Rolling Stone - January 20, 2020
"People in the media business underestimate, by a lot, the damage the last three years have done to their ability to reach not just Trump fans but non-Trump Republicans, independents, libertarians, Greens, and other groups. The latest fiascoes with Sanders double as confirmation for these people of their worst conclusions about media, and an additional insult that such goofball messaging is only now attracting the notice of some on the “other side. “
Just a few elections ago, the national press policed the boundaries of both Democrat and Republican politics. You couldn’t sniff either party’s nomination without media assent.
After more high-profile crackups, including a few over the weekend, the press might be months from being pushed all the way to the outside of a general election campaign. Having declared war on Donald Trump and his voters years ago, news outlets are committing to a similar pile-on of Bernie Sanders.
Maybe this will end as an inspirational unity story, like Independence Day, when an invasion of gross aliens brought America together. At present, it just seems short-sighted.
The low point came Saturday, when Joy Reid on MSNBC’s AM Joy show had on a “body language expert” named Janine Driver to declare Sanders a liar, because his posture reminds her of a turtle. There’s not much to say about this except it’s the same combo of junk forensics and yellow journalism that Bill O’Reilly made infamous.
Times columnist David Brooks, meanwhile, blew up the Internet last Friday comparing Sanders to Trump. The onetime author of a book about the superior taste of America’s urban rich took aim against the politics of class resentment, ostensibly as practiced by both:
Brooks self-identifies as “they.” In Bobos in Paradise, he wrote that the term “establishment” too often comes across as sinister. “I’m a member of this class… we’re not so bad,” he said, adding: “All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older ones.”
The Times has been trafficking in the Trump-Sanders comparison for a while, most explicitly in a bizarre interview with Sanders on January 13th.
That piece was part of a series in which candidates “interview” for the Times endorsement with a panel of “opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate, and certain longstanding values.” Drawing upon his “certain longstanding values,” Times panelist Nick Fox asked Sanders about plans to keep his “revolution” going after election:
Given what we’ve gone through over the last three years when Democrats hear about the president flying around the country holding rallies, they might cringe. And I’m wondering how you flying around the country in 2021 rallying the people would be different than what Donald Trump has been doing?
Because Bernie Sanders threatens to use airplanes and draw big crowds, he is Trump.
(The Times humorously ended up endorsing an Amy Klobuchar-Elizabeth Warren parlay for the Democratic nomination.)
Brooks meanwhile says Republicans are already “swallowed up” by Trump’s brand of “they-ism,” a culture war targeting coastal elites. He worries Democrats are “rushing” to sign up for a similar campaign against “billionaires who have rigged the economy to benefit themselves and impoverish everyone else”:
Each of these stories takes a genuine tension in society and blows it up into an all-explaining cartoon in which one part of America is trying to destroy the other part.
When prominent media voices compare the Trump and Sanders movements, it’s always the same insult: Trump sucks and is evil/wrong, and Sanders is like Trump. The establishment fantasy is that both are illegitimate opportunists.
The diagnosis of Trump is that he rode to power appealing to a collection of humanity’s darkest impulses, in particular racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Few other explanations, importantly even negative ones (like that Trump took cynical advantage of both racism and legitimate economic grievances), are accepted.
The explanation for Sanders is naiveté. Neither the politician nor his followers understand how the world works. They want expensive things for free and blame billionaires when their actual gripe is with reality. Oh, and theirs is also a movement for sexists and anti-Semites and people who refuse to accept the unique role of racism in America.
Dating to 2016, we were told the chief commonalities between Trump and Sanders were ambition and strategy. They were “populists” who played on voters’ emotions because they had to, being denied normal avenues to power: connections, donors, endorsements. As a Harvard professor put it in theWashington Post, “both are self-described political outsiders, the most likely actors to use anti-elite language.”
Brooks argues that “capitalism is doing what it’s supposed to do,” i.e. “rewarding productivity with pay, and some people and companies are more productive.” He insists the gap in America is between “superstar companies and everybody else,” i.e. if you’re on the wrong end of the curve, you aren’t bringing the right skills to bear in an economy that is still fundamentally meritocratic.
The reason people are abandoning traditional political solutions on both sides of the political aisle is that most people can see how easy it is to put a thumb on the scale of such rosy Adam Smith market theory. They know companies buy regulatory and tax relief through political donations, offshore profits, export labor to unfree political zones like China, use central banking mechanisms to obtain heavily subsidized capital, and dominate debate through investment in media.
About that last point: One of the areas where systematic unfairness is most visible is through the aggressive suckage of the establishment press. ...
Read full report at Rolling Stone