They Want Biden to Negotiate with Extortionists

That’s not how the story is being reported, but it should be. From Dan Froomkin of Press Watch:

House Republicans are refusing to let the government keep paying its bills unless the Biden administration rolls back some of its signature achievements.

It’s a demand that neither the Senate nor Biden will ever agree to.

Raising the debt limit is a procedural move that allows the Treasury to make good on existing commitments. It’s not a budget bill.

But House Republicans appear to be ready to default on the debt if they don’t get their way. Such a default would be catastrophic for the U.S and world economies, and could permanently damage the dollar’s status as the de facto global currency.

Explaining it that way is simply good journalism.

But as usual, extremist Republicans have been enabled by media coverage that tries to split the difference, and treats what is essentially a hostage crisis created exclusively by one side as a normal, two-sided partisan squabble.

Indeed, our top political reporters now insist that the onus is on Biden to solve the problem.

Under the headline “Biden Faces His First Big Choice on Debt Limit,” New York Times reporter Jim Tankersley writes today that the issue “has put President Biden on the defensive, forcing him to confront a series of potentially painful choices at a perilous economic moment.”

Sure, Biden says he won’t negotiate, but “business groups, fiscal hawks and some congressional Democrats” want him to make a deal. So Biden, Tankersley writes, “faces a cascading set of decisions as the nation, which has already bumped up against its $31.4 trillion debt limit, barrels toward default.”

But the nation is not “barreling toward default,” nor is it “careening,” or even “drifting” there. It is being pushed there by Republicans.

Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein set off Internet pundits and the Post’s own readers over the weekend with his article headlined “Biden is running out of time to avoid calamitous debt ceiling outcomes.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall tweeted: “Has there ever been a clearer example of the ‘[Republican Party] has trained us to take their legislative terrorism as a given’ mentality so clear in so much MSM [mainstream media] reporting?”

Post commenters put it so well:

This is a vapid article that begins with a false premise. Biden is not the one who needs to be doing something right now. That’s Congress. Also, none of Biden’s options to resolve the problem unilaterally are “running out.” They all are still available. Click bait that isn’t even good click bait.

Also:

Yes, I am sick and tired of articles that seem to absolve the Republicans of their own idiocy and then blame the Democrats for not protecting us from the harm caused by Republicans.

Both Tankersley and Stein know better. They are both highly competent at times. What pressure are they under to produce such garbage? Which editors is this coming from? It’s a mystery.

And it’s not just them. The notion that this is a problem that both sides needed to solve has been endemic to corporate political reporting for months now.

The Associated Press has consistently been advocating for some sort of compromise — in its news stories. Josh Boak wrote that, “staring down a fast-approaching deadline,” both sides “have to find some version of common ground.”

Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer glibly predicted (in January!) that “Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy, wary opponents, prepare to work together“.

Biden and McCarthy haven’t spoken about the debt ceiling once since then, with Biden continuing to insist on a clean debt-ceiling bill with no strings attached…..

A key distinction that gets conflated in much of the coverage is between raising the debt limit — a procedural issue — and passing a budget. Of course there will have to be negotiations about the next fiscal year’s budget – eventually, once the fractious Republicans have come up with their own proposal, which could be a long time.

If just one major news organization were willing to buck the trend and tell its audience  what is really going on, without the false equivalence, that might be enough. The others might follow.

But it’s not going to happen. Political reporters and editors love brinksmanship. They were fascinated by McCarthy’s months-long attempt to whip his fractious caucus into some sort of agreement, which finally resulted this week in passage of a bill by a 217 to 215 vote….

Journalists hailed it as a “major victory” for McCarthy. The AP’s Kevin Freking quoted McCarthy after the vote, without a rebuttal, saying of Biden “He either has to negotiate now or we’re the only ones that have raised the debt limit.”

All along, reporters have been casting McCarthy as an embattled protagonist, rather than the antagonist. One throughline has been that McCarthy had no choice but to bow to the far-right members of his caucus….

Under the headline “Staring Down a Debt Crisis, McCarthy Toils to Navigate [Republican] Divisions,” Jonathan Swan and Annie Karni wrote sympathetically about how McCarthy is surrounded by people he considers incompetent and “faces his most consequential test: reaching a deal with President Biden to avert a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt as soon as this summer.”

If holding the country hostage is a MAGA priority that McCarthy is only going along with grudgingly, then reporters should make that clear – and stop treating it like it’s normal.

It’s not only awful governance, it may also be unconstitutional, as Jamelle Bouie argued in his New York Times opinion column in January.  The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned”….

