Barcelona, Donald Trump And The American Media’s Crisis Of Perspective

There is more to the horrific Barcelona terror attack than Donald Trump’s garbled response, but you wouldn’t know that if you are watching CNN

To get a good sense of just how debased and insular the American news media has become, one need only flick over to CNN and watch their coverage of the horrific Islamist terror attack which took place only hours ago in Barcelona.

What you will find is not detailed coverage of the Barcelona attack and how it transpired, or even the mindless banalities and speculation that has become the hallmark of cable news, but rather a bunch of talking heads agreeing with each other that Donald Trump’s response to the terror attack was all wrong.

This is the age where men, women and children being mown down in the middle of a European city street by a van-driving Islamist is secondary news to whatever inanities various celebrities have to say about the event on Twitter, or the word choice of an American president whom we already know to be rash, unstable and in loose command of the facts (at the best of times).

What really got CNN riled up on this occasion is this tweet by Donald Trump, promulgating an unfounded rumour about the supposed action taken by US Army General John Pershing in response to a Muslim-planned terrorist attack in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century:

The urban legend goes that General Pershing rounded up the culprits and suspects, and had them shot with bullets previously dipped in pigs’ blood. In Trump’s own graphic telling, Pershing shot 49 of the culprits and spared the 50th one so that he could go back and warn others in the movement about America’s swaggering zero-tolerance policy for terrorist shenanigans.

To be clear, there is zero proof that this apocryphal story actually took place, and that the President of the United States would make speeches presenting the tale as fact both during the election campaign and again in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack on an American ally is bad, wrong and depressing in equal measure.

But for most of the past hour on CNN, the chyron across the bottom of the screen hasn’t reported details of the terror attack, but rather Trump’s entirely typical and unsurprising blustering response to it. That’s not to say that Trump’s actions are unworthy of coverage – and we should certainly never allow ourselves to stop reporting on the president’s misdeeds and objecting to them just because they occur so regularly. But good television news is supposed to educate and inform, not simply encourage people to think myopically about global issues exclusively through the narrow lens of their own country’s political process.

Yet rather than presenting Trump’s dodgy urban myth about General Pershing as one tangential element of the story, CNN did what CNN does best – assemble a multitude of talking heads in boxes, all crammed onto the screen at the same time, to denounce Trump and slot an inconvenient story about terrorist murder in Barcelona into their preferred narrative about Trump’s unfitness for office.

Again – the point is entirely valid, and in an ideal world the President of the United States would neither spread unfounded rumours nor seek to get the more distasteful portions of his base excited by telling them yarns about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. That would be nice. But this is not the main takeaway from the Barcelona terror attack, and yet both Jake Tapper and now Anderson Cooper seem to be leading with it, to the detriment of telling the more important story about the seemingly unstoppable wave of vehicular Islamist terrorism in Europe and the inability (or unwillingness) of political leaders to take any meaningful action to prevent such massacres.

Meanwhile, television news in Britain – itself hardly a fitting successor to the likes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite – is at least reporting the facts and broadcasting footage and eyewitness statements as they emerge. Decent analysis remains beyond them (or at least beyond their willingness to pay a knowledgeable panel of experts and commentators to schlep into the studio) but at least they aren’t using the tragedy as a means of bashing Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet.

If American political discourse is to improve, restraint has to happen both ways. Just as conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that the Alt-Right is an issue in our own back yard which we must disown and work to discredit, so those on the Left – including much of the mainstream media – need to bring some balance back to their coverage and accept that important as the office of President of the United States is, Donald Trump’s reactions are not always the most important part of a breaking news story.

This de-escalation should not be so hard to achieve among adults, but sadly there are too many adult children on both sides who would rather have the last word and advance their political agenda at all costs, even if it debases the office of the presidency, diminishes trust in the media and rips the country apart at the seams, all at the same time.

Donald Trump - Barcelona terror attack - General Pershing rumour

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I Watched The Mash Report So You Don’t Have To

The Mash Report - Nish Kumar - BBC - Satire - Comedy - Bias - Leftism

The world of comedy is almost uniformly left-wing and progressive, especially on British television. But will new satirical show The Mash Report be brave enough to confound expectations and take potshots at everyone, not just conservatives?

When a friend first introduced me to British satirical news website The Daily Mash back in 2010, I lost two full days of productive work time, ravenously reading back through their archives and laughing until it hurt. At its best, the Mash is a very funny publication, and a worthy and uniquely British answer to the great American satirical newspaper The Onion.

After the Tories (kind of) won the 2010 general election it was inevitable that the Mash’s unforgiving gaze would fall more heavily on conservatism than it did in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s tragicomic administration, and that we on the Right would be subject to a lot more ribbing than before. That is as it should be – good satire should devote much of its energy to mocking and belittling those in power, and taking them down a peg or two. And Lord knows that the Cameron/Osborne/Clegg trio – and now Theresa May’s clown show of an administration – have given the Mash more than enough prime material.

