This Is Not Working Out

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post is encouraging one powerful old man to rein in another one:

The insidious feedback loop between President T—- and Fox News is no secret.

When T—- says “jump,” the network leaps into action. And what the president hears on Fox News often dictates his own pronouncements and policies — which, in turn, are glowingly represented in Fox News’s coverage and commentary.

That’s never been anything short of dangerous, since the effect has been to create a de facto state-run media monster more devoted to maintaining power than shedding light on the truth. But now the mind-meld of Fox News and T—- is potentially lethal as T—- plays down the seriousness of the coronavirus and, hearing nothing but applause from his favorite information source for doing so, sees little reason to change.

There’s one person who could transform all that in an instant: Fox founder Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media mogul who, at 89, still exerts his influence on the leading cable network — and thus on the president himself….

So imagine if the word flowed down from on high that Fox News should communicate to T—- that he needs to take an entirely new tack on the virus. Imagine if Murdoch ordered the network to end its habit of praising him as if he were the Dear Leader of an authoritarian regime and to instead use its influence to drive home the seriousness of the moment….

The network’s influence on T—- is clear from the presidential tweets that follow fast on the heels of a Fox News broadcast. He was always a fan of Fox News, but after entering the White House, he made it even more of an obsessive daily habit,  … to the extent of blotting out dissenting voices from other sources.

T—- made specific reference to his reliance on Fox News during his misleading press event Friday, when he offered unwarranted reassurance rather than urging extreme caution and decisive action…

The message: Go about your business, America, and it will all disappear soon….By contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is telling hard truths: As much as 70 percent of that country could end up being infected.

Matt Gertz, a Media Matters senior fellow … connected the dots: “Roughly an hour before his comments, a Fox News medical correspondent argued on-air that coronavirus was no more dangerous than the flu; a few hours later, the same correspondent argued that coronavirus fears were being deliberately overblown in hopes of damaging T—- politically…. The network’s personalities have frequently claimed that the T—- administration has been doing a great job responding to coronavirus….”

But it’s not just the opinionators … who are at fault. The news segments — while certainly more tied to reality — seldom push back in a meaningful way against the T—- message.

On Tuesday, news anchors … docilely sat back and lobbed soft questions while the president’s son Eric praised his father’s crisis-management skills and blamed liberal media figures who criticize him…

Even if all that changed today, great harm has already been done. As The Washington Post and others have documented, the administration has repeatedly squandered chances to prepare for and manage the epidemic.

Meanwhile, reality chugs on. From Crooked Media’s daily newsletter:

The World Health Organization … pointedly noted that while all countries can still change the pandemic’s course, “some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.” It always feels nice to be seen. Anyway, President T—- is still hiding the truth about the pandemic from the public:

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, for no conceivable reason other than to prevent embarrassing leaks about the administration’s response. Officials have had dozens of improperly classified discussions in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health and Human Services, and staffers without security clearances, including key health experts, were thus unable to attend….

A day after T—- once again insisted, “it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” top health officials told the House Oversight and Reform Committee the opposite…. Dr. Anthony Fauci informed lawmakers that the outbreak is “going to get worse,” and that COVID-19 has a mortality rate ten times higher than the seasonal flu. 

Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, who has taken up residence in T—-’s pocket, told the committee there are no CDC plans to implement curbside coronavirus testing, because “we’re trying to maintain the relationship between individuals and their health-care providers”, a comically terrible justification for several reasons…. Minnesota care providers have begun their own curbside testing, and hopefully other states will soon follow suit.

From the start, the U.S. outbreak has been a story of state and local officials doing their best to respond in the face of egregious federal delays….

It’s still unclear how many Americans have been tested—the CDC said around 8,500 swabs have been taken, but that number would be much higher than the total number of tested patients. By devastating contrast, South Korea has been able to test 10,000 people per day since late February. …

The White House’s imposed secrecy around the federal response has restricted crucial information, delayed action, and will ultimately cost lives. At the heart of the cover-up is the cavernous gap between what T—- and top health experts have said about the coronavirus threat, and so far, T—-’s only acknowledgement of the contradiction has been to call it “fake news”…

The president could declare a national emergency. That would give the government more power to deal with the virus. Politico reports, however:

T—- is reluctant to declare an expansive emergency to combat the escalating coronavirus outbreak, fearful of stoking panic with such a dramatic step, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Instead, the president is expected to sign within days what the White House calls a more limited designation… Any emergency declaration would go significantly beyond that move, bringing in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and freeing up funding and resources for states struggling to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

T—-’s concern at this point is that going further could hamper his narrative that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu and could further agitate Wall Street….

