The Evil of Political False Equivalence

Last week WaPo published an op ed by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein called Five Myths About Bipartisanship that’s worth reading. I just want to quote a little bit here —

The bipartisanship that was common in the House through the mid-1970s began to fray as racial and cultural differences came to define the increasingly polarized and competitive parties. Partisan polarization began with these shifts in the coalitional bases of the parties, but Republicans, because of their increasingly homogeneous positions on race, religious traditionalism and other cultural issues, had more incentive to move right than Democrats had to move left. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich and his allies fomented tribalism, using the House ethics process as a political weapon and uniting the GOP into a parliamentary-style opposition party. They had important and vocal allies in partisan media, starting with Rush Limbaugh and talk radio. Much the same happened a bit later in the Senate, where McConnell turned the filibuster into a weapon of mass obstruction and got his party to unite against every Obama initiative.

Today, Republicans are one of the most extreme (even radical) conservative parties in the democratic world, with no members in the House and arguably barely one in the Senate who would qualify as moderates or traditional conservatives, while Democrats look like a traditional center-left party. Though the “Squad” of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib receives much attention, a breakdown of voting records shows that the Democratic caucus is populated by more moderates than leftists. The asymmetric nature of this polarization makes bipartisanship almost impossible.

The radicalism of the Republican party has been normalized because our news media are stuck in both-siderism, or being so averse to taking sides that reporting is skewed to achieve false equivalence. This is a long-standing problem that has gotten worse in the era of Trump. See, for example, Aaron Rupar at Vox, NPR’s sanitizing of Trump’s Milwaukee rally shows how he’s broken the media.

By almost any standard, President Donald Trump’s rally on Tuesday evening in Milwaukee was a bizarre affair. The president went on a lengthy tirade about lightbulbs, toilets, and showers; touted war crimes; joked about a former president being in hell; and said he’d like to see one of his domestic political foes locked up.

I tried to capture some of the speech’s disconcerting oddness in my write-up of the event. In many ways, the remarks the president made were typical of him. And that provides the media with a challenge: Describing Trump as he really is can make it seem as if a report is “anti-Trump” and that the reporter is trying to make the president look foolish.

But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal.

A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. The anchor’s intro framed Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” and the ensuing report (which originated from member station WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio) characterized his delivery as one in which he “snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings.”

“Trump was taking on Democrats on their own territory,” the reporter said, when in reality Trump heaped abuse on them, for instance, suggesting former Vice President Joe Biden is experiencing memory loss. …

… On Twitter, Georgetown University public affairs professor Don Moynihan noted that NPR’s report about the rally “mentioned specific topics like Iran and impeachment but carefully omit the insane stuff. This is one way the media strives to present Trump as a normal president.”

Right now, every American’s hair should be on fire in outrage over the blatant obstruction of justice and rape of the Constitution being conducted by the Republican Party to help Donald Trump evade justice. There is nothing normal or standard about any of it. This trial is a nightmare.

I don’t have to tell you that only the Democrats are trying to engage in a trial. I don’t know what you’d call what the Republicans are engaged in, but it isn’t a trial. One by one, the House managers make a factual, documented presentation, and all Trump’s lawyers present are lies and ridicule. They have no factual rebuttals. But they don’t need any; the Republican majority will vote as a block to protect Trump.

Jonathan Allen:

Rather than rebutting hours of evidence presented by House Democratic impeachment managers, White House lawyers opted to repeat Trump’s attacks on the process and the disjointed set of rejoinders he’s delivered to Democrats in public.

“If you can’t even rise to the challenge of trying to defend your client,” NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner said on NBC News Now, “it becomes painfully obvious that the emperor has no defense.”

But the emperor doesn’t need a defense. He owns a majority of the jury.

Get this — Trump, in Devos, bragged about how successfully he obstructed justice.

President Trump said he’s happy with the way the impeachment trial is going thus far because his administration has not released “materials” that would hurt his cause.

“When we released that conversation all hell broke out with the Democrats,” Trump said. “Because they said, ‘Wait a minute, this is much different than [what Adam Schiff] told us.’ ”

The president continued, “So, we’re doing very well. I got to watch [the impeachment trial] enough. I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

But most news media soldier on trying to present the impeachment trial as a normal trial and Republicans’ behavior as normal behavior, because if they tell the truth the American public might not be able to handle it. Heads would explode. They’ve been too well conditioned to believe all of this is normal and one party is just as bad as the other.

And this brings me to what Charles Pierce wrote — I Don’t Understand Why There Aren’t Thousands of People Protesting the Senate Trial.

Frankly, I don’t know what it’s going to take to get an anesthetized citizenry off its ass and realize what a threat the country is facing in having a criminal idiot as a chief executive, a guy who has put every part of the republic up for sale, and for cheap. (The latest? In the middle of a trade war with China, the president*’s business operation was teaming up with a state-owned Chinese company to build a golf course.)

I, myself, have run out of patience with people who can abide this dangerous foolishness—whether those people are elected Republican senators, timid Democratic politicians, wishy-washy journalists, or the great, massed, unmoving American public, which now has proved that it will tolerate just about anything except sign-stealing in baseball and a bad decision on The Bachelor.

If I were younger and healthier I’d be in Washington already. My marching days are over, I suspect. But where are younger people? I’m rather tired of having OK Boomer thrown in my face by people who can’t bother to vote or demonstrate. At least, back in the day, we could give the establishment fits. And we didn’t have the Internet to help us organize.

And the wimpy news media that won’t present truth have been an issue going way back. Remember Media Whores Online? It’s been gone for nearly 20 years, I believe.

In conclusion, false equivalence is killing America. It’s got to stop.