Preserving The Legitimacy Of The Supreme Court Must Outweigh Partisan Anger

Protesters on steps of Supreme Court - Brett Kavanaugh confirmation - SCOTUS

Conservatives lived with what they saw as a left-leaning, activist Supreme Court for decades without undertaking serious efforts to undermine the institution. But while the American Left rightly decries the various attacks on governmental institutions in the Age of Trump, their anger at the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh is leading them to do precisely that which they say endangers the Republic

I spend a lot of time criticizing the American news media, and rightly so since there is a lot to criticize in this so-called renaissance of print journalism in the Age of Trump. I often single out the New York Times for particular criticism – their claim to run a scrupulously impartial and ideologically neutral newsroom is risible when their opinion pages are stacked 10-1 with not just left-wing progressives, but the kind who have drunk deep from the well of social justice and are now utterly high on the most poisonous distillation of identity politics dogma.

But I also feel compelled to give credit where credit is due. While the New York Times and other prestige media outlets may devote large portions of their time and resources to misrepresenting conservatives and stealthily promoting leftist agendas, today their Opinion email bulletin featured a progressive Op-Ed writer who actually sought to lay out the conservative perspective in good faith for the benefit and enlightenment of Times readers, rather than misrepresenting the conservative perspective to generate cheap outrage.

Addressing the ongoing rancor generated by the nomination and confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Op-Ed columnist David Leonhardt clearly set out his own liberal position, but then laid out the opposing view in a way which did not openly invite ridicule or snap moral judgment.

Leonhardt begins:

In this polarized era, most of us don’t spend a lot of time genuinely trying to see a political issue the way that the other side does. And it’s often worth doing so. Let me give you an example.

He then goes on to state his own personal view (entirely in line with progressive thinking) that the Court is supposedly dominated by an “extremely conservative and partisan majority” sufficient to justify Democrats looking at potentially extreme ways to curb the institution‘s power.

But then Leonhardt says this:

But here, roughly, is how some conservatives think about the Supreme Court:

In the mid-20th century, a liberal court regularly overruled the popular will or blocked the democratic process. It happened most famously on abortion, but also on school prayer and other subjects. And even though Republicans won the White House in five out of six presidential elections starting in 1968, the court remained left of center, partly because a few supposedly conservative justices didn’t turn out to be conservative.

Yes, the current court is more conservative than the country, these conservatives might say. But we know how you liberals feel right now. Don’t go undermining an entire institution of government just because you have some complaints about it.

The Left does not like to be told of its glaring faults and hypocrisies, particularly by one of their own, so we will no doubt soon see what happens to the career trajectory of David Leonhardt. But laid out here, with no attempt at distortion, is the basic thought process behind most conservatives’ attitude toward the Supreme Court.

To be clear, I personally would not have nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the court over concerns about his views of executive power, and I would not have confirmed him after his performance in the confirmation hearings (yes, it’s natural to be angry at what you see as false accusations, but going on a conspiratorial rant about the Clintons is the antithesis of the impartiality which should be shown by a Justice of the Supreme Court, particularly one whose background was in the Republican presidential administration of George W. Bush). There are other judges with similar judicial philosophies who would have been better for conservatives from both a constitutional perspective and the short-term political perspective of the nomination process (cough, Amy Coney Barrett).

But while I would much rather have seen a different justice confirmed to the ninth seat on the Supreme Court, at this point I am more concerned about the hypocrisy of those on the Left who rend their garments about the damage which President Trump is doing to vital American institutions, while also actively seeking to undermine public faith in the court and even enthusiastically contemplating the idea of stacking the court to restore it’s leftward tilt, should they acquire sufficiently strong control of Congress after the midterms.

The dangers posed by President Trump’s erratic, ego-driven leadership are very real, and the precipitous decline in public faith in key institutions of government is a corrosive acid eating away at the American democracy. But those entirely valid fears are recast as cynical partisan pandering when their chief expounders are also doing their darnedest to destroy trust in institutions after having suffered a setback on the Supreme Court. And as a result of this cynical behavior, people are less likely to take the warnings seriously.

Worse still, the Democrats’ pain threshold is apparently so low that they could not tolerate a potential originalist/textualist (or more cynically, rightward) shift on the court for even a week before they started openly agitating to undermine the institution. Say what you want about the Republicans, and there is much to say – particularly concerning their disgraceful refusal to even consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s eminently qualified Supreme Court nominee – but conservatives watched as the Burger, Rehnquist and Roberts courts handed down many decisions which they regarded as unconstitutional. Decisions which decisively reshaped the fabric of American life. And while nobody would say that Republicans took defeat gracefully or played the part of happy warriors, at least they did not try to stack the court or mount targeted efforts to delegitimize the institution altogether.

