Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CNN is Fake News

First of all, please let me explain. To anyone who has spoken to me about politics more than once (or, really, at all), my general loathing of the news media should be quite obvious. I imagine the majority of my posts on this blog would make that fact rather self-evident as well. Nevertheless, I should probably endeavor to offer some sort of justification if I’m going to do something as inflammatory as slapping CNN with the Trumpian epithet of “fake news.” And don’t fret, friends—I think I can do it without actually defending the President.

I’ll start off by making one thing perfectly clear: I unequivocally believe that it is unbecoming of the office of President of the United States to tweet personal attacks, unsubstantiated claims, or late-night rants in the manner preferred by our current commander-in-chief. From the nonsense of covfefe to the boorishness of his middle-school-level attacks on Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, our President has put on a master class in how to debase himself and his office before the eyes of the internet (read: the world). But just because President Trump’s tweets are unprecedented and wholly unprofessional does not mean that they should automatically dominate our 24-hour news cycle. This is where the mainstream media and I apparently disagree.

Cable news in particular has made a veritable sport of breathlessly covering President Trump’s Twitter misadventures, with each major network vying to outdo the others in bumping more important storylines in favor of a roundtable discussion regarding POTUS’s most recent 140-character outburst. Never mind Senate Republicans’ ongoing efforts to complete a Congressional repeal of the Affordable Care Act or North Korea’s recent test of an ICBM theoretically capable of reaching Alaska. What really matters is keeping a daily list of everything he tweeted, retweeted, and didn’t tweet at all.  

The circus reached a fever pitch last week when President Trump tweeted a gif of an old Wrestlemania clip that showed him punching an individual whose face had been replaced with the CNN logo. Now, I must admit there are some newsworthy elements here—a President who not only has been on Wrestlemania but also decides to use that footage as ammunition in his ongoing feud with a major news network is certainly worth mentioning (and mind-bogglingly bizarre). The adult thing to do, though, is to point out the obvious fact that such behavior is beneath the POTUS and then move on to the real stories. But CNN, of course, would rather take the bait, stoop to Trump’s level, and keep the feud going strong. What does that entail? It entails things like ambushing a freshman Congressman from Virginia into discussing the merits of the tweet, the newsworthiness of tweets in general, and the adequacy of the condemnations of said tweet by Republican leaders in Congress before he is permitted to discuss anything of substance. Scott Taylor (R-VA), the Congressman in question, sits on the powerful Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security, but really what he needs to be talking about is an animated gif. As Congressman Taylor himself points out, “You guys are getting played, man.”

CNN, and the media in general, have gone a lot farther than merely attacking the President for hurting their feelings, though. They feverishly worked to spin the tweet as encouraging violence against the press or, as Robert Reich contended in The Guardian, an attack on democracy itself. This is overblown and patently absurd. Trump’s CNN tweet certainly further diminishes his credibility and demonstrates an astonishing lack of judgment, but that’s about as far as any reasonable person can interpret that gif. While I’m sure there is someone somewhere in this country who could watch Donald Trump punch someone with a CNN logo for a head and become inspired to physically harm a journalist, that person does not represent the average (or even below-average) American. This hypothetical person is a dangerous idiot and would have been a dangerous idiot in the absence of this particular tweet.

But this saga doesn’t stop there. CNN took it upon themselves to track down the Redditor who supposedly created the gif, made him repent for his sins (he apparently posted vile anti-Semitic and racist material in the past), and then showed mercy by deciding not to release his identity to the public. This is what CNN, the Holy Arbiter of Truth, had to say about HanA**holeSolo, the offending troll:

CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

Holy cow. This is what is looks like when a media giant abuses its power and thought-polices an individual American citizen. Now, don’t get me wrong—I agree with The Federalist’s David Harsanyi in thinking that this troll deserves no sympathy and that CNN would have been wiser to just release the guy’s name instead of going full Spanish Inquisition on him. After all, what CNN has done here is reveal that if you promise not to offend them anymore, they can protect you. That statement is, as Harsanyi says, “a threat” implying that if HanA**holeSolo were to go back on his repentance, “the network reserves the right to put him in ‘danger.’” That kind of behavior is, I daresay, Trump-like. And building your entire news cycle around a juvenile presidential tweet and an anonymous, bigoted Redditor is—wait for it—fake news.

