Monday, January 16, 2017

The case for not being crybabies

This is another great editorial by Josh Marshall at TPM. An excerpt:
On top of this, in the last couple days there's been a medium post circulating from a Russian journalist warning his American colleagues of what to expect under Trump. One key paragraph reads ...
You're Always Losing. This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t — in Putin’s case — campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.

Let me say first the piece is quite good. It's worth reading. But as a prediction of what awaits the American press, I think it is way, way off the mark and the kind of pusillanimous, defeatist attitude we've seen in this cattle call of Trump outrages listed above. Presidents don't validate what is and isn't news. If you're expecting them to, you're doing it wrong. Almost nothing that is truly important about the work of a free press is damaged by moving the press office across the street.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that these things are not important or that all these threats aren't a very bad sign. It is vastly preferable to have a President who believes in or at least respects American and democratic values. But let's get real: we don't or won't as of Friday. Trump is a would-be authoritarian and a bully. He's surrounded by mediocrities who owe all to him and feel validated by enabling his endless transgressions. Of course, he's doing these things. We know Trump's MO. He will bully people until they're cowed and humiliated and obedient. He'll threaten to kick the reporters out of the White House and then either cut a 'deal' or make some big to-do about 'allowing' the reporters to stay. These are all threats and mind games meant not so much to cow the press as make them think Trump is continually taking things away from them and that they need to make him stop.

They don't need to. That access isn't necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it's almost never where the good stuff comes from. Journalists unearth factual information and report it. If Trump wants to turn America into a strong man state, journalists should cover that story rather than begging Trump not to be who he is. America isn't Russia. And I don't think he can change us into Russia. So unless and until we see publications shut down and journalists arrested or disappeared, let's have a little more confidence in our values and our history and our country. ...

The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won't obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don't surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.

Much the same applies to the endless chatter about 'conflicts of interest' and the insufficiency of his plan to separate himself from his businesses. Why are we still saying Trump isn't doing enough to avoid conflicts of interest? He's made clear he wants to profit off his presidency. Let's accept that. That is what he wants to do. If you're a journalist, start documenting the details. If you're an activist or politician start mobilizing against his corruption.

Trump is the most unpopular incoming President in American history. We only have data on this going back a few decades. But there's little reason to think any President in previous decades or centuries has been this unpopular. Indeed, he's getting less popular as he approaches his inauguration. People need to have a bit more confidence in themselves, their values and their country. As soon as you realize that the Trump wants to profit from the presidency and that the Republicans are focused and helping him do so, all the questions become easier to answer and the path forward more clear. His threats against the press are the same. He's threatening to take away things the press doesn't truly need in order to instill a relationship of dominance.

There's nothing more undignified and enervating than fretting about whether the President-Elect will brand real news 'fake news' or worrying whether his more authoritarian supporters can be convinced to believe - pleaded with, instructed to, prevailed upon - actual factual information. The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. And the truth is that Trump's threats are cheap stunts and bluffs, threatening to take away things journalists don't need.

Well put! And I agree with Marshall,... with a few minor caveats.

First, I don't have confidence in our country anymore. I lost that in November. Maybe it will return. I certainly hope so, because we can't accomplish anything without a certain amount of optimism, of confidence in our fellow countrymen.

But at this point,... no, I'm sorry, but it's gone. I'm deeply ashamed to be an American. And as Trump lurches closer and closer to inauguration day, it's not getting any better. Maybe if everyone boycotted the inauguration - or even every Democrat...

But that's just not going to happen, is it? It's going to take a lot to re-establish my confidence in America.

And second, I agree with him completely when it comes to journalists. But we're not just talking about journalists here. We're talking about profit-driven media companies. Our media are in business to make money. Period. And by and large, they've shown that they're hopeless cowards.

As far as I can see, they continue to demonstrate that. There are exceptions, of course. And there are certainly good journalists who work for those cowardly media companies. But the media in general? They're in business for the money, and anything which threatens - or even seems to threaten - that money terrifies them. (Not to mention that they're owned and controlled by wealthy people who will likely make out like bandits as Trump bankrupts the rest of America.)