One can disagree with the originalist and textualist judicial philosophy which may now come to more prominence in the Supreme Court’s deliberations, but it is a valid and serious worldview worthy of respect, certainly no less so than the “living constitution” alternative. The answer to political setback is not to take one’s toys and go home in a temper – it is to seek to persuade voters that the progressive alternative is better such that Democratic senators and presidents are elected who can nominate like-minded individuals to the Court. The answer is not to falsely claim that theirs is the only pure and neutral interpretation of the constitution while the conservative perspective is uniquely partisan and dangerous.

Congress already has a rock-bottom approval rating, with hardly anyone respecting the legislative branch of government. The divisiveness of the Donald Trump era has seen one group hold out the present head of the executive branch to be worshipful and almost divinely given while the other group thinks he is Literally Hitler. That leaves only one branch of government held in significant public esteem – the judiciary, led by the Supreme Court.

Is undermining remaining public trust in the third branch of government and sawing the third and final leg off America’s governmental tripod the responsible thing to do right now? Is it even the most politically lucrative thing to do in the short and medium term, given how the Kavanaugh saga has energized the Republican base and put a handful of oncecompetitive seats further out of the reach of Democrats?

My opinions on how best to move forward are currently in flux, but I am attracted by propositions that the Supreme Court should no longer be populated with the same nine lifetime appointees, but rather by federal appeals court judges selected at random for shorter terms, on a staggered basis (see this Vox piece, which is sadly also a prime example of how the Left see theirs as the only legitimate point of view and recent progressive leanings of the Supreme Court not something even worth mentioning). Of course, this change is about as likely as President Trump admitting that he is a Russian stooge, resigning Nixon-style and flying away in a helicopter as a bemused nation watches him go. But it seems like a good potential approach, and one which would do much to depoliticize the highest court (even if the nomination of federal appeals court judges then became somewhat more contentious as a result).

But realistically, we go forward with the institutions we have in the form we have them, staffed by the people whom due process has put in charge. And there is a simple choice to be made by the American Left: do they press ahead and burn away remaining public faith in the Supreme Court, or do they commit – as conservatives did, when they saw that they would keep losing and losing at the hands of the judiciary unless they took a long-term approach to regaining influence – to advance their goals utilizing the legitimate, existing (if flawed) processes and institutions available to them?

Last week I attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court for the first time, hearing the somewhat dry but still fascinating case of New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira being argued before the then-eight sitting Justices of the Court. Sitting in the public seating, soaking in the weight of history within those walls and watching some of the best-credentialed lawyers at the top of their game argue before eight eminent and generally well-intentioned jurists was an unforgettable experience, especially given that I am now studying law in the shadow of that court, right here in Washington, DC.

This case was about employment rights and whether long-distance transportation workers were required to resolve workplace disputes through compulsory arbitration rather than through the courts – an edict which currently varies depending on whether the individual is a waged employee or an independent contractor (an increasingly irrelevant distinction in today’s economy). This kind of case is the Supreme Court’s bread and butter – deciding disputes whose facts would make most people’s eyes glaze over within thirty seconds, but which nonetheless need to be resolved in order to give direction to lower courts and advance the broader course of justice in the United States.

This was not one of the few hot-button social issues which attract hordes of placard-waving protesters to the courtroom steps. The case certainly matters, but primarily to the litigants involved and those who share their interests – transport corporations, unions and the like. Does the Left really want to wage such war on the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court that even these workaday cases become seen by half the country as fraudulently or illegitimately decided? So that lobbyists, pressure groups and corporate interests feel more emboldened to undermine every negative decision and even mount targeted campaigns against specific Justices as a result of their opinions?

I share some of the American Left’s concerns about America’s direction, particularly the slide toward authoritarianism and protectionism (though I hold the Left equally if not more responsible for these phenomena than the Trumpists, who are largely a symptom, not a cause of America’s malaise). But for the life of me I fail to see how waging an all-out assault on the remaining credibility of the most respected branch of the United States government redounds to the Left’s long-term advantage, results in a more functional country or a more harmonious society. All I see is more bitterness, more mutual distrust and more negative energy fueling the ever-growing vortex of our ongoing culture war.

The Left have every right to be angry with some of the circumstances of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and with cynical Republican political behavior prior to that. But they do not have the right to enjoy decades of often-amenable Supreme Court decisions, and then seek to tear down an institution vital to all Americans the moment they believe it may no longer adequately serve their progressive purposes.

