followers, which includes of course at least half the reporters in America. He has no filters of his own. At 3 AM, in his gold-embroidered pajamas, he has no handlers. This will be our new world:
The idea that busloads, or thousands, or now (in the fevered brain of a President-elect) millions of people are illegally voting in U.S elections really got rolling about 6 years ago. It’s still got momentum. And it’s always been baseless. It was a lie manufactured out of nothing by GOP governors and GOP state legislators working to make voting more difficult and suppress voting among Democratic constituencies. There was never any evidence of voter fraud. When the governors and legislators were pressed for evidence, none was forthcoming.
This was, in a way, quite sadly instructive. Turns out, propaganda campaigns are easy. No jingles are necessary, no clever ad-copy is needed. No actual evidence is required. Propaganda simply needs to be repeated, like any other advertising.
Look at the voter fraud lie. Begin by simply asserting (against all evidence) that some horrible thing (voter fraud) is going on. When challenged for evidence, ignore the challenge. Simply go back to the original assertion. Do it over and over. Remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.
These GOP governors and legislators never paid any price for peddling this lie. The mainstream press remained largely predictably supine.
And now we have a man ascending to the pinnacle of world power — a U.S. President-elect — who merrily repeats the “illegal voter” b-s.
By now millions of Americans believe that busloads, or thousands, or (ludicrously) millions of people are voting in our elections illegally. Millions of us also believe that President Obama is a Muslim, or was born in Kenya.
When repeated over and over, even the most absurd claptrap finds a home in the minds of the gullible, and the lightly-informed, or the predisposed. And remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.
Is there any hope that we shall survive this collapse in the public dialog? Probably not. Really. Probably not. But let’s enjoy a small moment of progress. Here are a couple of headlines from our most valuable national press outlets– the New York Times and the Washington Post (h/t Melissa Block at NPR):
Now the first headline (from the NY Times) is the better. The debunking is located right in the headline. The WaPo’s debunk is in the sub-headline. But it too is a step forward. This is progress, but should the public have waited for this for six years? When some politician is spouting what is well known as rubbish, headlines that repeat or reinforce the rubbish do the public great harm. And those headlines happen all too often.
It’s nice to be polite, but if you’re a journalist being polite to a barrel of rubbish? And maintaining that pose over a span of years? What should we suppose might happen?
NY Times columnist Tom Friedman who, for years, has written breezily about worldwide social/technological disruption, has given himself a new beat. Now he writes — and not breezily — about the Trump problem
…Trump just skips from blaming Mexican immigrants for high murder rates, to President Obama for inventing ISIS, to China for creating the concept of global warming, to thousands of Muslims in New Jersey for celebrating 9/11, to Obama for really having been born in Kenya, to an I.R.S. audit for preventing him from showing us his tax returns — which would probably show that he paid no taxes.
Every word of it is a lie that most in his own party won’t call out.
Why thank you, Mr. Friedman! As you know, most of the press cannot bring itself to call anything a lie. Heck, they can’t even call something “nonsense” or “unsupportable” or “fantastical”.
Remember Trump’s 1st foray into politics — the birther libel? It was a lie and nonsense and racist. Our press found it impossible to say so, but they did help spread the lie by “covering” the “story”.
Can you imagine the damage Trump could do to the fabric of our democracy if he had the White House pulpit from which to preach his post-truth politics — how it would filter down into public discourse at large and infect every policy debate?
Yes, that would be bad if public figures could just shoot their mouths off without “being held to account” by our bulldog independent press. It might, as Friedman says, “filter down into public discourse at large.” Is he saying that might happen in the future? Friedman continues
“Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent prejudices held in check by social norms,” observed Josh Marshall, publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, in his blog on Saturday. “This isn’t some minor point or critique. It’s a fundamental part of what is at stake in this election…”
Gentlemen of the editorial board:
Are you ever planning to say anything about Trump? It’s been about a year now, and he’s been in the news more or less constantly. Surely you’ve seen some of it.