Even the best stories about the [Republican] position understate the extent of the fraud.

Tankersley wrote last week that [their] bill “would only modestly change the nation’s debt trajectory. It also carries a second big objective that has little to do with debt: undercutting President Biden’s climate and clean energy agenda and increasing American production of fossil fuels.”

The lede should have been more direct. Something like: “Much of what McCarthy is now demanding in return for not tanking the economy has nothing to do with debt, it’s doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry.

I’ll end with what I wrote ten years ago (!) about the egregious press coverage of the then-ongoing shutdown caused by Republicans demanding that President Obama abandon Obamacare:

How can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?

Unquote. From Merriam-Webster:

To extort is literally to wrench something out of someone. Extortion is a mainstay of organized crime. Just as the school bully extorts lunch money from the smaller kids in exchange for not beating them up, thugs extort “protection” money from business owners with threats of violence. But that’s only one kind of extortion; a mobster might extort favors from a politician with threats of revealing some dark secret, just as you might extort a favor from a brother or sister by promising not to tell on them.

Republicans threatening to create a financial crisis in order to force Democrats to meet their demands is also extortion. Journalists should say so.

You’ve Probably Never Heard of “Murc’s Law”, But You’ve Seen It in Action Lots of Times

Murc’s Law is “the widespread assumption that only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics”. In other words, Democrats are responsible for  Republicans being the way they are and doing the things they do, either because Democrats provoked them or failed to control them.

It came up recently because of an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled “My Liberal Campus Is Pushing Freethinkers to the Right”. (This widely-ridiculed article was written by a young man the Times identified as a “senior at Princeton”, not mentioning he’s a Republican activist).

Remember when people who live in the real world, especially Democrats, pointed out that not getting vaccinated would cause more people do die from Covid? And that hearing such a thing supposedly upset many Republicans who then decided not to get vaccinated?

Amanda Marcotte wrote about this peculiar phenomenon for Salon last year:

“Murc’s Law” [was] named after a commenter at the blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money who noticed years ago the habitual assumption among the punditry that Republican misbehavior can only be caused by Democrats. Do Republicans reject climate science? Must be because Democrats failed to persuade them! Did Republicans pass unpopular tax cuts for the rich? Must be that Democrats didn’t do enough to guide them to better choices! Do Republicans keep voting for lunatics and fascists? It must be the fault of Democrats for being mean to them! Even D____ T____’s election was widely blamed on Democrats — who voted against him, to be clear — on the bizarre grounds that Barack Obama should have rolled over and just let Mitt Romney win in 2012:

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Republicans are about to take power in the House of Representatives once again, and so, with exhausting predictability, we return to a Beltway narrative where none of the choices they will make with that power are their fault: It is somehow all because Democrats have failed to manage Republicans properly. Unsurprisingly, the latest example comes from Politico, which pins the blame for the rise of right-wing superstar Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene not on the voters who sent her to Congress or the GOP leaders who indulge her or the conservative media that celebrates her. Instead, Greene’s popularity with Republicans is laid at the feet of Joe Biden and the Democrats.

“Biden World once ignored Marjorie Taylor Greene. Now it’s making her the face of the GOP,” announces a headline in Politico. But of course Biden had nothing to do with that, because Republicans had already done it.

Going back to the Times article, David Roberts of the Volts podcast says it’s a perfect example:

Murc’s Law says, basically: only the left has agency; the right is merely reacting, having its hand forced, being “pushed” or “shaped.”

This is not some quirk, it is central to reactionary psychology. Every fascist (and fascist-adjacent) movement ever has told itself the same story: our opponents are destroying everything, they’re forcing us to this, we have no choice but violence.

It is, at a base level, a way of denying responsibility, of saying, “we know the shit we’re about to do is bad, but it’s not our fault, you made us.” Once you recognize the pattern it shows up *everywhere*. (If you know an abuser, you’ll also find it in their rhetoric.)

It’s one thing for reactionaries to cling to this … but what’s irksome is that right-wingers playing the refs have basically trained mainstream political journalists to echo it. It is laced throughout US political coverage.

One of my favorite examples … is the notion that Al Gore “polarized” climate change and thereby forced the right into decades of lies and demented conspiracy theories….  Why’d you do that to them, Al?!

Another instance is when it’s assumed that Democrats could have stopped Republicans from doing something bad if only they’d tried or tried harder or made stronger arguments. A commentator once joked:

… A few more BLISTERING speeches [from Democrats] and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would have totally realized that upper-class tax cuts are wrong!