Sure, if one surveys the overall output of the Mash in recent years one gets the clear sense that their “normal” – the political reference point from which any departure triggers satirical mockery – sits somewhere on the centre-left. But I never really had an issue with their output until the EU referendum, where the Mash firmly planted its flag with the Remain camp on the side of the powerful establishment, subjecting Brexiteers to every lazy insult in the book while making it clear that only Remainers could be deemed “normal” and allowed to be in on the joke.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, in exasperation:

Does Brexit deserve to be made fun of? Absolutely – nothing should be off the table when it comes to political humour. But the Mash’s lazy bias does its satire-loving readers a disservice by nearly completely exempting the Remain side – who, after all, make up most of the establishment that satirical publications normally exist to mock – from any scrutiny of their own.

Imagine the EU referendum result had gone the other way, and Britain had narrowly voted to remain. We Brexiteers (myself included) would not have taken the result well, would be making our displeasure widely known and probably vowing to hold another referendum as soon as possible. But rather than skewering the victorious Remain side for their wide-eyed europhilia and naive trust in the Magical EU Reform Unicorn (or “punching up”, as we apparently now call the intersection between humour and power dynamics) the Mash would instead be quick to laugh at the angry, disappointed Leavers. No matter which way the result went, the Mash would be laughing at Brexiteers right now. And that is both biased and lazy.

And:

The worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – more than half of voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.

But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.

And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.

But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?

A reasonable request, I think, but one which the Mash did not heed. Since I wrote those words in early March, the Mash has doubled down on its Brexit mockery, letting numerous establishment cretins off the hook for their mistakes, evasions and foibles as its wittiest writers spend their time skewering the good-hearted but sometimes inarticulate people who dare to express their support for Brexit.

Anyhow, this longest of long introductions is prelude to the fact that a couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched a new satirical television programme fronted by comedian Nish Kumar, entitled The Mash Report. The idea was partly to transpose the successful Mash format from internet to television, but it is also a very conscious effort to introduce the late-night, US-style satirical show made so popular in America by The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

The British Comedy Guide trumpeted before the launch:

After a successful pilot, BBC Two has ordered a full series of satirical comedy The Mash Report.

Nish Kumar will host the 10-part series, described as “an up to the minute, satirical news show”. Overseen by Princess Productions, it is being produced in conjunction with satirical website The Daily Mash, dubbed “Britain’s most popular original comedy website”.

Kumar has experience at hosting topical comedy, having previously helmed Radio 4 Extra sketch show Newsjack. He now presents Spotlight Tonight With Nish Kumar, a Radio 4 topical comedy which will end its current series next week.

Continuing:

BBC Two boss Patrick Holland says: “I am delighted that we are announcing this new topical comedy entertainment series from Princess. It is whip-smart, hugely timely and driven by some great new talent. I’d like to thank all the teams who contributed to the different pilots. The standard was exceptionally high, but we were drawn to The Mash Report’s blend of great satire allied with the surreal. It feels really innovative.”

It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the BBC’s Patrick Holland means when he says that The Mash Report is “hugely timely”. This is basically code for “Oh my god, what a dystopian age we live in now that Brexit is upon us, the Evil Tories are still in government and Donald Trump is president of the United States! Now more than ever we need a condescending new establishment-approved comedy show to fight back against the populist menace on behalf of the elites and put those Leave-voting troglodytes in their place”.

I hoped against hope that it would not be so. I did not want to be proven right – which is partly why I refrained from writing about the show until a couple of episodes had aired. But I can now officially say, having watched The Mash Report so you don’t have to, that it lives down to the very lowest of expectations.

The first anti-Brexit joke occurred three minutes and forty seconds into the show, after the opening pleasantries by host Nish Kumar (who channels John Oliver rather than Jon Stewart in overall tone). Now, one can’t be too angry about this one, aimed as it was at Boris Johnson, a man who is deserving of endless mockery. But still, this first jab confirmed some early suspicions and set the tone for what was to come.

The first identity politics joke – “I’m the first Asian comedian hosting a prime time comedy show, and now we’re coming for all your jobs! This is PC gone mad” (cue inexplicable delirious screaming from the audience) – occurred four minutes and fifty seconds into the show.

There then came a joke about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the context of Brexit, pleading for director Danny Boyle to come and take over the Brexit negotiations. As footage of the ceremony played, Kumar intoned “This is the last time any of you will be happy!”. Yes of course, because watching North Korean-style propagandists prance around in nurses’ uniforms deifying a failed socialised healthcare system is deliriously fantastic, while seeking to reclaim democracy and self-determination, and make political leaders properly accountable to the UK electorate again, is just awful beyond measure.