UPDATE 7/11/17: Maybe this scandal involving Donald Trump Jr.’s emails will give CNN something of real substance to talk about. One can only hope.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Winning was easy, young man…

A good friend of mine asked me a few days ago if I thought it might have been better for the Republican Party’s long-term prospects if Hillary Clinton had been elected president last year. I was very much surprised to find that my immediate impulse was to pay the expected partisan lip service to the utter irredeemable nature of a Clinton presidency; to deny that anything good could possibly have come of it. My shock was made all the more real by my realization that just about two years ago, I wrote in this blog that it would require not one, but two terms of Clinton in the White House to turn the Republican Party around. What’s craziest of all, though, is that when I examined my feelings on that question further, I became absolutely convinced that I really was wrong those two (long) years ago. Why? Because the Republican majorities in Congress have, in a very short time, demonstrated that no election is going to teach them how to actually govern. And even if they somehow got their act together, the Democrats wouldn’t just decline to help them; they would actively try to stop the GOP in its tracks. (And I don’t necessarily mean that last statement as a condemnation.)

It all started with what I consider to be the GOP’s biggest blunder so far in the Trump Era: the decision by leaders in Congress to make fast-tracking an Obamacare repeal their first order of business in the new session. Never mind that the replacement bill was under-baked, unworkable, unsatisfactory, and wholly despised by everyone everywhere—the real mistake was in lining healthcare up as the first legislative priority and then sprinting toward a vote without so much as a water break. It truly astounds me that a party that had a front-row seat to watch their opponents make the same mistake back in 2009 would turn around and repeat it almost exactly upon returning to power. Let’s face it—the Democrats paid a huge price for their decision to make healthcare reform their first priority after President Obama came into office. They got what they wanted, but successive drubbings in 2010, 2014, and 2016 have reduced their party’s strength at all levels of government to historic lows. On paper, this is both a triumph for Republicans as well as a roadmap for what not to do with their newfound power. But, true to form, they just went ahead and did it anyway. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that not only did they waste a massive amount of political capital, but they didn’t even get what they wanted in the first place. And what’s even more insane is that their response was to float a worse bill that is also in the process of falling apart.

The failure of Paul Ryan’s conference to utilize its robust majority and actually get an Obamacare “repeal and replace” package through the House is a stark illustration of how much more difficult it is to be a governing party than it is to be an opposition one. And the Republicans have never been much of a governing party to begin with. I’ve railed before about their inability to learn from their electoral defeats—hell, it took a phenomenon like Donald Trump to simply begin the process of walking away from the mistakes of the Bush years—and 2016 will go down in history as being no different. After spending eight years clamoring for Obamacare’s demise (the easy part), Republicans fell flat on their faces when they actually tried to come up with a real plan to replace it (the hard part). This isn’t wholly surprising—drafting an actual replacement plan is actively against an opposition party’s interests. But what I can’t forgive is the GOP’s utter unwillingness to get serious about the healthcare debate.

I’d be willing to entertain a fleshed-out “market-based” healthcare reform package, but I have no confidence that Congressional Republicans are up to that task. Their refusal to take their time drafting a bill is indicative of their inability to actually craft a workable one. They were more concerned about escaping the corner they had boxed themselves into for nearly a decade than actually trying to improve people’s lives. And I think this boils down to the fact that the Party, so steeped in the philosophy of austerity, simply can’t accept the fact that comprehensive healthcare reform requires spending a boatload of money. Take Tom Price’s plan: it’s a solid outline for a reform package, but (in my humble opinion) you’d have to shell out as least five times as much money as it allots for tax credits in order for it to be even remotely realizable. That’s just not a conversation the Republicans are willing to have. And it’s a tragedy for me to watch a unified, nominally conservative government stumble into these traps of their own creation.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has killed the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. I’ll just go ahead and say that I think there is plenty of blame to go around on this one—Republicans first cooked up the so-called “nuclear option” because of Democratic obstruction of George W. Bush’s lower court nominees, but it was Republican intransigence that led Harry Reid to ultimately go nuclear on that count. Similarly, although the Democrats’ current partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee is a nearly unprecedented event, they’d be the first to remind you that Republicans refused to even give Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a vote. These are all valid points, which leads me to conclude that everyone is wrong and both parties are at fault, as usual.