In that regard at least, the price of the Left’s present paroxysms of rage may be more than this beleaguered country can bear.

 

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No, Brexit Is Not The Fault Of The Evil British Tabloids

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The fearless and forensic New York Times continue their penetrating post-mortem investigation into the causes of Brexit. This week’s scapegoat – the Evil British Tabloid Press

Fresh from speculating about how the impact of Brexit on London will equal the fall of Babylon in terms of destruction and woe, the New York Times is back with another self-exonerating tonic for the global metro-left, reassuring them that Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union in no way reflects a serious failing on their part, but instead is entirely the result of sinister machinations by evil outside forces.

In the crosshairs this week: Britain’s tabloid press, led by The Sun newspaper, everybody’s favourite bogeyman. The strong implication of the New York Times article is that Britain’s tabloids are powerful and nefarious, exerting great sway over the political leanings of their simple-minded, provincial readers. The natural inference is that it is a worrying phenomenon when Evil Tabloids “influence” their gullible readers in a populist direction, but entirely laudable and unremarkable when the prestige media – outlets like the New York Times and the Guardian – serve their wise readers up with a consistent globalist, elitist worldview.

One can imagine the tone and content of the piece – sanctimonious, condescending and displaying a stunning lack of self-awareness – without even reading a word, but below are a few choice quotes:

In Britain after the so-called Brexit vote, the power of the tabloids is evident. Their circulations may be falling and their reputations tarnished by a series of phone-hacking scandals. But as the country prepares to cut ties with the European Union after a noisy and sometimes nasty campaign, top politicians court the tabloids and fear their wrath. Broadcasters follow where they lead, if not in tone then in topic.

Of course, when the Times talks about a “sometimes nasty campaign”, they are alluding exclusively to supposedly nativist and anti-immigration rhetoric, and not the hatred and contempt frequently pored on people who campaigned and voted in good conscience for Brexit. This becomes clear through all of the campaign incidents cited in the article, culminating in an attempt to link the murder of Jo Cox MP directly to pro-Brexit rhetoric.

More:

Their readers, many of them over 50, working class and outside London, look strikingly like the voters who were crucial to the outcome of last year’s referendum on membership in the European Union. It is these citizens of Brexitland the tabloids purport to represent from the heart of enemy territory: Housed in palatial dwellings in some of London’s most expensive neighborhoods, they see themselves as Middle England’s embassies in London.

In the campaign leading up to a snap election on June 8, most tabloids can be counted on to act as the zealous guardians of Brexit and as a cheering section for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May — even though the city that houses them voted the other way.

This is actually true. And the reason that many of the tabloids are bastions of working class populism surrounded by a sea of metro-leftism is that these are national newspapers, not city-specific or regional publications.

One has to take issue with the Times’ reference to “Brexitland” though, as if despite representing a majority of voters, Brexit supporters are somehow strange and exotic creatures whose behaviour requires analysis and interpretation by the prestige media – which, of course, is exactly how the New York Times sees them.

A more worthy article would turn the gaze back toward “Remainland” or “Europeland” and seek to understand how 48 percent of the country managed to drift away and treat the concerns, fears and aspirations of the 52 percent with such complete indifference. But this is the New York Times, and they have no interest in turning a forensic gaze on people like their own reporters, editors and readers – the “good people” whose behaviour needs no explanation or introspective analysis.

The article then takes a divergence to discuss Boris Johnson, even though the Foreign Secretary’s execrable journalistic career was spent at supposedly prestige broadsheets, not tabloids:

In the marble-and-glass lobby of the 17-story News Building, home to Mr. Murdoch’s British media empire, there is a small plaque that commemorates the building’s 2014 opening by Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London and now the British foreign secretary.

Mr. Johnson, wild-haired and witty, became a chief architect of Brexit when, four months before the referendum, he threw his weight behind a cause until then most closely associated with the populist U.K. Independence Party. But his main contribution to Brexit may go back more than two decades.

A correspondent in Brussels for The Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s, Mr. Johnson was credited by fellow reporters with pioneering the euroskeptic coverage of the European Union that has since become the default setting for much of the British press. With little regard for the truth — he was previously fired by The Times of London for making up a quote — Mr. Johnson wrote about a Europe scheming to impose standard condom sizes and ban his country’s beloved prawn-cocktail-flavored chips (both untrue).

“Boris invented fake news,” said Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times, who was in Brussels shortly after Mr. Johnson. “He turned euroskepticism into an art form that every news editor in London came to expect.”

