The populist dichotomy casts everyone who disagrees with the supposed ‘will of the people’ as an ‘enemy of the people.’ It’s a short step from ‘enemy of the people’ to ‘not a person.’
– ‘Populism: The Downside’ Virginia Freeman’s Society
The recent statement on Twitter by the president, declaring the press to be the enemy of the American people set the legacy media into a tailspin. We received a few more breathless lectures from pundits about how this time Trump is really a Nazi and a dictator, as opposed to the previous day’s breathless lecture on the same topic. So far, this dictatorship has been so frightening that no media outlet has felt the need to censor themselves in any way. I expect it is because Don Lemon and Jake Tapper are simply willing to suffer even more than the massive persecution they already have to stand up to a tyrant, just like Fritz Gerlich did. I’ve been assured the circumstances and fortitude shown are identical. Not to be self congratulatory, but I discussed this very thing, and just about wrote his tweet for him in this post about three weeks ago. Trump is a populist and speaks in populist terms. Both the insipid media pundits and the president are correct, as we see two and possibly three opposing ideologies begin firing the opening salvos of the next four years.
The media sees itself as a gatekeeper for information. Allegedly, though I have doubts about it, journalism existed previous to when I became aware of what the media even was. Today, the vast majority of what masquerades as journalism is in fact, editorials presented as fact. The idea being hawked by the anchors and verbose editorials in the NYT is that these people represent a legitimate guild of professionals. This directly contravenes the idea that they simply present and report the facts of a situation. Experts are called such because they are qualified to form an opinion about a matter in which they have extensive knowledge, usually involving formal training and practical experience. Pray tell, what about a journalism degree make the holder become the authority on CDOs or Israeli-Palestinian relations? Yet I am continuously told that these people are professionals, experts and the only people qualified to decide what I read. Somehow, they are the one indispensable thread between an event and deciphering what it means in slow monosyllables so idiots like me can understand the incomprehensible complexities of the real world.
Despite the insistence that the media are the kind middlemen between event A and information consumer B, there is daily evidence that the vast majority in the profession manage to do a stunningly poor job of it, even by government standards. The entire point of a middleman is to procure a product from the supplier and pass it to the consumer unmolested and substantially unchanged. In fact, most boilerplate in sale of goods contracts specify under the terms that there is an implied warranty of merchantability (UCC §2-3XX, §2-6XX). Kroger doesn’t take bags of rice from their supplier, mix some beans in with it and duct tape the package back up before throwing it on the shelf. It doesn’t happen because they understand people become quite upset when they find out the product they are paying for is polluted, and the brand will suffer because consumer confidence in it goes down. I’ll explain this in simple terms, because I don’t know that most people working in media have the first clue about economics or basic business dynamics.
The beans have been put in the rice for quite some time, and people accepted it as the cost of getting rice. The media enjoyed the monopoly as being the only rice seller in the nation, and precious few international rice sellers existed with access to the US market. Within the last ten years, no longer are they the only people with rice, and now anyone with a desire to do so can enter the rice market. Not only that, precious few grains of rice are making their way into the ‘The Most Trusted Name in Rice™’ bags anymore, and people are calling it for what it is, dishonest. As fate would have it, the old rice sellers have watched the brand value plummet and their massive national conglomerate begin to lose hold of the market as a myriad of competitors found a way not to interfere with the rice and simply offer it to the customer. Lo and behold, we are now witnessing the fruition of the marketing director’s brilliant idea to start a ‘Fake Rice’ campaign claiming they are the only ‘real’ rice sellers and that those ‘alternative’ rice guys are selling tiny legumes and not to be trusted. When confronted with the fact that there is now a 10:1 ratio of beans to rice in said rice bags, the media promptly replied the beans are considered packing material and only racists and bigots demand their rice to be bean-free. In fact, even insinuating that a bag of rice should contain only rice is a direct attack on the six rice-selling corporations, the only legitimate ones, and in turn represents a national security threat to our food supply. The government should make it illegal for just anyone to sell rice, why people could just go pick up a bag without the appropriate number or beans in it.
It sounds so stupid in those terms, but yet grown men and women are working themselves into a frothing mess over that very thing. Right now, the media, as defined by those handful of corporations that own nearly every outlet, is absolutely the enemy of the people. It’s an enemy, not because of their ridiculous claims about how they are standing up to a dictator. It’s become the enemy of us all because it is not a free press, it has directly injected itself into the political sphere, taken policy stances on issues and operates for one side or the other in a propaganda function. Not only that, but in the last two months, the vast majority of them have planted themselves squarely in the way of a peaceful transition of power and have done anything and everything, up to and including sedition, to undermine the current administration. Presenting unfavorable facts is legitimate journalism, excellent even. I’m dying to be able to skewer Trump for some of the stupid things he has done, however far more dangerous than a competent business man bumbling his way around a fragmented Constitutional philosophy, is the utter fabrication, rumors, leaks and half-truths being desperately thrown around 24/7 on the TV and in print, simply to remain relevant. One cannot mediate a situation in which they have inserted themselves into, and the press resents Trump for treating them like the political action committee they have become.
