When we get to a safe enough place in this horror story we’re living through — where we don’t have to sweat it every day whether or not American democracy itself will survive — we owe it to ourselves to take a good, long, very hard look at American journalism and the multiple ways it both hastened and abetted the rise and rule of Donald Trump. Trump himself has always made it part of his mantra that everybody does what he does — he just admits it and profits from it. Except, of course, as with all things Trump, it’s flat out untrue. Trump’s peculiar genius — such as it is — is his ability to liberate so many other peoples’ worst instincts. Trump does what he does and (so far) gets away with it. When the GOP finally stopped resisting Trump — having been compromised by Trump and Russia — they settled comfortably into the same expectation: that whatever truly awful thing they did (treason, say), just by refusing to acknowledge any sort of truth whatsoever, they’d get away with having done the truly awful thing. In this case, treason.
We need to know where “both sides do it” came from. What right wing think tank farted out that bit of rubbish then set about promulgating it? How insulting and wrong can four otherwise innocuous words be? “Both sides do it” asserts right off the bat that both sides are the same since whatever “it” is, both sides DO it and they do it the exact same amount representing the exact same amount of people. Is it charity? Are both sides equally charitable? Or is it corruption? Are both sides equally corrupt? Not by a long shot, they’re not. That’s because each side (in America’s binary system) comes from an entirely different place. One side will always favor profits over people (which makes them more corruptible) while the other will always favor people over profits. One will always ache to live in the past — where their group dominated all the others and they held virtually every last bit of real political power. The other — filled with those the first group dominated against their will — approaches governing itself from a completely different place.
They approach governing to begin with. They see governing as an essential function in a free society — a dirty job that someone has to do. But, when you have a vision of the future — an idealized version of how Life could be and should be — you’re far harder to corrupt. You’re pursuing a “dream” that requires a number of like-minded people for whom money will always come in a distant second to what actual human beings need. Every time we allow any industry to oversee itself, we get a fresh lesson in why greed kills. Take Boeing who, over time, exerted enough political muscle via years and years of lobbying and donating (mostly) to Republican political campaigns, that they were allowed to oversee the safety protocols of their 737-MAXX jets all by themselves. And lo-and-behold! Boeing cut safety corners. They broke the law repeatedly. They destroyed their own integrity; they did that — to themselves!
It’s ludicrous to say that a progressive and a conservative do things for the same reason. Yes, sure — both want to see their way become “our” way. That’s not the question — but “both sides do it” ends its insights into human behavior right there. Want to “win” the political argument? So does the other side which means “you’re just like them!” Oy!
That is where all similarities end. Oh, right — are Democrats 100% accurate and honest ALL the time? Hell, no! Thank goodness we got THAT out of the way! But, in the current environment (let’s worry about the past later) Democrats are being far, FAR more accurate and honest in what they’re saying (about pretty much everything) than virtually any Republican you care to talk about. Only two Republicans are taking part in the January 6 Commission. That’s awesome. And sad. That means pretty much every other Republican is willing to keep The Big Lie afloat. They were willing to let their constituents die — maskless and unvaccinated — until the public relations became too hard to maintain. Both sides do not do that. One side would not EVER do that.
Democrats could never march in lock step the way Republicans do. It’s just not in our nature. We see a bunch of brown-shirts marching in goose-step together and we run the other way — mostly because the brown shirts are hunting us. But also because we just don’t have that “brown shirt” gene in our makeup. Democrats are still every bit how Will Rogers described us when he said of himself “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” That’s because Democrats come from such different places. Our pasts are all different but, ironically, the future we aspire to is remarkably similar — one where our children can thrive and prosper along with their community and the nation and the world as a whole. E Pluribus Unum describes the Democratic Party.
It does NOT describe the Republican Party. Not anymore.
The GOP has become the Trump Party and the Trump Party is simply the Republican Party given its bucket list and allowed to go hog wild, being hogs. The biggest thing in that bucket is permanent minority rule. Democracy has always been a long term problem for Republicans — especially if America continued to invite new people to join the experiment. The more new people from new places there are in positions of power, the conservative thinking goes, the fewer white people there will be occupying those same positions. Hegemony doesn’t make itself happen, ya know.
Republicans, being conservatives, are entirely about CONSERVING what was. If they could magically stop the world from progressing, or blockade the future, they’d do it. After all, what does any conservative want to “conserve” if not the past? To conservative thinking, the present is the past’s final line of defensive. Surrender to the future and the past becomes a museum piece. Conservatives know — once they’re beaten, they’re beaten for good. The past will never grow back like a crab’s claw. They, conservatives, will have to soldier on claw-less.
Only one side aspires to the brightest future possible for the most people. Only one side wants every eligible American to vote. Only one side wants every child to have guaranteed pre-k education — and a good public education all the way up through community college or a public university or a trade school. Only one side sees health CARE as a right for all rather than seeing health insurance as a privilege for the few.
By the same token, only one side has sided with Russia in their cyber war against us. Only one side has made it part of their brand to obstruct justice every which way they can. Only one side has made it their mission to restrict voting to only themselves.
When they adopted “both sides do it” as their mantra, America’s news media closed its eyes to perspective. Skepticism (which belongs in every journalist’s utility belt) demands that a journalist question everything until they’re satisfied with the answers given. Not satisfied? Keep asking. Skepticism is naturally neutral. It doesn’t assert that “both sides do it” because, a good skeptic should be skeptical of something so sweeping and broad. A skeptic assumes that everyone has their reasons for doing what they do; the trick is finding those reasons.
A cynic on the other hand isn’t searching for anything other than affirmation that their shallow view of things is valid (or valid enough for their liking). In a cynic’s view, proportionality is irrelevant. Bernie Madoff stole billions. Jean Valjean stole bread. A skeptic would point to their differences as to why this is a stupid comparison. A cynic (the Republican Party and most of our news media) would say “they’re both thieves so therefore ‘both sides do it’.” If you’re capable of thinking Bernie Madoff and Jean Valjean are thieving birds of a feather, you’re also capable of equating a Republican gerrymandering a Congressional district because he can’t win any other way with a Democrat running IN a gerrymandered district having to get three times the voter turnout to overcome the Republican’s entirely artificial advantage. Our news media regularly looks at these two very DIFFERENT things as “the same thing”.
It’s slowly dawning on our news media how completely the Republican Party’s been playing them. Why, even the dean of “both sides do it” brand journalism — Chuck Todd — has admitted that the Fourth Estate was regularly played by the Republican Party. Good on Chuck for doing the “Mea Culpa”. But it’s way, waaaaaaaaaay too late now. The harm’s been done; the democracy-hating horses are out of the barn and galloping toward the horizon.
I stopped watching Chuck eons ago but I bet Chuck still turns from a segment about how Republicans are behaving like pirates to one where he’s asking “why won’t Democrats negotiate with Republicans?” (meaning “why won’t the Democrats give Republicans every single thing they want?”) That, to Chuck — to our news media in general — is what “bi-partisan” means: giving the Republican pirates whatever they want.
That, ultimately, is what Republicans want our democracy to do for them: give them whatever they want. Enrich them. Enrich their friends. And keep them in power forever.
Progressives and democrats want no such thing. Never have and never will.
Only a cynical journalist would dare suggest otherwise.