Ah, so the reason for bringing up Boris Johnson in an article supposedly about tabloid journalism was in order to shoehorn “fake news” into the discussion. Well, while nobody would seriously defend the quality of Johnson’s Europe reporting for either the Times of London or the Telegraph, these stories were primarily consumed by broadsheet-reading elites, not the oafish, Sun-reading working classes held in such contempt by the New York Times. And it should be noted that whatever the failings of the British newspaper media with regard to Brexit – and they are many – serious journalists like the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker have contributed consistently powerful analysis and criticism of the EU, shedding far more light than heat (unlike Johnson).

Besides, as this blog has previously discussed, focusing exclusively on “fake news”, much of which is so obviously hysterical and false as to be unbelievable to all but the most swivel-eyed of social media sharers, ignores the far more pernicious impact of ideologically skewed mainstream news, which is read by elites and decision-makers, often actually driving the political debate.

The example I always return to is the fact that nearly all prestige American news outlets have stopped referring to illegal immigrants as such, referring to them euphemistically as “undocumented” or “unauthorised” immigrants instead. Similarly, when an American politician seeks to crack down on illegal immigration they are nearly always described as being antagonistic toward the “immigrant community”, suggesting a deep-seated conservative antipathy toward all immigrants, making them seem far more extreme than they really are.

This linguistic trickery, common throughout the American mainstream media, seriously impacts the way that people view the subject of immigration. Read about Donald Trump’s hostility to “immigrants” often enough and you could be forgiven for thinking that the American president is actively plotting the deportation of law-abiding, visa or green card-holding immigrants, when this is simply not the case. American news outlets know that they are misleading their readers and viewers by stoking these alarming fears but do so anyway, purely in order to push a certain political outcome (acceptance and normalisation of illegal immigration).

All of this should be borne in mind when the New York Times article goes on to discuss tabloid treatment of immigration in the Brexit debate:

Britain makes many of its own laws, of course. But it is an interesting choice of example. A more obvious one might have been immigration.

Research by a former Times journalist, Liz Gerard, showed that tabloids pounded the immigration issue, with at least 30 hostile front-page splashes in The Daily Mail in the six months leading up to the referendum, and 15 in The Sun. The headlines — “Britain’s Wide Open Borders” The Daily Mail shouted — often tended toward histrionic. The Sun insinuated that child refugees arriving in Britain were lying about their ages and should have dental X-rays.

“Tell Us the Tooth,” the headline read.

A week earlier, I had met Kelvin MacKenzie, a former Sun editor and a columnist who was subsequently suspended for referring to a mixed-race soccer star as a “gorilla.” He said that the paper still reflected the “beating heart of Britain,” and that Brexit was won on immigration “by a thousand miles.”

Has the British tabloid media focused heavily on immigration, and often covered the subject in a crass and obnoxious way? Yes, of course – both news reporting, editorial lines and political commentary in the tabloids have been troubling at times. But one must remember that left to their own devices, the prestige media would hardly cover the issue at all. Newspapers like the high-minded Guardian have zero sympathy for those who object to uncontrolled mass immigration, and even more supposedly conservative outlets like the Times or Financial Times would happily ignore the subject altogether were it not for the tabloids keeping the issue on the national agenda. One cannot examine the sins of the tabloid press while pretending that the prestige press is somehow faultless.

Or can we?

Well, the New York Times certainly seems capable of obsessing about the mote in their British cousin’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own. As far as the New York Times is concerned, Brexit is purely the result of rabble-rousing tabloids (with an assist from glib superficial coverage in the prestige conservative press) whipping up xenophobic feelings among their working class readership. According to this self-exonerating narrative, Brexit has absolutely nothing to do with the prestige media failing to hold politicians to account for progressively signing away sovereignty and governing competencies to a barely accountable supranational government, or helping to make a nuanced conversation about immigration impossible.

No, instead we are expected to believe that the earnest saints of the prestige media and their establishment readers and cheerleaders are totally blameless. We are expected to close our minds to the possibility that more people might have heeded some of (say) the Guardian or the New Statesman’s more accurate concerns and reporting during the EU referendum if those publications had not conducted themselves for years in such a screechingly, stridently blinkered pro-EU manner.

And even now, after the New York Times managed to cocoon its own readership in such a self-reinforcing ideological bubble that almost none of them saw Donald Trump as a potential threat to their world order, in examining Brexit America’s newspaper of record is unable to question whether producing news and commentary almost entirely of the elites, by the elites and for the elites might not be the smartest way to approach journalism.