There was then a short interlude while The Mash Report made fun of David Davis’ name, while Boris Johnson was implausibly described as having the “political outlook of a Victorian man”. Seriously? Have the Mash Report writers ever seen Boris Johnson? Clearly not – but they are in no short supply of lazy, sixth form-style anti-conservative put-downs.

In the same week – particularly given that much of the show is given over to quickfire, Have I Got News For You-style picture caption jokes – the Mash Report could have spent thirty seconds making fun of this hilarious cover of The Green Parent magazine:

The Green Parent cover

God help that baby, particularly because the socially conscious father seems to be preparing to attempt to breastfeed (#SomeMenLactate). But no. The Mash Report – and the BBC in general – know exactly who their core audience are, and which demographics must be coddled and protected from offence at all times (yes, trendy green types very much make the list). The Mash Report already knows exactly who to flatter and who to insult mercilessly without fear of blowback for the naked bias on display.

Later in the show we are introduced to the show’s “religious affairs correspondent”. Already you know exactly where this is going – and indeed, precious minutes were spent laughing at the most unhinged of US evangelical Trump supporters and interviewing a rather loopy-looking Church of England minister who claimed that Jesus would have voted to Make America Great Again.

But perhaps I am being unfair. Even though this first outing was spent skewering Donald Trump and the American religious right, I’m fully confident that in future episodes we can expect all faiths (and none) to come in for equally barbed and scornful criticism. Right? Naturally if Hillary Clinton were currently president, the Mash Report would be mocking the Left’s overenthusiastic zeal for abortion and eagerness to make incursions on religious freedom.

One might have thought that a brand new satirical current affairs show could have something to say about the way that politicians and misguided apologists dither and prevaricate while Islamist extremists mercilessly butcher and wound innocent people going about their daily lives. But no – tumbleweeds. Let’s just bash a few crazy evangelical Christians and call it a job well done. That’s surely the only job of a religious affairs correspondent on a national late night comedy show.

And yet despite these many failings there were a few genuinely funny moments in the Mash Report. The recurring feature parodying the way that 24-hour news networks are desperate to broadcast viewers’ observations sent in via social media was accurate and very well done. The show generally worked best when riffing on non-political stories, like the Love Island reality TV phenomenon. It was also good to see some of the familiar recurring Mash vox-pop names crop up – hi, Tom Booker.

But the format often felt awkward and strained, an uncomfortable hybrid between the whip-smart Daily Show-style interactions between host and correspondent in one moment and much more clipped, Have I Got News For You-style dry witticisms and fake headlines the next. Though the blend was new, ultimately there was nothing original in either style or content – particularly not the near-constant left-wing preachiness.

The closest that The Mash Report came from escaping the gravity of bien-pensant leftist groupthink was a segment entitled “Bursting the Bubble”, featuring rare conservative comedian Geoff Norcott. For a moment my heart filled with hope – titling the segment “bursting the bubble” suggested an acknowledgement that all that had come before was rather one-sided, and that maybe now things would change. But no. The mere fact that the bubble is left-wing while the exterior is right-wing says it all about the show’s deep-rooted bias. The country may be divided nearly 50/50 but the BBC and the Mash Report see fit to ghettoise conservatives into a four-minute slot at the end of the episode, much like Maybelle Stubbs’ monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show in Hairspray.

And even Geoff Norcott proved to be something of a turncoat, choosing to play the role of performing seal for the ogling leftist audience rather than attempting to hit back and mock any progressive, left-wing shibboleths. For example, when discussing Our Blessed NHS, Norcott cited the fact that “people live” (rather than dying before old age) as a problem which vexes Evil Conservatives like him.

“The elderly, Nish – they should be dead by now. Just sitting it out, hanging on in there…” Norcott moaned to the show’s host, while the bovine leftist audience clapped gleefully as every single one of their anti-conservative prejudices were confirmed before their very eyes. How exactly is this “bursting the bubble”? If anything Norcott’s role in the Mash Report was more like Samuel L Jackson’s in Django Unchained, the obedient slave performing for Leonardo DiCaprio and hamming up the servile stereotypes as much as possible. The Guardian approves of his comedy act because he is willing to debase himself and play the Evil Tory stereotype. But any real conservative who watched Norcott’s first cringe-inducing segment on the Mash Report must despise the man. I certainly do.

What didn’t we see in the show? Well, there was nothing substantive about the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Green Party for a start. Nothing about how so many of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner court have fallen over themselves to praise Venezuela in recent years, even as socialist policies pushed that country toward its current precipice. And you can be sure that all of these people will be largely protected from satirical scrutiny as the series progresses. If they are ever criticised it will be in the context of their ineptitude in thwarting the conservative agenda (whatever that may be) rather than because of the nature of their own beliefs.