The unfortunate side effect of this is that the half the country that lives in the blue echo chamber has been gravely assured that Hitler is running the country and the only thing worse than yesterday is is today’s headline. Rather than a conciliatory, but oppositional position, in an attempt to remain relevant the media has either purposefully or unwittingly elected to radicalize a sizable slice of the country. The talking heads had better hope those seeds don’t bear fruit, because like Goebbels, I don’t think many will be considered noncombatants. I suspect most are too ignorant to have ever heard about what happens to most official organs of any given revolution. Hint, it’s like pancreatic cancer, only faster. Ask the victims of the Berkley riots how discerning roving mobs of people are about their victims. Most of the people hurt were of the same persuasion that the rioters were. Not to be discounted are the people who’s homes, families and livelihood will have been wrecked by the violence egged on by the familiar faces on TV. What might a person with nothing left to lose do to the person they blame it on?
This election represents the first time most of us are playing the same game, and we are soon going to see why populism is a transitional political phase. Populism is notoriously unstable, even in homogeneous countries, let alone in a country with whole generations inundated to blame those not like them for their problems. Perón in Argentina is the most recent example, though populism was the mechanism that the Jacobins and Bolsheviks used in their respective countries. Keep in mind that populism is a method of politics and isn’t tied to a political philosophy. The wielder simply claims that he knows what the popular sentiments of the general population are on a given policy. In so many words, it is democracy by proxy. It is a risky gambit because if you are incorrect, then the population is alienated, rebellious and resentful. Most of us can relate the last eight years or more, as we have witnessed over and over again that phrase ‘the American people’ proceeded by some asinine policy that less than half the country wants. The Democratic Party has run a bastardized form of populism for at least since Clinton, probably back to LBJ. In this case what I think makes this political situation particularly unstable is that everyone is claiming to be the voice of the people. The media and Trump are both spouting half-truths here. Each speak for their bloc, neither speak for me, and both are wrong about speaking for any semblence of a majority , let alone claims to be the ‘will of the people.’
What gives then? At some point one group will gain supremacy and to do so will have had to extend far beyond the legal bounds of the Constitution. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m going to write these words but I prefer it be Trump rather than someone else. At least so far he has not spoken of me as a potential domestic terrorist and as someone who needs to pay more tribute to DC for my right to live. I do not see an option that does not end in further statism, centralized government and infringement on rights. People are hurt, emotionally and financially, on both sides and it has now descended to the logic of a bar fight. You hit whoever is whaling on your buddy and the facts matter less than ducking that bottle getting thrown at your head. Principles matter less than your pound of flesh in the moment and your only concern is to get the other guy.
Ultimately, in a sense both Trump and the media are correct. Trump is a threat to the progressive’s democratic socialist vision of government. The media is a roadblock to Trump’s slightly less socialist vision of government. Here I am stuck rooting for the the one I hate least, simply because the other side isn’t content to leave me alone and a fair number would be more than fine with putting me six feet under. I’m afraid no one will listen to reason until they see how horrific the alternative is, and by then it’s too late. Things have a way of taking on a life of their own. Both Trump and the media will continue to escalate things, and I anticipate a Watergate-esque story and controversy to be in the works as we speak. It’s not impossible by any stretch that Trump has had wandered into some gray areas of the law in business and that could easily be tied into the Russia narrative. By the end of the year, and certainly before the midterm elections there will be a ‘bombshell’ or several in a concerted effort to take enough seats to begin the impeachment process. I would not be surprised if the press pool shrinks drastically or nearly disappears at some point as the hostility increases. Headlines will be run like ‘President Under Siege’ to give a slant of impotence and push the administration into further hyperbole and overreaction. This is not to slander all journalists, or paint them as a single unified bloc. Good ones still exist, just not enough to matter. There may not be much we can change about the situation, but forewarned is forearmed. Perhaps one day history will vindicate me as one of the guys who said ‘Hey,this probably isn’t the best idea’ when the history books talk about the mother of all ‘Troubles.’ Remember, it’s not the helicopter ride that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.
UPDATE – 02.26.17