For God’s sake, New York Times, wake up. Turn your concerned gaze around 180 degrees and question the assumptions, biases and blind spots in your own reporting. Stop worrying about the evil tabloid press and its hold over the impressionable British working class mind for two seconds, and spend at least a moment considering how your own prestige journalism has unhelpfully perpetuated and reinforced failing globalist shibboleths for years, leading to these harsh instances of political correction in domestic and world affairs.

Because if the unexpected election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit (different though the two phenomena are) have taught us anything, it’s that blue-collar, working-class folks are far from being the only people who can be plausibly accused of being brainwashed by the news media that they consume.

 

 

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At The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, The Political Media Circle-Jerk Proceeded Minus Donald Trump

White House Correspondents Dinner - First Amendment - Washington Political Media

At the annual Washington D.C. bash, the political media class were more concerned by the lack of Hollywood celebrities to ogle than the fact that half the country holds them in contempt, feels deliberately misunderstood and distrusts nearly everything that they have to say

The Washington Post reported today on the fact that brave members of the Washington D.C. political media class somehow managed to soldier on and enjoy themselves at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and associated glitzy after-parties despite President Trump’s cruel boycott of the event (Trump decided to hold another one of his dubious rally-style events in Pennsylvania).

Without a single hint of self-awareness, the Post reports:

His voters sent him to Washington to break stuff, and this weekend Donald Trump tried to break the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association. As with some of his business ventures, he was not wholly successful.

“They’re trapped at the dinner,” the president boomed at a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., celebrating his first 100 days in office. “Which will be very, very boring.”

Instead, it was just fine. It happened. There’s an inertia to these Washington traditions, and a determination to soldier on in the face of — whatever it is we’re facing. Everyone survived this weekend without the president, or without the crush of Hollywood celebrities who for years had been decorating the dinner in ever-increasing density, until now.

It was a bit like an off-year high school reunion: diminished numbers and fewer crazy stories but still no shortage of hors d’oeuvres and dancing and gossip. Everyone settled for sightings of Michael Steele and Debbie Dingell instead of Jon Hamm or a Kardashian. In past years, virtually the entire cast of “Modern Family” would come to the dinner; this year, United Talent Agency only secured the kid who plays Luke.

Well, now we can all sleep easy in our beds. Despite the president of the United States refusing to perform the traditional routine of being self-deprecating and massaging the egos of the people supposed to hold him to account, the Washington press corps somehow managed to rescue the evening and enjoy themselves. Despite being deprived of the opportunity to rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty, the assembled journalists and media executives still managed to mingle, network and slap each other on the backs for a job well done serving the interests of American democracy.

Aren’t you relieved? I know that I am.

More:

Was it only a year ago that Barack Obama dropped the mic, literally, at his final correspondents’ dinner, as if to put an exclamation point on eight years of media savvy and pop-culture propaganda? He knew his role in this circus. It was Obama’s yearly chance to inspire a meme, rib a rival, come off as folksy royalty, remind the public that the media was not the enemy. His cool factor iced out the haters, smudged away red lines, papered over unkept promises. Afterward, the French ambassador’s mansion would swell with swells — both conservatives and liberals, all buddy-buddy in private, united by the daytime charade they pulled off together on TV.

As yes, good old Obama knew his place, knew his role in the “circus” – to dance like a performing seal in an attempt to make the self-satisfied hacks chuckle. Sure, Obama was more successful than most – thanks to a largely uninquisitive media he managed to maintain the “cool factor” right to the end of his presidency – but he stayed firmly within the tramlines of what was expected of him.

And what was that role? What has it traditionally been for administration after administration? Nothing more than making the media class look noble for one evening a year when they spend the other 364 making themselves look tawdry and partisan. Fudging important ideological questions and reducing them to laughing points. Papering over “unkept promises” as the trivialities that they are to the Washington political class – little frauds perpetrated on the American voters, some of whom are naive enough to expect political promises to be kept.

But the Washington Post is certainly in no mood to dwell on the accumulated failure of prestige American news outlets to hold leaders to account or properly represent the range of interests and opinion in the country. After all, the Post are enjoying a bumper season of increased subscriptions and web traffic thanks to the Trump presidency, drunk not on $25 cocktails but on their own sense of nobility (as evidenced by their hilariously overwrought “Democracy Dies In Darkness” motto).