But the show did go out with a bang, with a field report about a traumatised middle class family who – gasp! – had to ride the Megabus coach to London rather than travelling in the style to which they were accustomed. Again, nothing wrong with the individual joke – and to be fair, the Mash makes fun of Waitrose shoppers as much as they do people who buy their lunch at Gregg’s. But place it in the context of the overall show and the Mash Report’s emerging worldview is quite clear.

And so is the message about who this new comedy show is designed to amuse. Basically, if you are conservative, working class, a Brexiteer, a Christian, a social conservative, a traditionalist or (heaven forfend) a Ukipper then don’t bother tuning in unless you want to be the butt of every joke for twenty-six minutes, the only respite being the other four minutes where a two-dimensional cartoon parody of you cavorts in the guest seat, pastiching your sincerely-held views for the amusement of host Nish Kumar and his bovine left-wing audience.

In short The Mash Report is exactly as bad as I feared, and as you probably expected. What a letdown. What a squandering of comedic potential. What a great pity.

 

The Mash Report - Nish Kumar - BBC - Satire - Comedy

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Does Brexit Mean That Baby Boomers Hate Their Own Children?

New Statesman hysteria - Brexit means baby boomers hate their own children

The idea that parents and grandparents would vote Leave out of hatred for their own children is as absurd as it is vile. But some Remainers will make any accusation in their rage against Brexit

The baby boomers of Britain are in the grip of a virulent, infanticidal mania. The EU referendum apparently caused highly contagious spores to be released into the air,  primarily affecting those aged 65 and over, causing them to forget any maternal, paternal or other protective familial instincts and instead seek to cause maximum financial and emotional suffering to their own children and grandchildren, for the pure pleasure of it.

Or at least so says Jonn Elledge, staff writer for the New Statesman, who brings every ounce of confirmation bias in his body to bear on a new YouGov poll in order to pronounce that by voting for Brexit, baby boomers and older people must actively “hate their own children”.

First of all, let’s be clear about what the YouGov poll actually says:

YouGov poll - Brexit extremism

That is, a significant majority of Brexit voters would be willing to tolerate significant damage to the British economy in order to see Brexit fulfilled, a tendency which the poll goes on to reveal becomes stronger among older age groups.

Is this necessarily evidence of “Brexit extremism”? Perhaps, but one can only say for sure if one takes it for granted that economic growth (or avoiding economic harm) is the sole valid consideration of a rational person, a premise which neither the poll nor Jonn Elledge even attempts to make.

And of course, the corollary to these figures is the fact that the same “extremism” is alive and well among Remain voters, many of whom would dearly love to see Britain heavily punished economically so long as it meant that Brexit was subverted and they could stay in their beloved European Union:

YouGov poll - Brexit extremism 2

Jonn Elledge takes no notice of this latter fact, though, and immediately launches into a hysterical tirade against the evil older generations who clearly could have had no other motive for voting Leave other than to watch as their children and grandchildren suffered and led diminished lives. No, seriously.

Elledge writes:

The older Leave voters are, the more likely they are to think crashing the economy because they don’t like Belgians is a pretty fine kind of idea.

That trend reaches its peak among the Leavers aged over 65, fully half of whom are happy to tell pollsters that they don’t give a shit if Brexit causes a relative to lose their job, they want it and they want it hard.

Ah yes, let’s begin with a glib assertion that Brexit is all about not liking Belgians or other funny foreigners. One might think that one year on after having his worldview so thoroughly and humiliatingly repudiated by the British people in the EU referendum, Jonn Elledge might have had the humility to go back to the drawing board and question some of his glib and not-very-witty assumptions about what motivates people to make political choices. But apparently not.

More:

The thing about the over 65s is that relatively few of them work: to be blunt about it, those most enthusiastic about people losing jobs are those who don’t have jobs to lose. The vast majority of this oldest cohort will be on pensions, whose value is far less likely to come under threat from a recession than almost any other form of income. Most will own their own houses, too. They’re the section of the population most likely to be left entirely unscathed by the Brexit-based recession. They are quite literally alright, Jack – and, it turns out, fully half of them don’t care if their kids aren’t.

Baby boomers, as a cohort, benefited from free education, generous welfare and cheap housing, then voted for parties which denied those things to their kids. Their contribution to intergenerational inequality led my colleague Stephen Bush, in one of his frequent bouts of being infuriatingly good at his job, to note that, “The baby boomer is one of the few mammals that eats its own young.” All this we already knew.

