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.


6 thoughts on “The Evil of Political False Equivalence

  1. True that the right wing has gone extreme.  At one point, a few years ago, you just could not lose a Republican primary by being the most right of center.  I think recent evidence does suggest some abatement of this trend.  The result is a total lack of reason and a cult like tribalism in a party that is now unattractive if not just flat ugly in its general ambiance.  It is almost as if Republican politically correct has become hateful histrionics with tantrum as it's nearest synonym.  Of course, Miss Lindsey has found a niche, with his status as the Unwed Republican.  The temptation to go Freudian here is overwhelming, but must be resisted.  

    The thinking error of every view has an opposite and somewhat equally viable and valid view has eked into our now twisted American thinking filter.  It is a flat out fallacy.  That no one landed on the mood fifty years ago and it was all faked in a Hollywood studio has no B side view.  As much as skepticism must be admired, there is a point as to where it becomes oppositional ass-hole-ism which anyone who has dealt with misadjusting adolescents can recognize. Current Republicans seem to have clustered around this level with a middle school mentality foisted as the new politically correct.  I guess the only argument they understand is a highly inflected and loudly proclaimed WHAT-ev-Er.  OK, I'll yield to Freudian impulses, a party hung in the latency phase of psychosocial development failing to come to grips with emergent puberty. 

  2. One or two decades of crying "liberal bias!!" – which amounts to "working the ref" – as Stirling Newberry put it – and this is the stupid, neutered media we have.

    It's clear that the Republicans only care about power, not truth. And it's also clear that in their calculations they think they're ahead by standing with Trump, and can withstand any backlash that may emerge. They're counting on voter suppression, help from the Russians and the fact that the Democratic field is, I'm sorry weak. We should be down to at most 3 candidates by now, and that's being generous. Trump wins in 2020 is what they're betting on.

  3. Words worthy of the stone you carve them in: "  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."

    Yes, my generation is at fault for being the first United States generation to deliver to the next a world more at risk environmentally, and an economy which provides less opportunity for our children than we enjoyed. But some of us Boomers have put our butts on the line to try and change things for the better. We fought, sometimes won, sometimes lost, protested, demonstrated and even went to jail for justice for others. Long after I'm worm food you will bear the brunt, pay the bill, and work harder for less. 

    The system was rigged in the 60's and 70's. We showed up. At least get off your butts and vote. You outnumber the old geezers who are having their way with you – BUT THEY VOTE! I'm in there trying until my heart stops ticking. You have no right to bitch, moan and not show up. You're the only chance I have for success – you have the power to turn around the mess we left for you. It's not fair, but neither was the hand I was dealt. Deal with it. Your children and theirs depend on it.

  4. When you talk "bothsiderism" it's important to understand what changed since, say, the 70s.

    In the 70s, there weren't as many news outlets, and, if you excluded a reporter from The National Enquirer, no one would give you grief, but if you excluded a reporter from, say, The NYT or the Washington Post, especially one that had written a tough, but fair, story, then the Detroit Suburbs Free Press would no  longer cover you, nor would any  larger outlet. "Sorry, Senator – you don't get free campaign commercials; you need the Press more than the Press needs you."

    That has been turned upside down: now, the Press needs "access" to the Senator. and can be excluded with nothing more than a few protests. And it's kind of like the Air Traffic Controllers strike: it's too late to say "we should have honored the picket lines", because the back of the old school has been broken. Even if the major media outlets refused to cover X_Politician because  they exclude good, honest, fair reporters, there'd be plenty of O'Keefe style bootlickers to "report", and generate stories.

    At this point, the major news media have to pause for a moment, and ask themselves if they have any journalistic ethics. After they answer "no" – let's be honest, that they haven't denounced the GOP wholesale proves it's a matter of  "hey, we already settled that you're corrupt, we're just haggling over the price" – they should ask about their future business model in a nation that's in grave peril.

    Seriously: imagine if China has any official documents showing Trump tried the same thing as in Ukraine. They have Trump's testes in a metaphorical vise.

    Imagine what Putin might have. "Yes, the President did request that I not tape our conversation; poor sap actually thought I wouldn't."

    Imagine what Erdogan might have.

    Imagine what might be known by dozens of other GOPers – and remember, although Trump's actions were dirty as (expletive deleted), only *ONE* whistleblower came forward.

    The news media can try to be biased in favor of corruption, or they can try to report the unbiased truth, but they can't play "fair and balanced" in this situation, and pretend they care about journalism, the fate of the nation, or their own businesses, given the dangers any media company will  be in with corruption given the official stamp of GOP approval.

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