Health experts have rigorously disputed any assertion that the coronavirus is equivalent to the seasonal flu, noting it is much more lethal and particularly dangerous to the elderly and those with other health conditions….

The administration is “not comfortable with the optics of national emergency” because of how it might impact Wall Street, tourism and air travel, a former Department of Homeland Security official said….

T—- has spent weeks trying to reassure the public about the outbreak, while the stock market shows daily declines not seen since the 2008 recession.  He is especially sensitive to variations in the stock market, seeing it as a key talking point in his reelection campaign.

“Everything is about the election now,” said a former T—- adviser….

Unquote.

Having the most self-centered man in America as our president is not working out.

Avoiding Individual-1 for the Most Part

I’ve mostly blogged about politics since the beginning of the crisis (you know, the crisis known as “Individual-1”). Other topics haven’t seemed worth writing about.

But, even though Individual-1 is still happening, I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s because, two months ago, I took a break from American politics. At the end of June, I stopped reading the digital front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the U.S. edition of The Guardian. I also stopped looking at New York Magazine‘s “Daily Intelligencer” and Twitter. I was sick of my mind being polluted by the latest Individual-1 “news”. 

Instead, I began looking at international or “world” news. (Even in the U.S., we’re part of the world, right?) I’m told my mood improved, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, even though some American news made it through. For instance, The Guardian puts selected American stories on their international page. And any other contact, direct or indirect, with the rest of humanity meant that I might be exposed to the latest turmoil and trouble.

Helped along by last week’s positive legal developments, I started looking at U.S. news again. I didn’t immerse myself in it as much as before, but this wasn’t a great idea. Even limited exposure has been depressing. This means I probably won’t be writing much until the November election — an event on which hope for America’s redemption rests.

Before going, however, I’ll mention a few articles I’ve come across that are worth reading.

First, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden explains why people have a right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard. He argues that some people aren’t entitled to an audience:

Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole. There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. 

In other words, outlawing speech is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equal or deserve equal time in the “marketplace of ideas”. Otherwise, (quoting the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood”. And it becomes far easier to produce a political crisis like Individual-1.

On a related topic, a former Prime Minister of Australia writes about “the cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. The cancer he’s referring to is Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view”. Murdoch and his outlets like Fox News are one big reason why politics is so screwed up in the U.S. (Individual-1), the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Australia (five prime ministers in five years). Contrast that with politics in two other English-speaking nations, Canada and New Zealand. Their politics is a much more rational affair. Is it a coincidence that Murdoch doesn’t propagandize in either of those countries?

This week, James Fallows pointed out that it would only take one or two Republican senators to “serve as a check on [Individual-1’s] excesses”. As of now, the Republicans have a mere one-vote margin in the Senate. They will be ahead 51 to 49 after the late Senator McCain is replaced. As Fallows says:

Every [Republican] swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, not simply their own careerist comfort. And not a one of them, yet, has been willing to risk comfort, career, or fund-raising to defend the constitutional check-and-balance prerogatives of their legislative branch.

On a related topic, Brian Beutler explains why there is a natural alliance between Individual-1 and Vladimir Putin (who, of course, is no longer a Communist):

For the white nationalists in [the Republican] coalition [including the president himself], Putin seeks a global alliance of white nationalist parties, and is meddling in elections world wide to help those parties gain political power. But … even more garden variety conservatives see their interests and Putin’s coming into alignment. Putin is deeply hostile to LGBT people, and frames his hostility in religious terms. The Russian economy is built on a broken foundation of fossil fuel extraction. American conservatives aren’t killing journalists and … opposition leaders, but they are hostile to journalism and democracy, and increasingly comfortable with both propaganda and exercising power through minority rule…. Russia’s political identity is shaped by its aggrievement over the crumbling of its once-vast empire. The American right is similarly revanchist—not over lost territory, but lost demographic dominance and privilege.

For now, the GOP’s congressional leaders remain nominally committed to the western alliance, and to treating Russia as an adversary. But they will not check [the president] as he advances the opposite view. Elite conservative opinion is already shifting on the Russia question, and should Trump ever convince a majority of Republican voters that he’s right about Russia, the congressional leadership will follow suit. Putin seems to grasp that, too. What we’re seeing, across several different plot lines, is that in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves. 