I have very mixed feelings on what now appears to be a party-line confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch. I view Judge Gorsuch (as do most conservatives) as an extremely capable and flawlessly pedigreed candidate for our nation’s highest court. I actually agree with liberals who characterize his views as outside the mainstream, but so were the views of the man he would replace—a man who was himself a brilliant jurist and (in my view, invaluable) conservative bulwark on the Supreme Court. Choosing a man like Judge Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Scalia maintains what I view as a nearly-ideal status quo on the Court: four conservatives, four liberals, and a right-libertarian swing vote. And so obviously part of me is quite pleased to see that Judge Gorsuch’s path to the Supreme Court is assured.

But an equally significant part of me is terrified for what this could mean in the future. What will happen when the Democrats find themselves in power again? How many Supreme Court seats will be up for grabs when that time comes? What exactly will Supreme Court nominees look like in a world where only 51 (or even 50) Senators need to support him or her? And the Democrats should be afraid, too—their unwillingness to make a deal this time around has robbed them of their ability to even consider one next time. They had better pray “next time” isn’t in the next four years.

And so, in what I’ve already said should be a triumphant moment of unified Republican control of government, I find myself discouraged and unengaged. I’m watching a party that can’t get its House conference in order and has to make Faustian bargains in the Senate even when their members are united. Add in a partisan environment that has done nothing but grow more rancorous for the past decade, and the only thing I know for sure is that the Republican Party has learned nothing from winning and would have learned even less from losing. Ditto the Democrats, for whom the reality of their own vulnerability clearly hasn’t sunk in yet. And all of this, of course, is to say nothing of the creature in the White House. The Trump years are, I think, predestined to be a train wreck. Sure, we got the “conservative” majorities that we always wanted and the Supreme Court nominee of our dreams. But, I can’t help but ask, at what cost? 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Goodbye to the Right, but good riddance to the Left

I have spent ample time on this blog in the past going after the Republican Party for its complicity in creating the monster that is Donald Trump’s ascendancy. In fact, that is just one of many things I have lambasted the GOP for over the better part of the last two years. They are a party that has no idea how to set an agenda, how to govern, how to come up with new and useful ideas, and (most importantly) how to win elections—the results from earlier this month notwithstanding. Going into this fall, I firmly believed that once the Republicans lost the presidential election (and with it their control of the Senate and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court), they would learn absolutely nothing from their defeat and move toward nominating yet another empty suit in 2020 whose policy positions would be virtually indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush.

Well, I was wrong on one rather large count. The Republican Party did not do poorly at all at the polls on November 8th. But I remain steadfast in by belief that the party will never own up to its all too real shortcomings and its undeniably disastrous mistakes. If anything, their victories all over the country on Election Day will give the bumbling idiots in charge of the GOP all the cover they need to ignore their many deficiencies and deny that a reality television star ever managed to successfully complete a hostile takeover of their party. And let’s not forget—as someone who, on about 75% of the issues, can find a lot of common ground with Republicans, I don’t say any of this with relish. I think it’s a tragedy of epic proportions that only a party as uniquely inept as this one could even pull off.

But wait. I’m forgetting about the Democrats, aren’t I? I had spent so much time criticizing the people on my side of the aisle as Trump obliterated them that I, defeated, had checked out of this presidential race completely by July and went blind to the (now stunningly obvious) fact that there was still one more dumb, arrogant party left for Trump to lay waste to. The Democratic Party exploded when Trump won two and a half weeks ago. Their fall has been as swift as it has been stunning to watch. Trump exposed the Democrats as a party out of touch not only with their base but with working class voters all over the country whom they had taken for granted. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The Democratic establishment may have been able (with great effort) to turn back the populist tide of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, but his swift rise and strong challenge to Hillary Clinton should have shown us all then and there that anti-establishment revolts do not happen solely on the right. The Republican Party as we know it might have died on Election Day without anyone noticing, but the gutting of the Democratic Party has been laid bare for everyone to see.

And this dismantling is arguably far worse than anything that has happened to the GOP. The Democrats now control the governorship and both houses of the legislature (“trifecta” control) in just five states after only managing to flip three state chambers this month. In contrast, Republicans managed to flip three chambers of their own while also holding onto the Senate, the House, and increasing their already dominant number of governorships to 33, leaving them with trifecta control in 25 states. The Republican Party may have some serious troubles at the top, but in terms of down ballot success, they are nearing historic highs. The Democrats, meanwhile, are a party without either a standard bearer or a bench from which to cultivate future leaders.