Headlines that obscure who did what are consistent with Murc’s Law. “Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending right to abortion upheld for decades” — no, it was Supreme Court Republicans who did that. “Out of 18 pro-democracy bills in 2022, the US Senate filibuster torpedoed 17 of them” — no, it was Senate Republicans who torpedoed them. “What could happen if Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit?” — no, what could happen if House Republicans don’t vote to raise it?

Likewise, there are events that mysteriously take place. I had one in the blog a few days ago:

The Washington Post said “the [train] derailment [in Ohio] erupted into a culture battle”, as if culture battles simply happen without any help from the people who specialize in starting them and getting them in “the news”.

Here’s an even more recent one. From Investopedia:

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing refers to a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments.

Environmental criteria consider how a company safeguards the environment, including corporate policies addressing climate change, for example. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, auditsinternal controls, and shareholder rights.

Senate Republicans and two Democrats (Manchin and Tester) voted to kill a Labor Department rule that allows investment managers to consider ESG. From Talking Points Memo:

We talk about this stuff a lot as part of the “culture wars,” but that bestows a legitimizing gloss on it, as if there is some deeper, truer cultural dispute. There’s not. This a Republican tactic, and a highly effective one… It gets treated like these things just happen, as if Democrats or Fortune 500 companies stumble into previously unseen cultural war ambushes because they lack a feel for flyover country….

Note the passive voice here: “The business world has been pulled into partisan politics”…

This doesn’t just happen. Republicans and right-wing activists make it happen. They devote a lot of time, energy and resources to it. 

By almost any measure, Republicans have already won once they’ve “made it a partisan issue.” What seems to get misunderstood is that that’s the actual goal. Corporations and institutions don’t want to pick sides. They want to play it down the middle. So Republicans keep shifting the “middle” farther and farther right. By this point in these controversies, the game is basically over already. What’s maddening is that everyone keeps getting played.

Finally:

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There Was a Balloon. Other Things Have Happened Too.

President Biden’s Chief of Staff for the past two years, Ron Klain, is leaving the White House. He talked about the administration’s accomplishments last week. I haven’t been able to find the text of his remarks myself but someone at Post.News provided this:

The most significant economic plan since FDR, while managing the largest land war in Europe since Truman.  The biggest infrastructure bill since Ike, the most first-year judges since JFK, the second largest health care bill since LBJ.  The most significant gun control bill since Clinton and the largest climate change bill in any country at any time anywhere on the planet.  All while managing the worst public health crisis since Wilson, with the narrowest Democratic majority in Congress for a new President in 100 years.

But it doesn’t stop there. Student loan debt relief.  Record low black and brown unemployment. The PACT act for veterans. A sweeping marijuana pardon. The Respect for Marriage Act. The most Americans ever with health coverage. Ending the longest war in American history. We’ve seen a dramatic drop in child poverty, the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, the deficit cut more than any President.  And the most jobs created in any two years in US history.

Not bad for a team and a President that was written off for dead in the winter of 2019, and again in the winter of 2020, the winter of 2021, and again in the first week of November 2022. 

The media reported Klain’s departure, but it what really got people’s attention is that he started to cry at one point. How dare he become emotional when leaving one of the most important, most challenging jobs in the country, especially when you consider the Biden administration’s somewhat amazing list of accomplishments! Clearly, Klain is not the kind of manly man we need near the top of our government. Far better to have a macho guy like our former president, a real tough guy whose principal emotion is anger, who doesn’t understand the concept of personal responsibility and who, during his last year in office, paid more attention to his hair than the pandemic.

Anyway, having read some of Klain’s speech, it was disturbing but not surprising to see the results of a new poll.

The poll finds that 62 percent of Americans think Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” during his presidency, while 36 percent say he has accomplished “a great deal” or “a good amount.” On many of Biden’s signature initiatives — from improving the country’s infrastructure to making electric vehicles more affordable to creating jobs — majorities of Americans say they do not believe he has made progress, the poll finds.

Breaking those numbers down, 77% of Democrats thought Biden had accomplished “a good amount or a great deal”. 32% of “independents” thought he had. Only 7% of Republicans agreed.

Now, not all Democrats pay much attention to politics. That partly explains why 22% didn’t think much of the president’s accomplishments. As for “independents”, they’re the people who pay even less attention to politics and/or don’t see any meaningful difference between the parties, even after the past six years. That 7% of Republicans thought Biden has done well can be seen as a positive result given the politicians Republicans prefer and the “news” they consume.

