After five years of Trumpism in our politics, America’s news media have finally acknowledged that Trumpism is a very real threat to our democracy. If you demanded specificity, most journalists would probably point to all the obvious instances of Republicans drafting anti-democratic legislation in nearly every state. They’d be right, of course. Most of those journalists are very clear about the terrible implications of what the GOP is doing and what those implications mean: the Republican Party is trying to discount every other vote except theirs. If they can’t outright STOP Black, brown, young or LGBTQ people from voting then they’ll simply refuse to COUNT those votes. Same end product: the Will Of The People to expand the democratic franchise as far as possible will be circumvented by an angry, racist, white minority who want to keep all political power for themselves. But then, after reporting this, most reporters, upon turning to the next story — the battle over the filibuster, for instance — will report it as if the previous story didn’t exist. So, in one moment, Republicans are destroying democracy while, in the next, Democrats are being asked why they won’t work with Republicans.
One of the most painful, frustrating experiences American journalism subjected their news audience to flows from the idea that, in American politics, “both sides do it”. This fallacious framing is pure cynicism. It ascribes the same motives to the Republican suppressing a Democrat’s vote as it does the Democrat whose vote has just been suppressed: they’re being “political”. Oy. That’s as stupid as ascribing the same motives to the car thief and the car thief’s victim who wants his car back. “You want your car back? What are you, some kind of car thief?” That’s the implied question. “Both sides do it” turns healthy skepticism — something every journalist must have in their arsenal — into unhealthy cynicism. Except our motives are all different. If Democrats thought and acted like Republicans, they’d BE Republicans.
The simple truth is, progressives and conservatives (never mind their political labels) are different creatures. We think differently. What’s most important to us is different. Conservatism wants to preserve the past for as long as possible because the past represents a kind of “Golden Age” in their minds. Progressives, on the other hand, want to fix what the past got wrong and make THAT our collective future. We will almost always favor people over profits. The commonweal is way more important to us than anyone person’s bank account. We understand that it takes a village to do literally anything — especially when it comes to money.
American journalism has gotten it into its head that, at all costs, it must be “neutral”. To a degree, they’re right. Journalism’s job is straightforward reporting of the facts with as little bias as possible so that the news audience can draw their own conclusions. But, as new information enters the environment, the environment must adapt and evolve. If new information says it’s raining outside, you may want to take an umbrella with you when you walk out the door. This morning’s weather forecast will be useless by this afternoon. But, American journalism — because they think “both sides do it” — has become obsessive over old weather forecasts — as if this morning’s forecast still applied to right now even though, clearly, the weather is entirely different.
American politics have always been ugly. We forget that because we have no sense of our own history; we’ve gotten it into our heads that, in the past, we were all “Kumbaya” despite our differences. We’ve never been that. Hell pro-slavery Southern Democrat Preston Brooks nearly beat abolitionist Republican Charles Sumner on May 22, 1856 to death on the Senate floor. Quick reminder: per Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party”, Lincoln’s Republican Party and the modern GOP are diametric opposites now of what they were then. Modern Republicans are Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) who always opposed racial justice in America. But, as bad as it has been in the past — up to and including attempted homicide — the introduction of Trumpism into our body politic (into Republicanism in particular) — ratcheted up every terrible impulse every Republican ever had.
Same goes for our journalists.
“Mexicans are rapists” should have been the end of Trump’s presidential bid as it would have been for literally any other candidate. “Pussy grabbing” should have iced the “Trump Will Never Be POTUS” cake. And yet, both those very real concerns for a presidential candidate were outdone by “But, her emails!”, a tempest in a teapot if ever there was one. “Mexicans are rapists” wasn’t just a single statement addressing a single issue (Trump’s appreciation for fellow rapists), it was an opening to a wider discussion because what Trump revealed was clear: HE’S A RACIST who, without even thinking about it, regularly says racist things.
But, let’s bore in on racism itself as an example of what I mean. Our news media thinks its an open question as to whether anyone is or isn’t a racist. They think it’s as easy as asking a racist if he’s racist. Except racism (like beauty, ironically) isn’t up to the subject, it’s up to everyone around the subject — the beholders either of the beautiful person’s beauty or the racist’s racism. And it’s not subject to a vote either. It only takes one racist victim to make a racist. If anyone feels anyone else is being racist toward THEM (no one gets to proxy here), then that’s the end of it. Mind you, this does assume we’re all being honest actors, so obviously I’m excluding any and all Republicans.
Our news media struggles with whether or not Donald Trump — with a whole freakin’ HISTORY of doing and saying racist things — is or isn’t a racist. That’s because they bore in on each instance of racism as if stood all by itself, unconnected to any other moment in Trump’s life. Trump’s niece Mary Trump did a wonderful job of contextualizing her uncle’s psychopathology. She doesn’t question whether or not her uncle’s racist because she’s heard him say racist things. Same goes for whether or not her uncle’s a scumbag.
If you looked only at a dot on a page, you might think that dot was everything — the whole universe. A professional, compulsive journalist would, understandably, make that dot the sole focus of her existence until she’d explained it. But, if that compulsive journalist can only see that one dot — even down to the microns of ink intertwining with the microns of paper fiber — while she may be giving us a new, profound understanding of one thing, she’s missing the boat on literally everything else in the whole universe. Or, can we say “missing the big picture”?
A tile is one thing, the mosaic it sits inside of is something else entirely. Donald Trump was the first president EVER to have been impeached — for election fraud no less — and then run in the very same election he was impeached for cheating in! But, during the election, very few journalists connected those dots for their news audience — even as Trump was actively cheating in the very same way. But then, Trump cheated to become POTUS in the first place. If not for Russia, Trump does not win in 2016. What about that piece of the mosaic?
Our news media continues to this day to scratch its head over the hold Trump has on the Republican Party. While, sure, there are Republicans who just plain adore Trump’s authoritarian bent (they’ve always hated the gamble that elections present), it’s not ideology connecting these pirates. It’s treason — pure and simple. Our news media should know this because THEY have reported it. In 2017, the Washington Post reported on a conversation that took place in 2016, a month before the GOP nominated Trump to be their presidential candidate. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a room of Republican leaders a month before the convention and says out loud (it was recorded and the recording was played for the Post’s reporter) “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” For the record, no one in the room questioned McCarthy’s truthfulness. They all seemed to take it as a given that McCarthy was spot on — that Russia was paying Rohrbacher (among other Republicans) and Trump (the guy they were about to nominate to be POTUS). Their issue wasn’t THAT Trump was compromised, it was “how are we going to keep this terrible information a secret?”
That’s why, per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan, the Republican leadership agreed to keep the secret that their presidential nominee to be was a Russian intelligence asset “in the family”.
It shouldn’t be a question of “Is Trump a traitor” just like it shouldn’t be a question “Is Trump a racist?” Hell yes and hell yes!
The Big Picture shouldn’t be as hard to see as we make it. And connecting dots shouldn’t be the challenge it is either. For the record? The connect-the-dots picture up top? It’s a dinosaur.