Indeed, the Washington Post seems most anxious for us to know that this year’s event was a dud because Trump might have attended, not because he ultimately chose not to do so:

The guest list suffered not because Trump sent his regrets but, more likely, because of the chance he might attend; he remains dauntingly unpopular with the New York and Hollywood A-list that he had long aspired to join. The pre-dinner receptions, hosted by outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, were staid and perfunctory, absent the usual angling for a sighting of a “Game of Thrones” star.

Apparently at no point has it occurred to the Post or other such outlets whether the presence of Hollywood celebrities at a political media event might actually be a bad thing rather than something to be celebrated and missed in its absence. It is merely taken for granted that the presence of numerous multimillionaires from the entertainment industry is some kind of sign that the health of American political journalism and culture is in fine fettle.

The focus of the stripped-down event was on defending free speech and celebrating the importance of a free press guaranteed under the First Amendment, something which we can certainly all applaud but which rarely merited such prime-time coverage when the Obama industry was, say, prosecuting whistleblowers with uncommon zeal. Has Trump made numerous troubling statements with regard to freedom of the press, libel laws and freedom of speech and association in general? Absolutely.  But it is telling that much of the media is happy to trumpet the issue now, when it costs them little reputationally or financially, but maintained a pained silence under a more popular “liberal” president.

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The dinner itself featured a dutiful pep talk by Watergate legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

“Mr. President, the media is not fake news,” Woodward said from the dais, and the media elite applauded.

“CNN and MSNBC are fake news,” Trump said in Pennsylvania, and some of the 97 percent who say they’d still vote for him applauded.

Two worlds, talking past each other, from 100 miles apart. The latest prime-time iteration of POTUS vs. Beltway.

Only it isn’t just POTUS vs Beltway. It is half of America versus the Beltway news outlets and punditocracy. The cosseted Washington media class is so busy being angry at Donald Trump for his bombastic insults and threats that they remain largely unable to look beyond the president to see the many Americans who may not agree with Trump but who share his hatred of the people who filter and report the news.

As this blog has previously discussed, the mainstream American news media is indeed not “fake news” inasmuch as the likes of CNN or the New York Times do not routinely print sensationalist and patently false accounts of fabricated events designed to excite partisan zealots. But they have other far more insidious and effective methods of shaping the narrative through their editorial stances and very deliberate use of language.

As I wrote last year:

Fake news can incorporate false facts, but also correct facts which have been deliberately misinterpreted or spun. And far more insidious than any one fake news story, no matter how egregious, is the way in which language is often used to subtly change public perceptions over time – note how we now speak about “undocumented” rather than “illegal ” immigrants, a change adopted by nearly all of the mainstream media in America, and now in Britain too.

When the media is secretly complicit in ideologically-driven agendas, trust in the more reputable media is rightly weakened. But this leaves people more vulnerable to peddlers of deliberately fake news, as they search for alternatives. The obvious answer is for mainstream prestige outlets to rediscover their integrity and stop forcing readers away with ideologically skewed coverage, but they will not desist, and so they fuel the exodus of readers away to the fringes of the internet, a place where the more outrageous a story sounds, the more people will read it.

But there they all sat, facing a stage emblazoned with the words “Celebrating the First Amendment” and no doubt feeling inordinately pleased with themselves for the stellar work they believe they are doing in standing up to the Trumpian dystopia, unaware or more likely just unconcerned by just how hated and distrusted they are throughout vast swathes of their own country.

The New York Times had an interesting feature article today looking at the upcoming final round of the French presidential election between centrist empty-suit Emmanuel “status quo” Macron and depressing protectionism advocate Marine Le Pen. The piece focuses on the struggling northern town of Calais, a place I know quite well through many visits during my adolescence, and is actually quite fair in its examination of the erosion of the town’s biggest industry in the face of global competition and the lack of political answers

For a piece of New York Times journalism, it is pretty good – especially compared to their godawful “Will London Fall?” hitpiece on Britain and their generally hysterical and uncomprehending coverage of Brexit.

The only problem? The New York Times has to send reporters on expeditions into towns like Calais in order to talk to the locals and get to know their concerns, just as American reporters descended with newfound intensity on Trumpland after the US presidential election trying to figure out what went wrong, and just as shellshocked London political journalists stumbled shellshocked beyond the great metropolis in a bid to understand what Middle England was thinking.

The New York Times article’s author, Liz Alderman, is naturally based at the newspaper’s Paris bureau. Unless she makes a conscious effort, nearly every human interaction she makes will be likely with somebody who intends to vote for Macron in the second round. This is not to impugn Alderman’s work or journalistic ethics – the Calais piece proves that she does seek out contrary opinions in the unloved regions of France when required. But when the majority of your professional and social life is spent among people who hold one set of values, the occasional field trip to the other side of the tracks cannot make up for deep-rooted understanding of – and empathy with – the more pro-globalism, pro-EU, pro-market side.