The journalistic community will see this poll as a problem for Biden. It demonstrates a bigger problem with the journalistic community. Their principal job is to inform the public. But many more Americans know that a Chinese balloon — nothing more than a curiosity, which the Pentagon easily took care of — traveled across the US than that inflation is way down and we have the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.

Being on the Lookout for Reporters Screwing Up

Highly-respected journalist James Fallows has a site called Breaking the News. In the interesting installment below, he discusses journalistic screwups and how to avoid being taken in by them:

We all make mistakes. People, organizations, countries. The best we can do is admit and face them. And hope that by learning from where we erred, we’ll avoid greater damage in the future.

Relentless and systematic self-critical learning is why commercial air travel has become so safe. (As described here, and recent posts about the JFK close call here and here.) Good military organizations conduct “lessons learned” exercises after victories or defeats. Good businesses and public agencies do the same after they succeed or fail.

We in the press are notably bad at formally examining our own errors. That is why “public editor” positions have been so important, and why it was such a step backward for the New York Times to abolish that role nearly six years ago….

Here’s an [example of a journalistic mistake]: the buildup to the “Red Wave” that never happened in the 2022 midterms.

Pundits and much of the mainstream press spent most of 2022 describing Joe Biden’s unpopularity and the Democrats’ impending midterm wipeout. As it happened, Biden and the party nationwide did remarkably well….

In its news coverage, not the opinion page, the New York Times had been among the most certain-sounding in preordaining the Democrats’ loss. [On] its front page just one day before the election, one lead-story had the sub-head “Party’s Outlook Bleak,” referring to Biden and the Democrats. It mentioned forecasts of “a devastating defeat” in the midterms. The other story’s sub-head was “G.O.P Shows Optimism as Democrats Brace for Losses.” The first paragraph of that story said voters “showed clear signs of preparing to reject Democratic control.” Again, these were news, not opinion, pieces.

Seven weeks later, the Times ran a front-page story on why so many people had called the election wrong—and how the Red Wave assumption, fed by GOP pollsters, hampered Democrats’ fund-raising in many close races. The only mention of the paper’s own months-long role in fostering this impression was a three-word aside, in the 13th paragraph of a thousand-word story. According to the story, the GOP-promoted Red Wave narrative …

…spilled over into coverage by mainstream news organizations, including The Times, that amplified the alarms being sounded about potential Democratic doom.

The three words, in case you missed them, were “including The Times.”

An NYT public editor like Margaret Sullivan or Daniel Okrent might have gone back to ask the reporters and editors what they should learn.

What are signs of lessons-unlearned that readers can look for, and that we reporters and editors should avoid?

An easy one is to spend less time, space, and effort on prediction of any sort, and more on explaining what is going on and why.

Here are a few more:

1) Not everything is a “partisan fight”.

[A NY Times story about the debt ceiling] illustrates the drawbacks of reflexively casting issues as political struggles, by describing a potential debt-ceiling crisis as a “partisan fight.”

In case you have forgotten, the “debt ceiling” is a serious problem but not a serious issue. In brief:

-The debt-ceiling is a problem, because failing to take the routine step of raising it has the potential to disrupt economies all around the world, starting with the U.S.

-It is not an issue, because there are zero legitimate arguments for what the Republican fringe is threatening now. (See Thomas Geoghegan’s recent article….

It’s like threatening to blow up refineries, if you don’t like an administration’s energy policy, or threatening to put anthrax into the water supply, if you don’t like their approach to public health. These moves would give you “leverage,” just like a threat not to raise the debt ceiling. But they’re thuggery rather than policy.

If you prefer a less violent analogy: since these payments are for spending and tax cuts that have already been enacted, this is like refusing to pay the restaurant check after you’ve finished dinner.

This is not a “partisan fight” or a “standoff.” Those terms might apply to differences on immigration policy or a nomination. This is a know-nothing threat to public welfare, by an extremist faction that has put one party in its thrall.

Reporters: don’t say “standoff” or “disagreement,” or present this as just another chapter of “Washington dysfunction.”

Readers: be wary when you see reporters using those terms.

2) Not everything is a “perceptions” narrative. 

[Note: I was going to avoid this silly non-scandal but Mr. Fallows is very good on the subject.]

Here are some more phrases that should make you wary as a reader. They are phrases like “a picture emerges” or “paints a picture.” These are clichés a reporter uses to state a conclusion while pretending not to do so. Others in the same category: “sure to raise questions”; “suggest a narrative”; “will be used by opponents”; and so on.