Were you impressed with our media companies during the George W. Bush years? I wasn't.

This might be related to my first problem, my loss of confidence in America. I hope so, because that means I could be wrong. And I hope I'm wrong.

But even if I'm not, there is one ray of hope. As Marshall points out, Donald Trump's poll numbers are terrible. He does seem to be the most unpopular incoming president in U.S. history. (And rightly so. For one thing, he continues to demonstrate that he's controlled by Russia! Well, if he has any control at all...)

And our cowardly, profit-driven media are far more likely to be cowed by a popular president than by an unpopular one. As long as they see a profit in... being journalists, they'll do so. Trump's petty bullying might not have much effect, in that case.

Of course (not to be too optimistic here), his remaining supporters tend to be rabid fans. Raw numbers don't matter very much, if one side is active, angry, and unrelenting, while the other side isn't as committed. Look at how gun nuts have gotten their way in pretty much everything, despite their relatively-small numbers. They just care so much more.

All in all, Josh Marshall is right. I fully agree with him. But,... I can't be optimistic going forward, even that much. I hope I'm wrong. It would be a nice change of pace to be pleasantly surprised, wouldn't it?


jeff725 said...

I finally got enough energy to comment. I've been bogged down by a cold all week. Just a couple of thoughts:

Have you noticed practically EVERY scandal that has been thrown at Trump he's just steamrolled right through it? Unbelievable. If Reagan was the "Teflon President," I would have to call Trump the "neutronium President-elect." That's in reference to one of my favorite "Star Trek" episodes called "The Doomsday Machine." The Enterprise encounters a giant, planet-destroying robot. Its hull is constructed of something called "neutronium." There is no known way of blasting through it.

Your comment about concentration camps being least I'm not the only one thinking that might happen.

If you sort through the viscous hatred being spewed over the last three decades by Faux "news," talk radio, and Breitbart trolls, all you have to do is replace the word "liberals" with "Jews" and you're in 1930s Germany. You damned well that tucked away somewhere within the walls of one of those right-wing "think tanks" they have a "final solution to the liberal problem" locked and loaded. Alex Jones has been screaming about "FEMA camps" for years...he's tipping their hand for them.

May our grandchildren forgive us.

Bill Garthright said...

I wasn't serious about the concentration camps, Jeff.

You're talking about my previous post, right? Indeed, the point of this one - the point of Josh Marshall's column, at least - is just the opposite of that.

You might read it again. As he says, "America isn't Russia. And I don't think he can change us into Russia."

I agree with him. I'm far more worried about the Supreme Court, about continued voter suppression, about continued gerrymandering, about healthcare, global warming, immigration policy, education, and policy issues of all kinds than I am about... concentration camps.

Come on, Jeff! You're starting to agree with Alex Jones now. I really think that's the cold talking. I can't be optimistic right now, and if I were sick too,... who knows? But you'll feel better soon, I hope.

Anyway, we don't want to become our opponents. Yes, I mentioned "concentration camps" in my last post, but it was an expression, nothing more. Yes, I've lost my confidence in America, but not that far. I'm not Alex Jones.

And I guess I disagree about the "Teflon president" stuff, too, at least when it comes to Donald Trump. Yes, the Trump phenomenon is a personality cult, and his supporters are faith-based. They're going to stick with whatever they want to believe, no matter what reality might indicate. That was obvious throughout the campaign.

But his scandals are having an effect. Donald Trump's poll numbers have been dropping since the election (and they weren't very high to begin with). That's just the reverse of what usually happens. Normally, the president-elect's approval rating goes up.

Trump is quite likely the least popular president-elect in history. Indeed, his approval rating is about half of where Barack Obama's was eight years ago.

Approval ratings typically go down after the inauguration. I don't know how that can happen in this case, since there's a core of Trump supporters completely immune to reality, but right now, he certainly doesn't have the kind of popularity he'd need to turn America into Russia.

Of course, he can - and will - do a lot of damage. But any Republican would do a lot of damage to our country. The Republican Party has gone off the deep end. But forget the concentration camps.

For now, at least. :)