And so it is in Washington D.C. The people who gather each year for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and then grumble about how they no longer get to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars thanks to the big bully in the White House) may make the occasional foray into Trumpland if the needs of a story require it. But the vast, vast majority do not live the lives of Trump supporters, nor live among them, nor count such people among their friends or family. And you simply cannot report fairly, accurately or honestly about people whom you have to interview to get any kind of sense of who they are or what their hopes, dreams and fears may be.

The White House Correspondents’ Association clearly does not care. They have calculated that they can prosper just fine by continuing to swagger around like noble seekers of truth, bellowing about free speech and holding President Trump to “account” (while furiously ignoring just how much their lust for TV ratings and pageviews fuelled his rise in the first place). But should one of the tuxedoed dinner attendees ever stop to wonder how Donald Trump is able to effortlessly turn a crowd of people against the media at a campaign rally, this is the reason.

Trump’s non-attendance was the perfect excuse to cancel a sleazy and tawdry annual event which should have been axed many years ago, if only the bipartisan ruling class had any self-awareness or a care for how they appeared to the rest of the country.

But even now they party on, while America burns.

 

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Immigration, Refugees And The Left

A thoughtful liberal – columnist and author James Traub – sticks his head above the parapet and dares to give his own side some counsel:

The Swedes have a word, “asikstkorridor,” which translates as “opinion corridor” and describes all those things considered incorrect not only to say but to think. One of those taboos, as I discovered when I visited Sweden at the height of the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015, is the idea that refugees from conservative Muslim countries, especially poorly educated young men, may not integrate into Swedish society as well as, say, relatively secular and prosperous Iranians or Bosnians.

President Trump’s offhand comment last month about how dreadful things are in Sweden provoked an outraged reaction from Swedes rightly proud of the country’s longstanding commitment to accepting refugees from all over the world. The incident of violence the president appeared to be describing hadn’t happened. But then it did, in the form of a riot in a suburb of Stockholm heavily populated by immigrants. That’s where the opinion corridor can make you look foolish.

It is too early to know whether the net effect of the 2015 wave of largely Middle Eastern refugees on Sweden, Germany and other European countries will be positive or negative. Certainly Mr. Trump’s habit of blaming refugees for terrorism, used to justify his signing a revised executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries on Monday, flies in the face of the evidence. But so does the reflexive claim that the refugees will fit easily into European society or expand the labor force. Our liberal opinion corridor thus offers the perfect pretext for cynics and xenophobes to parade their prejudice as truth-telling courage.

One can almost hear a thousand keyboards clatter angrily to life as Traub’s soon-to-be-former colleagues rush to denounce him and recategorise him with all the other “racist xenophobes”.

Only it is not only “cynics and xenophobes” who point out the flaws in undermining national borders and welcoming all comers while making no insistence. Many people who are better describes as simply being “realists” also take an evidence-based view towards cultural integration, as well as conservatives, none of whom deserve to have their opinions belittled and slandered by having them described as “prejudice-parading”.

Still, it is encouraging to see someone on the pages of the New York Times recognise that vague platitudes about welcoming immigrants coupled with a furious refusal to consider issues of integration and assimilation are inadequate to the task at hand, at least in European countries which are so often held up by the American Left as paragons of wise policy and moral virtue.

Traub goes on to deliver his audience this unwelcome lesson:

The answer to xenophobia cannot be xenophilia. For mobile, prosperous, worldly people, the cherishing of diversity is a cardinal virtue; we dote on difference. That’s simply not true for many people who can’t choose where to live, or who prefer the familiar coordinates of their life. That was the bitter lesson that British cosmopolites learned from Brexit. If the answer is to insist that the arrival of vast numbers of new people on our doorstep is an unmixed blessing, and that those who believe otherwise are Neanderthals, then we leave the field wide open to Donald J. Trump and Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen.

[..] The situation is different here. Since the United States has no real refugee problem, save one fabricated by Mr. Trump and conservative activists, and no immigrant crime wave, the chief answer has to be on the level of the opinion corridor: Liberal urbanites have to accept that many Americans react to multicultural pieties by finding something else — sometimes their own white identity — to embrace. If there’s a culture war, everyone loses; but history tells us that liberals lose worse.