Consider again from the NYT, this new “inside” report on Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

It was a classic legal strategy by Mr. Biden and his top aides — cooperate fully with investigators in the hopes of giving them no reason to suspect ill intent. But it laid bare a common challenge for people working in the West Wing: The advice offered by a president’s lawyers often does not make for the best public relations strategy.

This might be a “classic legal strategy.” It might also be following the rules. The presentation reflects a choice about how to “frame” a story.

The mainstream press makes things an “issue,” by saying they are an issue. Or saying “raises questions” “suggests a narrative,” “left open to criticism,” “eroded their capacity,” and so on. This gives them the pose of being “objective”—we’re just reporters, But it is a choice.

My long-time friend Jonathan Alter [had] an op-ed column in the NYT arguing that the narrative about Biden’s handling of the few classified documents will be hugely destructive to him and the Democrats. Even though, as he says, the realities of his classified-documents case are in no way comparable to [the former president’s]. (More on the differences here.)

As a matter of prognostication, maybe Jon Alter is right. I hope he isn’t. As he notes, Biden in office has time and again beaten pundit expectations [and now it turns out Mike Pence had documents too].

But as a matter of journalistic practice, I think our colleagues need to recognize our enormous responsibility and “agency” about what becomes an issue or controversy. “Raises questions,” “suggests a narrative,” “creates obstacles”—these aren’t like tornados or wildfires, things that occur on their own and we just report on. They are judgments reporters and editors make, “frames” they choose to present. And can choose not to.

Which leads us to…

3) Not all “scandals” are created equal.

Here are things enormously hyped at the time, that look like misplaced investigative zeal in retrospect:

— (a) The Whitewater “scandal.” For chapter and verse on why this was so crazy, see the late Eric Boehlert, with a very fine-grained analysis back in 2007; plus Eric Alterman at the same time; plus Gene Lyons, who lives in Arkansas and wrote a book called Fools for Scandal a decade earlier.

I would be amazed if more than 1% of today’s Americans could explain what this “scandal” was about. I barely can myself. But as these authors point out, it led domino-style to a zealot special prosecutor (Kenneth Starr, himself later disgraced), and to Paula Jones, and to Monica Lewinsky, and to impeachment. It tied up governance for years.

—(b) The but-her-emails “scandal” involving Hillary Clinton in 2016. A famous Gallup study showed that the voting public heard more about this than anything else.

I doubt it. Yet it was what our media leaders emphasized. I’m not aware that any of them has publicly reckoned with what they should have learned from their choices in those days.

But today’s news gives us a chance to learn, with:

—(c) The Biden classified-documents “scandal”.

What unites these three “scandals” is that there was something there. Possibly the young Bill and Hillary Clinton had something tricky in their home-state real estate deal. Probably Hillary Clinton did something with her emails that she shouldn’t have. Apparently Joe Biden should have been more careful about the thousands of documents that must be in his offices, libraries, etc.

But “something” does not mean “history-changing discovery.” In the 50 years since the original Watergate, the political press has palpably yearned for another “big one.” So every “scandal” or “contradiction” gets this could be the big one treatment. And this in turn flattens coverage of all “scandals” as equivalent. It’s a slurry of “they all do it,” “it’s always a mess,” “they’re all lying about everything” that makes it hard to tell big issues from little ones.

We see this with bracketing of the T____ and Biden “classified document” cases. They both have special prosecutors, so they can be presented as a pair.

Human intelligence involves the ability to see patterns. (Two cases involving classified documents!) But also the ability to see differences. (In one case, a president “played politics” by cooperating with the authorities. In another, by lying to and defying them.)

The similarities are superficial. The differences are profound.

From past errors of judgment, we in the media can learn which to emphasize.

Making the Republican Agenda Public

America’s political journalism needs an intervention. Dan Froomkin, formerly an editor for the Washington Post, has a site called Press Watch: An Intervention for political journalism. His latest:

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has decided that the best way for Republicans to win back Congress in the 2022 midterms is to not tell voters what they stand for.

He has made no secret of his plan to make the elections a referendum on President Biden and the Democrats — and not to complicate things with anything remotely like a Republican legislative agenda.

It’s a brilliant strategy, if he can get away with it. And so far, all the signs are good. Pretty much every prognosticator inside the Beltway is predicting significant GOP advances, certainly enough to take back the House, if not the Senate.

But I’m old-fashioned. I think voters should know what they’re voting for, not just what they’re voting against. And if Republicans themselves won’t tell the voters about their agenda, then it’s incumbent on political journalists to do it for them.