But let’s conclude with some good news. In an interview with The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses “two aggressive proposals for overhauling American business”, i.e. making capitalism work the way it’s supposed to:

One [of her proposals] is the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require the largest corporations to allow workers to choose 40 percent of their board seats. [This] is meant to provide an antidote to short-term thinking in the biggest businesses—and to short-circuit the ease with which CEOs make decisions that enrich themselves at the expense of workers and the underlying health of their firm. A similar system exists in Germany, and it goes by the name “codetermination.”

A second set of proposals is what Warren calls the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Warren has called for a frontal assault on lobbying, including a lifetime prohibition that would prevent federal officeholders (including the president, members of Congress, and Cabinet secretaries) from ever becoming paid influence peddlers. Her argument is that lobbying undermines the functioning of markets, by permitting corporations to exert outsize control over the regulatory state and use government to squash competitors.

It’s also good news that there are only sixty-nine days until the midterm election. On November 6th, we can quicken the demise of the Republican Party. We should make the most of the opportunity.

Idle Thoughts, Small Actions

As we get further away from that horrific night in November, most of us are probably thinking less about why the Electoral College went the way it did (go to hell, Comey!). We’re also thinking less about the way things might have been. Instead, we’re freaking out about what’s happening now and what’s coming our way.

I haven’t been to any marches or demonstrations yet, but like many of us, I’ve contacted my members of Congress more than ever before. Today I called one of our Senators, although he’s a Democrat, to thank him for delaying a committee hearing on one of T__’s dangerous cabinet selections and to encourage him to do whatever he can to stop the appointment of a racist ideologue as Attorney General (that’s the jerk even Republicans thought was unqualified to be a Federal judge).

People are saying that Congress is being inundated with complaints about the monster(s) in the White House, so it was reassuring that getting through to one of my Senator’s offices wasn’t easy. The line was busy at his office near me, so I called his office in Washington. I was about to leave a message when a recording said his voicemail was full and couldn’t take any more messages. So then I called his remaining office, which is in a less populated part of our state. A nice young woman immediately answered the phone. She assured me that she’d transmit my message to Washington.

Some activities are less immediately practical than contacting Congress. Fantasizing, for example. I’ve entertained the usual fantasies, of course, such as T___ suffering a debilitating stroke or a fatal fall down some White House stairs; a benign military coup leads to a do-over election; and my favorite, that very smart, very kind beings from outer space take control and put us on a more reasonable path, one that includes single-payer health insurance and a fix for global warming. I’ve had a few other fantasies too.

One is that Rupert Murdoch, the evil billionaire who will be 86 next month, finally kicks the bucket and a more reasonable mogul or two purchase The News Corporation and 21st Century Fox. That would inevitably lead to entities like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post becoming reputable organizations again, cutting off the stream of Murdoch-owned right-wing propaganda that has poisoned our democracy in recent years.

Another is that the CEO of Twitter,  Jack Dorsey, known to Twitter-ites as “@Jack” and who has contributed to Democratic politicians, admits that allowing T___ to have an official Twitter account presents a clear and present danger to the rest of us. It would be fine to let Donnie tweet as much as any other deranged right-winger, but he shouldn’t have a verified account that identifies him as “@realDonaldT___” or “@POTUS” (the President). That way, whenever Donnie transmitted his latest lie or insult, it wouldn’t have any effect on anyone but a small circle of nitwits. Nobody could possibly believe it came from the actual President of the United States.

Yet another of my fantasies involves the U.S. Senate. There are now 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats or Independents in what used to be a relatively reputable legislative body. If three of those Republicans were to declare themselves Independents and vote with the Democrats, the Republicans would be the minority again. They’d only have the House of Representatives to play with. Of course, controlling the Senate wouldn’t allow the Democrats to get much done (that’s in the official rules), but they could make sure T___ and his allies did less damage.

Finally, now speaking of other people’s fantasies, I recently took a tiny step toward correcting the fantastic beliefs of the sorry individuals who inhabit the Fox News and Breitbart websites (Breitbart is the far-right, white nationalist outfit that tells T___ what to do). It’s extremely unpleasant to visit those two sites, so I don’t recommend this to everyone. But I now leave the occasional comment, just to let some of them know there’s a real world out here. It’s rather like descending into Plato’s cave and removing the chains from poor souls who have never seen the sun or the sky. It’s a very dirty job, but we’re living in times that require direct action.