And the Left’s reaction to the Democratic massacre of 2016 has really been something to behold. In the wake of Trump’s ground-shifting victory, progressives seem frantically eager to abandon their principles and point their fingers at nameless “deplorables” rather than take a look in the mirror and have an honest discussion about how they helped get us here. And make no mistake about it—the Left in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, share culpability in creating the Trump monster. The Republicans may have incubated this movement, but once it hatched the Democrats were all too happy to fatten it into a size capable of toppling the entire American political establishment. The Left’s distressing habit of stifling debate, smugly asserting their own moral superiority on every issue, and decrying anyone who disagrees with them as hateful bigots, misogynists, and racists didn’t exactly mollify the angry, economically devastated Americans who were flocking behind a candidate who defied “political correctness” and smug coastal elites.

But rather than engage in some much needed introspection, the Democrats have apparently decided to keep engaging in the exact behavior that created this mess in the first place. After years of wielding identity politics as both a rallying cry to unite disparate pockets of voters and as a cudgel to demonize conservatives, their own methods came back to haunt them in a big way when Donald Trump came up with the rather radical idea of playing the white identity politics game. Turns out that heaping scorn on a diverse group of people whose only commonality is the color of their skin does quite a lot to inspire them to start voting against you as a monolith. And following up an electoral loss with what Eric Sasson at The New Republic refers to as “outrage porn” certainly doesn’t constitute a constructive path forward.

And it doesn’t end with just the screeching cries of “RACIST! MISOGYNIST! XENOPHOBE!” that have been directed at anyone who voted for Trump for any reason at all. No, the Left has decided to go one step further and refuse outright to accept the election results. A group of computer scientists is calling on the Clinton campaign to audit the vote in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, where they claim there are odd discrepancies between her vote totals on paper and electronic ballots. The Left has seized on this completely spurious claim (Nate Silver says so!) and have decided that what really happened was the Russians hacked into those electronic voting machines and swung the election to their comrade Trump. Even Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate and shameless Democratic windbag, took to Twitter to say that “given the role of Russian hackers in the campaign,”—they were the ones who hacked John Podesta’s emails—“it’s all too plausible.” Seriously, this would make Alex Jones blush. And all this coming from the people who railed against Trump time and time again for implying that he might not accept the election results if he lost, calling such a thing a fundamental threat to democracy. It sure didn’t take long for them to throw that deeply held principle right out the window.

The Left is notorious for shifting their beliefs on the proper use of power once they no longer wield it, but this post-election conspiracy theory hogwash is really beyond the pale. And that would be the case even if they hadn’t spent the past eight years (rightly) mocking their opponents on the Right who invented far-flung fantasies about President Obama’s birthplace, religion, and the legitimacy of his two elections. Really, I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself by waiting for the Democrats to stop spewing vitriol and figure out where to go from here. First, they’ll have to actually accept that they lost. The same goes for their allies in the mainstream media. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Chris Cuomo of CNN proudly assert that “the media cannot yield” in the face of a Trump presidency. I think he fails to realize that as an anchor for CNN, he and his colleagues on all of the major cable news networks fed the Trump juggernaut all the attention and free airtime they needed to climb all the way to the White House. Don’t expect those fools to learn their lesson either.

I’ll take a moment right now to admit that I’m being a hypocrite by writing an entire post that glosses over Republican misdeeds while simultaneously taking pot shots at the Democrats while they’re down. But you know what? This was a long time coming. Years of smugness and condescension from the Left, as well as their utter lack of any magnanimity as they racked up huge victories in the culture wars, has finally come back to bite them in the rear. And now, they’re doing what they do best: blaming their losses on hordes of bigoted phantasms that are angry not because they’ve been mistreated and left behind by both parties, but simply because they are racists, even if they don’t realize it. Don’t get me wrong—I’m deeply troubled by the impending Trump presidency. I fear what it means for our democracy, our institutions, and for marginalized people everywhere (including the rural whites who see Trump as their salvation). But I’m also not too proud admit that a sizeable part of me relishes watching the Left self-destruct as they are finally forced to reckon with the fact that their methods are not infallible, that their smugness is not always justified, and that their ideas are not always winners. It’s about goddamn time. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?