Nonetheless, it’s rare to see this selfishness communicated so baldly, so shamelessly. When asked directly whether they’d swap the wealth and security of their own children for a blue passport and the ability to deport Polish plumbers, they said yes in huge numbers.

“Would you like your children to have a better life than yourselves?” You Gov asked them. And the reply came back: “Fuck ’em.”

This YouGov poll could have touched off a genuinely interesting conversation about the balance between present wealth and future liberty, about other historical examples of populations allowing themselves to be bought off with bread and circuses in exchange for turning a blind eye to the way that their societies were (mis)governed. But that would have required a British political media class who did not think as a herd that the European Union is an unquestionably Good Thing, and that anybody who dissents from this groupthink is an irrational, evil hater.

Does Jonn Elledge seriously believe, in his heart of hearts, that those older people who voted for Brexit did so with the expressed intention of harming their children and grandchildren – or at least not caring that such harm might come to pass? Does he not realise that the counterfactual, unrecorded by YouGov (who did not bother to probe more deeply) is that perhaps these older people – rightly or wrongly – thought that by voting for Brexit they were preserving some other vital social good for their descendants, something potentially even more valuable than a couple of points of GDP growth?

I would posit that the supposedly hateful Daily Mail-reading generation of grey haired fascists scorned by Jonn Elledge actually do not have any particular desire to inflict economic harm on their children and grandchildren, but simply realise – through having lived full lives through periods of considerably less material abundance than those of us born since the 1980s – that other things matter too. Things like freedom and self-determination, precious gifts which were under threat during the Second World War and the Cold War, and which the older generations who remember these difficult times therefore do not casually take for granted.

They correctly perceive that sometimes there is a trade-off between short term economic security and long term freedom and prosperity. Can anyone who knows their history – or at least has watched the recent Dunkirk movie – doubt that the British population would have been immeasurably safer and better off in the short term had we made peace with Nazi Germany rather than fighting on alone after the fall of Europe? And looked at through a purely economic lens, how many years of subjugation beneath the jackboot of a fascist regime would have tipped the scale and suddenly made it worth fighting for freedom after all?

This time, the choice before us is nowhere near as difficult, and the trade-offs nowhere near as severe. Even if this incompetent government mishandles Brexit as badly as sometimes appears likely, bombs will not fall from the sky to level our cities and destroy our cathedrals. This is not to understate the effect that a mishandled Brexit negotiation could have – any uptick in unemployment or decrease in economic activity is highly suboptimal, with real human consequences.

But there are negative consequences associated with failing to safeguard our democratic institutions and fundamental liberties too, though they often seem remote or even irrelevant until suddenly they are both present and irreversible. Those who have been on this good Earth for a few more decades than Jonn Elledge perhaps appreciate this fact more readily.

Our politics has become increasingly consumerist in recent years – the politics of me me me. And unfortunately we now have a young and poorly educated millennial generation – my generation – who see politics only through the lens of what they can get for themselves in terms of perks and opportunities. This makes them particularly vulnerable to any old charlatan who comes along spewing EU propaganda suggesting that the European Union is the only reason that they are able to “live, love and work in other countries” (to use their nauseating phrase du jour).

Ultimately this is yet another total failure of the pro-EU Left to remotely empathise with those on the other side of the Brexit argument. It represents a colossal failure of imagination to sincerely believe – let alone publish in a major national political magazine! – that a generation of parents and grandparents who scrimped, saved and sacrificed to raise their families now want to cause them harm merely to warm themselves in the glow of imperial nostalgia as they enter their twilight years.

And yet this is what Elledge, the New Statesman and countless commentators on the Left would have us believe. Frankly, this haughty and arrogant attitude is more dehumanising of its victims than that of the xenophobe who may believe that foreigners are good people, but simply doesn’t want them in his country – at least there is still the outside possibility that they vaguely respect the other.

I’ll say that again, lest there be any doubt or confusion – by holding this vile opinion, Jonn Elledge, the New Statesman and anyone who concurs is worse than a garden variety xenophobe.

A society which does not respect its elders cannot long endure, and these puffed-up millennial moralisers seem determined to drive us into the ditch as fast as they possibly can.

 

Thousands Of People Take Part In The March For Europe

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Donald Trump’s Radioactive Presidency Kills Reputations And Good Ideas

Donald Trump media

The dysfunctional Trump administration can make even good ideas politically toxic, and there is nobody to blame but the president himself

The problem with Donald Trump was never that he is an evil racist bogeyman who is going to whip up the American people into a frenzy of violence targeted at women, gay and trans people or ethnic minorities. This much was always hysterical leftist nonsense.

No, the problem with Donald Trump – as has become increasingly clear with every new day of his administration – is not that he is some kind of evil mastermind but rather that he is a small and superficial man, totally unfit to hold the highest political office in America; an impulsive man-child who is incapable of moderating his behaviour or restraining himself from acting on his first, worst instincts.