Are you really going to say nothing??? (You know, on the editorial page?)
Are you really going to blow bubbles all the way to November while this bizarre, wannabe Il Duce amps it up week after week? He’s now moved on to de-legitimizing not just the coming election (where he looks to be a Loser) but the news media itself. Are you watching this? Are you offended by anything going on at the highest levels of conservative and/or Republican Party messaging?
Nothing to say? Nothing???
the Democrats, the Republicans any political party at a national convention called for jailing their political opponents?
Wouldn’t — shouldn’t — the responsible press, where it still exists, sorta recognize that something was going very terribly wrong???
The Washington Post, reporting from an annual Romney-hosted summit (3 days at a luxurious Utah mountaintop resort):
[Romney] was emotional here Saturday as he delivered an impassioned case against Trump. He said the business mogul’s campaign rhetoric — the latest example being his accusations of bias by a federal judge because of his Mexican American heritage — is so destructive that it is fraying at the nation’s moral fabric and could lead to “trickle-down racism.”
“I love what this country is built upon, and its values — and seeing this is breaking my heart,” Romney told summit attendees, according to the Associated Press.
In response, from his Tampa rally, Mr. Trump insulted Mr. Romney by calling him a
“total booger-head” [Correction: a “stone-cold loser.”]
There’s an interesting piece — Why Trump Was Inevitable — at the New York Review of Books. It’s authored by 3 academic political scientists. It’s blessedly short, but we will shorten it further to highlight a single point: Donald Trump’s signature positions — on wall-building, banning Muslims, and deporting Mexicans — sounded pretty darn good to Republican primary voters. That’s why he was out in front for months. That’s why he won. Popular positions!
Our 3 professors put it this way (emphasis added):
One of the main reasons many political commentators were surprised by Donald Trump’s success in the primaries was his willingness to take extreme positions and use unusually harsh rhetoric in talking about immigration and related issues. Indeed, Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants and Muslims have been at the center of his campaign. And his pronouncements on these topics have greatly concerned many Republican leaders and elected officials who feared they would harm the party’s image and damage its electoral prospects. But how did his positions and comments play with Republican primary voters?
The clear answer is that they reflected the views of likely Republican voters extremely well.
Voters in this year’s Republican primaries listened to the various candidates’ messages, and then they voted for the candidate whose message they liked best. Does that sound like democracy in action? Well, yes, it does.
But ban Muslims? Build a wall? Find and deport all the illegal immigrants? In what way does this not sound like the platform of an American White Nationalist Party? This is disheartening. The Republican Party has become a magnet for terrible ideas — from crank trickle-down economics, to criminalizing abortion, to fiddling (or worse) while climate catastrophe becomes certain. Now, in regard to racism and xenophobia, Trump is cranking it up from dog-whistles to outright campaign promises. The ignorance and the fear is disheartening.
It was four years ago when we wrote this:
Last week, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein — both of them well-scrubbed, respectable, centrist Washington think-tank academics — delivered a WaPo opinion piece with an attention-grabbing headline:
Actually, that headline could’ve been better… but let’s get a flavor of what they said:
In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
I have 2 good friends who are Republicans. The first is almost required to be a Republican. He’s a seriously wealthy businessman. He’s volunteered his feelings of shock and dismay at the Trump phenomenon. The other friend is just a normal middle-class guy who ‘grew up Republican’, (happens all the time, depends on where you live) and he never got out. He doesn’t follow politics obsessively the way I do. He hasn’t said a word about Trump. I’m afraid to ask him.
Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) on twitter (a few days ago):
Trump invalidated a lot of beliefs held by centrist elites about the GOP base, but validated beliefs held by liberal elites about it.
Now Indiana Republican voters have put Trump over the top. He’s going to be the Republican/conservative nominee, the new leader of the Republican Party.
[Republican] voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. …on the ground, Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him.