Friday, December 9, 2016

Silver Linings Playbook

“I got an email from a guy who works for some sort of defense contractor, some lower-level job, served in the military. And he said, look, I served in the military with black and Latino soldiers. My supervisor is a young black woman who’s smart as a whip, and I admire her, and we get along great. I belong to a bowling team with black and Latino coworkers. And when we get together and we talk about politics—I’m almost quoting him—he said, we don’t talk about Black Lives Matters. We talk about what matters to our families. We talk about jobs, and we talk about the fate of the country.”
—Columbia professor Mark Lilla, in a November 25 National Public Radio interview about how “identity liberalism” has been a disaster for Democrats
“As far as we were concerned, the problem was more with our communication than it was with our policy.”
—House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, on Democratic losses in the 2016 general election
In my previous post, shortly after the U.S. election, I attempted to find a silver lining for people who were disappointed in the result. After years of hearing that the problem with U.S. politics was the amounts of money raised and spent, we had a presidential election where the winning candidate actually raised and spent far less—and is consequently far less beholden to donors—than the losing candidate. As it happens, I have yet to hear anyone complain about the amount of money in politics since November 8 or, actually, since Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination.

Here are a couple more possible silver linings for those troubled by the dark clouds of the electoral result.

A Healthier Government/Media Relationship? We are now back to the normal state of things as far as the media are concerned. The natural and healthy role for the press has always been as an adversary to those who wield the reins of power. If journalists are not skeptical about those who govern us, then they risk being mere government stenographers and political enablers. While the press rightly covered the presidency of Barack Obama as a historical milestone, its coverage of his administration was too often lacking in curiosity and critical analysis. I am speaking here mainly of the news organs that reach most ordinary people, i.e. the major television network news organizations and agenda-setting national newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Of course, news consumers looking for more detailed coverage had lots of choices for getting their information, with editorial stances covering the entire political spectrum. (Conservatives looking for negative coverage of the administration, for example, certainly had their own organs.) The major corporate media, however, have a responsibility to report aggressively and not be government cheerleaders. If they were too eager to give the current administration a pass, that at least is definitely not going to be a problem for the incoming administration. That is a good thing.

Some think, though, that the corporate media are going too far in covering the president-elect negatively and that their reporting is not so much objective than just pro-Democrat. That may well be but, even if that is true, the result is that news consumers are much better served than they were during the previous eight years when coporate reporters showed little interest in the unintended consequences of government policies.

One thing that so far shows no signs of changing, unfortunately, is the major media’s lack of interest in life outside its urban strongholds and the unexpected hordes of Americans who confounded journalists by turning out for Trump. There is little evidence that they are breaking out of their Washington bubble. The Sunday morning TV panel discussions I have seen so far display mostly the same sort of insight from mostly the same journalists who spent months telling us that Donald Trump could never become president. Now they are just “explaining” why everything Trump does is wrong.

The danger in the press not becoming more diverse in its coverage and understanding of the country as a whole is that more people will continue to seek out alternative media, thereby exacerbating the political and cultural schism in the country. Certainly, having lots of media voices is healthy and desirable but not if it gets to the point where different parts of the country have their own completely separate realities.

An End to Political Dynasties? Even if you are disappointed in the election result, is there not at least a small part of you that is happy that during the recent election season Americans firmly and resoundingly rejected political dynasties? Republican voters were certainly emphatic that they had had enough of Bushes. In the general election an Electoral College majority was pretty clear that they had also had it with Clintons. Let us look back at the past three presidential elections. In each case someone with relatively little (in the case of Obama) or no (in the case of Trump) experience as an office-holder was preferred. More specifically, the elections of 2008 and 2016 were explicit rejections of the Clintons. Obama got nominated because so many Democrats did not want to go back to the Clinton days, and Trump got elected because so many voters—including former Democratics—still felt the same way. This is surprising since the economy during Bill Clinton’s presidency was about the best in recent memory. Hillary Clinton probably did herself no favors, at least in the general election, by following the lead of her party’s left wing in rejecting her husband’s sensible centrist policies. But maybe that did not even matter and her surname and long record in government were going to do her in anyway.

The irony is that the Democratic establishment put in the fix for Clinton precisely because it did not think a disruptive outsider like Bernie Sanders could win in the general election. People laughed, in turn, at the notion of Donald Trump getting the GOP nomination and then of him winning the presidency. The very idea that people in Pennsylvania who had voted for Sanders in the primary election would then turn around and vote for Trump in the general election was considered ludicrous.

Given what we know now, who knows what might have happened if Sanders had gotten a fair shot at the Democratic nomination? Could Sanders have actually won if he had been the Democratic nominee?

My guess is probably not. It is difficult to see Sanders running against the Democratic establishment the way Trump ran against the Republican establishment, and that was probably crucial to his victory. Trump made himself the best option for those who wanted to say, “A pox on both your houses!”

Maybe the ultimate silver lining for Democrats is that Republicans are now so unexpectedly and completely dominant in so much of the country that they have nowhere to go but down. Worryingly, though, that sounds a bit like the fellow who fell off a skyscraper and was heard on the way down by people on each of the various floors to be telling himself, “So far, so good.”

No comments:

Post a Comment