Worse still, Trump manages to diminish the stature of everybody close to him. While few people who joined the Trump administration at the beginning can be described as world-class minds, the likes of chief of staff Reince Priebus or press secretary Sean Spicer were once perfectly respectable party functionaries. Now they have made themselves a laughing stock through their contortions, evasions and the feuds they get themselves into while trying to advance Trump’s agenda and defend the garbage that comes out of his mouth.

But the real tragedy is that Donald Trump’s failure will take down a few genuinely good ideas associated with the administration, while through his own ineptitude, the president is succeeding in making some very nasty people in American politics – people whose reputations should rightly be in the gutter – start to look good through their opposition to him.

Take a look at the mainstream media, specifically the Washington DC political media class. These people were rightly distrusted even more than politicians by the public, fuelled in part by their slavish deference to the George W. Bush administration over Iraq and then their fawning, sycophantic coverage of President Barack Obama. These are the people who report and comment on the news with a thin patina of objectivity, but whose intermarriage, socialisation and business relationships with the political class make bias and groupthink all but inevitable.

When President Trump boycotted this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner he made a smart move by eschewing a black tie event with celebrities and DC power players to hold one of his trademark rallies in Pennsylvania. The WHCA responded by transforming the dinner into a gaudy, sanctimonious and cynical celebration of the First Amendment, portraying the establishment journalists assembled as fearless seekers after truth. This might have looked ridiculously self-regarding had Reince Priebus not doubled down on Trump’s idiotic, throwaway pledge to amend the First Amendment to make it easier to sue newspapers for libel – on the very same day.

Nobody seriously believes that the Trump administration will try to alter the First Amendment, or that such a move would be successful even if he did try. Nobody even really believes that such a discussion took place in the White House. But by even raising the subject and having his lackeys back him, Trump has positioned himself as directly antagonistic towards the media. And while this may play well with the base, it makes it almost impossible for principled conservatives to support him.

The same goes with Sean Spicer’s ongoing war with the occupants of the White House press briefing room, which has now escalated to the point where briefings are increasingly being given off camera, in smaller more restricted gaggles or without so much as audio recordings being permitted.

From Politico:

White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said they are “not satisfied” with the White House putting a halt on their daily, on-camera briefings.

In an email to members of the association, Mason said he met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to discuss the issues of the briefings. The White House has increasingly changed the daily briefings, either not having them on certain days, making them increasingly short, or hosting off-camera briefings, sometimes even not allowing the use of audio from the briefings.

“The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government,” Mason wrote.

Again, this is needlessly antagonistic, and a direct result of the fact that the president is an impulsive man-child who obsessively watches the daily press briefing and gets angry when his aides fail to deliver as forceful a defence of the presidential exploits than Trump would like.

The consequence is that the White House now has a nervous communications team which is reactive rather than proactive, which cannot rely on their boss not to torpedo his own administration’s efforts with a careless tweet and which is struggling to find a replacement for Sean Spicer, who is apparently being “promoted” out of the press secretary role. But more importantly, the consequence for the country is both the perception and sometimes the reality that the White House is trying to hide something, that they are unwilling to defend their policies in public because they are indefensible.

Even the good measures taken by the White House are executed poorly, in such a way as to discredit once-worthy ideas. The decision to open up White House press briefings to a number of “Skype Seats”, so that regional reporters and bloggers without the backing of large east coast media organisations are able to ask questions on behalf of their readerships, was an excellent idea. It was more than a nod to the Trump base (who tend to despise and distrust mainstream outlets like CNN or the New York Times). It was also a fair and accurate acknowledgement that news from the White House should not be filtered exclusively through the Washington DC-based political media class.

But as with so many other things in the Trump administration, a potentially worthy idea was ruined in the execution. Rather than using the Skype Seats to promote small regional news outlets or promising bloggers of varying political stripes, the White House issued press credentials to InfoWars, the conspiracy-minded site created by Alex Jones.

That’s not to say that absolutely everything emanating from Infowars is “fake news” – and a valid case for giving the organisation press credentials can be made. But having the likes of InfoWars as the de facto poster child for opening up White House press briefings to a wider pool only gives the establishment media every excuse they need to reassert their exclusive closed shop once the Trump administration is gone.

Pointing out the hypocrisy and decadence of the supposedly objective mainstream media, modernising the way that the White House briefs reporters and opening up the White House to smaller and regional news organisations. These are all potentially good actions and ideas, but all of which have been tarnished through their association with the Trump administration. The same goes for real-world policy in a whole host of areas, from immigration reform and border security to mitigating the negative effects of globalisation on workers – all problems which were ignored and festered under previous administrations, but where Trump is often doing more harm than good.