I believe that liberalism can be preserved only if liberals learn to distinguish between what must be protected at all cost and what must be, not discarded, but reconsidered — the unquestioned virtue of cosmopolitanism, for example, or of free trade. If we are to honor the human rights of refugees, we must find a way to do so that commands political majorities. Otherwise we’ll keep electing leaders who couldn’t care less about those rights.

Well, yes. Peddle in toxic, divisive identity politics for long enough and one can hardly be surprised when less secure, less prosperous members of the supposedly privileged class (i.e. the white working class) begin to do the same, purely as a survival instinct and a matter of defending their perceived interests. If you teach that political involvement and engagement of a citizen should primarily take place according to their distinct identity group(s) and in accordance with their position in the Hierarchy of Oppression, then eventually all groups will come to do this – even those you don’t want to.

Traub is right to ask his ideological fellows to reconsider some of their “unquestioned virtues” in the context of the populist backlash that they have provoked. At present, however, Democrats and others on the Left seem more inclined to hug identity politics even tighter and conduct zero outreach to Trump supporters or agnostics.

Former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock once said, in fighting a different threat which menaced his party (militant socialism rather than identity politics):

Fourthly, I shall tell you again what you know.  Because you are from the people, because you are of the people, because you live with the same realities as everybody else lives with, implausible promises don’t win victories.  I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers

In our context, the “impossible promise” is the belief that significant numbers of migrants or refugees from culturally very different countries can be taken in and settled in high concentrations with no adverse social consequences to themselves or the host population. It is the stubborn, screamed insistence at a rainbow-coloured “refugees welcome” sign in any way makes up for the lack of adequate planning by governments and consent from the governed.

Expect to see James Traub floating face down in the Potomac in a week or so’s time, with the shafts of many outraged liberal-establishment arrows piercing his back. For he has blasphemed, and the zealots in charge of the anti-Trump, anti-populist resistance have no tolerance for introspection or dissent from within their own tribe.

 

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The Enemy

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When will key influencers on the American Left learn that they can criticise Donald Trump all they want, but that continually punching down and demonising everybody who voted for him is hugely counterproductive?

Does Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column reveal an early glimmer of realisation among the elite left-leaning commentariat that demonising the 46% of voters who voted for Donald Trump – and effectively accusing them of complicity with a fascist regime – is no way to win back local, statewide and national power for Democrats?

Perhaps so:

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let’s be careful about blanket judgments.

My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but don’t always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn’t because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they didn’t know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people don’t actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they don’t know any.

More:

There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

[..] The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races — including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.

Clinton’s calling half of Trump voters “deplorables” achieved nothing and probably cost her critical votes. Why would Democrats repeat that mistake?

Kristof is inevitably taking a lot of heat from many of his readers, whose blood is still up following the election and who think that falling back on the 2008-2016 Republican Party model of total opposition and demonisation (with an extra dose of left-wing moral sanctimony) is a winning, beneficial strategy for the country.

One angry reader concluded her comment by saying “I am scared and they are the enemy. Plain and simple.” Is this really helpful language to be using at a time of national division, and is the mindset behind it a healthy one? Surely not. Of course much of the fault lies with Trump, his bellicose rhetoric and his entitled, backward attitude towards women. But Nicholas Kristof and other commentators on the Left also bear some responsibility for having created such fear among their own readerships, by frequently hyping and exaggerating the troubling aspects of Trump’s administration for political reasons (playing with language to imply with virtually no basis in fact that the president has a deep antipathy to all immigrants or to people with brown skin, for example).

Many Trump supporters and residents of Trumpland are good, caring, conscientious people. Kristof’s reader only came to the conclusion that they are all “the enemy” because she has been told so, repeatedly, by people in the media whose partisan cunning and residual bitterness outweighs any sense of professional responsibility they ought to possess. And the concerning aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency are bad enough without the leftist spin machine, working through the imprimatur of prestige titles such as the New York Times, convincing their audience that half the country (apparently including millions of “self-hating women”) is somehow out to get them when this is usually not the case.

Nicholas Kristof warned of the dangers of demonising Trump supporters as a cohesive bloc back in November, when the wounds of the election were still very raw indeed. Unfortunately, he did so in the very same column where he suggested that the pain felt by American liberals in the Age of Trump would be akin to that of an addict in recovery, a grotesquely self-indulgent and self-pitying assertion  which made light of the struggles of those suffering from mental illness. As so often with the Left and their struggle against reality it was one step forward, two steps back.

Hopefully with this new plea to his readers, Nicholas Kristof will at last hold on to some of the moral high ground he has occupied.

 

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