THREE SCENARIOS

First we have to ask: Is there a Republican agenda — and they just don’t want voters to know what it is? Or is there really no agenda at all? And where does Donald Trump fit into all of this?

Scenario 1: The Republican Party really has no agenda. It’s a post-policy party. Or maybe it’s not really a political party at all, it’s just a rage cult. Supporting that theory is the absence of any attempt to solve any actual problem for several years running now. The party’s MO has been pure obstruction. Its role: agents of chaos. It has no goal but to stay in power. If this is true, it is probably worth making that clear to the voters.

Scenario 2:  The only operative Republican agenda is whatever T____ says it is, whenever he says it, although that might change at any point. For now, the one and only agenda item is the Big Lie: refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election, making baseless accusations of fraud, purging anyone who doesn’t agree, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. If this is true, it is probably worth making that clear to the voters.

Scenario 3: Of course the Republican Party has an agenda! It is largely the same agenda it has had for decades, just a bit more extremist, considerably less keen on free trade,  and way less tethered to reality. The agenda’s goal is simple: to serve the party’s rich and corporate patrons. McConnell, the nearly-human embodiment of the party, has no principles other than raising enough money from those patrons to seize and maintain power, so keeping them happy is his top priority bar none. The problem here is that a pro-corporate, pro-billionaire agenda does not poll well with actual voters. This is the flip side of how Biden’s agenda is polling well but Biden himself is not. So the last thing Republicans want to do is advertise their agenda. Nevertheless, if this is true, it is probably worth making that clear to the voters.

ALL OF THE ABOVE?

All three of these scenarios have some truth to them.

All of them, I think it is reasonable for journalists to state with confidence, would lead to continued obstruction of any significant legislative attempt to address the existential threats facing the country. Any way you cut it, the Republican agenda is essentially a surrender to climate change, income inequality, and disparate access to healthcare.

And these agenda items probably don’t begin to encompass all the possible outcomes of a Republican takeover of the three branches. Without restraints, one can easily imagine they would embrace an even more nationalist, authoritarian, aggressively Christian and misogynistic agenda. These attempt to fill in the blanks left by Mitch McConnell are based on things we’ve already seen, or things they’ve already said.

In Scenario 1, although there is no agenda per se, one could reasonably assume that the party would put a great deal of effort into undermining pluralism in an effort to stoke and stroke White Christian grievance. For instance, by:

  • demonizing immigrants
  • reducing immigration
  • engaging in cruelty at the border
  • encouraging Islamophobia
  • institutionalizing evangelical Christian values
  • restricting reproductive rights
  • turning schools into conservative indoctrination centers
  • prosecuting teachers who resist

The political discourse would inevitably become even more degraded, political violence would become normalized; there would essentially no longer be any red line beyond which violent, inciteful and racist rhetoric is considered disqualifying from public life. Instead of legislating, the courts – increasingly dominated by right-wing extremists – would expand or rescind constitutional rights as needed.

In Scenario 2, since it seems unlikely that T____ will ever let go of the Big Lie, a top priority will likely be ensuring that Republicans remain in power even if that requires permanent minority rule. That means

  • more extreme gerrymandering
  • discriminatory limits on ballot access
  • voter intimidation
  • overturning election results that don’t’ go their way, either by having loyalist Republicans in place to do so, or through violence

Other things to expect:

  • military parades
  • government dysfunctionality
  • self-dealing
  • transactional and mercurial foreign policy
  • loyalty oaths required from political appointees and government workers
  • violent crackdown on antigovernment protests
  • militarization of police
  • politicization of law enforcement

Scenario 3, the “secret” agenda, can be reasonably extrapolated from historical observation. It would most assuredly involve:

  • lower taxes, especially on corporations and the rich
  • steep reductions in social safety-net programs, especially Social Security
  • ending Obamacare
  • significant deregulation, including the rolling back of key environmental and workplace protections
  • increased fossil fuel extraction
  • weaker gun laws

The debate that’s currently raging about whether corporate media coverage of Biden is overly negative takes on even greater significance when you consider how the entire Republican strategy in the coming years will be to throw brickbats at him from behind a tree.

Biden’s shortcomings are certainly newsworthy. But paying a little more attention to who’s behind the tree, and what their intentions really are, is essential journalism.

Voting Republican, in this day and age, is not a simple protest vote. It’s a vote that carries unprecedented consequences. Political reporters should be telling voters about those consequences, and then asking if that’s what they really want.