When Donald Trump’s administration reaches its merciful end – barring some kind of foreign policy calamity or self-inflicted political self destruction – we may end up most regretting not those few things which the president actually manages to get done, but the handful of once-promising ideas which fell by the wayside because the administration either couldn’t do them or implemented them in an incompetent way. We will mourn those initiatives which could have benefited the country and won popular support if only their association with Donald Trump had not rendered them toxic.

And conservatives especially will mourn the fact that through his incompetence, Donald Trump has managed to make so many bad people – from unrepentant open borders activists to the mainstream media – look good, and seize the moral high ground.

Even if you agree with Donald Trump on 100% of the issues, one surely now has to admit that the president is his own worst enemy when it comes to implementing his own policies.

And for those of us who oppose Trump, any relief at the fact that his presidency and its worst potential excesses are stuck in the quicksand is tempered by the fact that as a result, America is drifting without proper leadership while the few sensible measures advanced by the Trump administration are now so radioactive that they may never again see the light of day.

 

Sean Spicer - White House Press Secretary - Donald Trump

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The Abnormalization Of President Trump

Abnormalization of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is not the first US president to ride roughshod over the Constitution or flout the checks and balances on executive power – and an honest media with any credibility would acknowledge as much

In highlighting the latest craven example of oversensitive American university students and administrations rescinding invitations to prominent conservative-leaning speakers, the Washington Post reports:

Once reserved for cheesy senior photos at campus landmarks, college commencement exercises have graduated into something different six months after Donald Trump was elected president: a battleground for protesting conservative policies and the people who promote them.

This is incredibly disingenuous. The trend of academic institutions and strident students refusing to tolerate the presence of anybody whose opinions diverge from the current leftist, social justice orthodoxy has been on the ascendance for well over a decade now, has accelerated rapidly in the last five years and has been widely commented on, written about and discussed – not least on this blog.

And yet here the Washington Post seeks to present the “student snowflake” syndrome as a new development which only now is rearing its head “six months after Donald Trump was elected president”. This comes perilously close to excusing the rising tide of illiberalism as merely a symptom or reaction against Trump’s unexpected victory, when in actual fact anybody with a functioning brain knows that Donald Trump’s victory was largely the symptom or reaction against the illiberal, intolerant Control Left.

But we are now witnessing a trend of articles and Op-Eds such as this, all seeking to portray every last one of Donald Trump’s actions as US president as being extreme and unprecedented in recent history. On foreign policy, domestic policy, constitutional matters and social issues, critics of Donald Trump (including the prestige Washington media) often seek to portray Trump as far more extreme than he has thus far shown himself to be, at least as far as policy initiatives and executive actions are concerned.

None of this is to support Donald Trump or excuse the atrocious start he has made to his presidency, which has been characterised by one largely self-inflicted political wound after another. Rather, the point is that by falsely pretending that every time Donald Trump breathes he is gravely wounding the Republic in ways unmatched by any previous president, Trump’s critics and the media inadvertently excuse serious failings in US policy and of past US administrations which deserve to be studied, criticised and rectified rather than merely glossed over.

Nicole Hemmer picked up on some of these areas as part of an article in Politico Magazine:

Many journalists covering the White House have lapsed into a practice of “Trump exceptionalism,” a tendency to assume each move the administration makes is new and nefarious. This assumption comes from a well-meaning place—a worry that they will be complicit in normalizing dangerous behavior in an American leader. But there are real risks, too.

First, it leads to quick-trigger panic over events that are normal. Take the reaction to the administration’s dismissal of 46 U.S. attorneys. Journalists framed it as a purge, and the panic escalated when one of those attorneys, Preet Bharara, refused to resign and was subsequently fired. But the dismissal of U.S. attorneys has been standard practice since the 1990s. The novel behavior here was Bharara’s. There’s a cost to getting this wrong: Cry wolf too many times, and readers are less likely to listen when the real dangers appear.

But perhaps the more important consequence of Trump exceptionalism is that it encourages journalists to overlook continuities. Trump is an abnormal president, unprecedented in many ways. But he is not sui generis. His anti-Muslim policies, hard-line anti-immigration stance, even his economic populism and free-trade skepticism all have long histories—even within mainstream conservatism. His nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was as straightforwardly Republican as it gets.

One can quibble over the wording and focus of Hemmer’s argument – hysterically and disingenuously talking about Trump being “anti-immigration” when he has expressed no clear reservations whatsoever about legal immigration, for example. But her basic point is correct – inexperienced and superficial DC journalists have been too eager to cram every piece of news into their “Trump is unprecedented” narrative, whether each individual action happens to fit the mould or not.

When it comes to the Trump administration’s recent overtures to more authoritarian regimes (including Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s dictator-in-gestation Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), Glenn Greenwald does a far better job counting the ways that US support for morally questionable allies is far from unprecedented:

Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: In a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policymakers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for its mass killings and aggressively enabled the genocide carried out by one of the 20th century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

Nor is Trump’s foreign policy behaviour a particular departure from more recent US administrations:

U.S. devotion to the world’s worst dictators did not end, or even recede, upon the end of the Cold War. Both the Bush and Obama administrations continually armed, funded, supported, and praised the world’s worst dictators.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually said of the murderous Egyptian dictator supported by the U.S.: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” When Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew that country’s first elected government, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, hailed him for “restoring democracy,” and as Sisi became more brutal and repressive, the Obama administration lavished him with more weapons and money. The U.S. government did the same for the human-rights abusing dictators in Bahrain.

And of course this is to say nothing of Saudi Arabia.

It is bad enough having a US president who seems to suffer from self-delusions. That the Washington media and commentariat are engaging in fantastical delusions of their own is doubly dangerous for American democracy and policy.

To read the combined output of the American media, one would be forgiven for thinking that the George W. Bush administration never sanctioned the illegal torture of prisoners through dubious legal memos, and that the Obama administration never once decided to blast American citizens off the face of the earth with drone strikes, maintaining a “kill list” of US citizens who could be zapped without any due process.

No, apparently all of these sins are now forgiven – to the extent that the servile, sycophantic Washington media bothered to hold past administrations or senior officials accountable for their actions in the first place, generally preferring to party and intermarry with the political elite rather than be remotely adversarial.

In fact, the harsh truth is this: the only reason that Trump administration officials are being dragged over the coals for their own skirting of the Constitution and departures from US diplomatic and international norms are that Donald Trump has refused to cozy up to the Washington media class in the manner typical to all previous presidents, and so has failed to build up the traditional reserves of goodwill which would otherwise lead to effective immunity from scrutiny or criticism of himself and his administration.

This is a real and pressing problem, because every instance when the mainstream US media freaks out and acts as though Donald Trump is breaking new ground in authoritarianism by simply behaving in the same way as his predecessors only serves to drive a wedge between those media outlets and Trump-sympathising voters who already widely distrust the mainstream media – often with good reason.

Trump supporters need to be legitimately informed of occasions when the US president is acting in an unprecedentedly negative way, and examples of such behaviour – like the firing of FBI director James Comey for an ever-changing kaleidoscope of official reasons – are already rapidly mounting up. But their impact is massively diluted when Trump supporters have legitimate reason to believe that the media, angry at their rude treatment by the White House, is deliberately whipping every story into a major scandal, regardless of individual merit.

And the same goes for the rest of us, too. It does dissenting Republicans, Democrats and independents no favours when their every prejudice about Donald Trump is endlessly reconfirmed by an hysterical media which was only too happy to overlook some of the same faults, vices and mistakes in his predecessors of both parties. This behaviour by the media is not new, but the partisan debasement of political journalism has certainly sunk to new lows since Donald Trump took office.

A strong, almost irrefutable argument can be made that Donald Trump has brought the US presidency to an historical nadir through his personal coarseness, egotism, vengefulness and sheer inability to get to grips with public policy. The degree to which Trump’s political radar – so astute in helping him triumph over the establishment in the Republican primaries and general election – has now deserted him as he seeks to manipulate the levers of power in Washington D.C. is remarkable, if somewhat predictable.

Last week, a journalist was arrested in Washington D.C. for questioning Donald Trump’s Health & Human Services secretary, Tom Price, supposedly too aggressively. The alarming story was widely covered in American media at the time, but it has not driven the news cycle to nearly the same extent as other events which have ultimately proved to be little more than Donald Trump following the precedent set by previous administrations.

Why? Because too many in the media are ready and eager to go to DEFCON 1 every time that Trump opens his mouth, rather than cross-checking to see whether the latest presidential pronouncement or action is genuinely unprecedented or merely a more coarsely-worded rehash of something which would have gone unreported during the Clinton, Bush or Obama years.

Those of us with an active interest in the US media repairing and retaining its credibility in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency should demand better from journalists, pundits and TV talking heads who currently paint every decision made by the Trump White House as an unprecedented step down the road to dictatorship.

The prestige media pretending to its audience that Donald Trump’s upcoming meetings with authoritarian dictators like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are somehow unprecedented in American history is every bit as “fake news” as the ludicrous stories on the fringe Right about President Obama operating a paedophile ring out of the White House – only the prestige media’s lies and distortions are ultimately far more damaging, being read and believed by people with real power and influence in American society.

In short, Donald Trump is providing enough fresh new worrying material for us all. There is no need for the media to add to the drama by inventing more.

 

Donald Trump speaks to reporters

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