March 7th, 2017 // 8:27 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Three Five Ring Circus
It’s true. When the mainstream media says “chaos” or “chaotic”, it means conservative. When the media says “divisive” or “unAmerican”, it means conservative. When the media says “crisis” or “out of control”, it means conservatives are getting things done. If the mainstream media communicates that everything in Washington is tainted by conflict and tumult, and the leaders are terrible people who want to destroy our nation, it means that conservatives are making headway.
To understand this, let’s begin by taking a broader look at modern politics in general. Today there are 5 (not the traditional 3) major de facto branches of government, each with significant influence, and each exerting power over the American people. Much has changed since the Constitution of 1787. Today’s five branches include:
- federal agencies and bureaucracies (now much bigger than the rest of the executive, legislative, and judicial combined, both in numbers of government employees and organizational budgets)
- media and the parties (which act as major influencers on everything the government does, both in terms of policy and elections)
Each of these five branches acts differently in our time than originally intended by the framers. But the biggest problem in this new governmental arrangement is the federal bureaucracy. Agencies are seldom checked or balanced by the other branches of government, and they routinely get away with numerous unconstitutional or extra-constitutional actions.
Biased Commentary and Unused Powers
Federal agencies now produce a great deal more “law” and policy than Congress, and they mete out more rulings, fines, and regulations than Congress, the White House and the Court combined. Again, they face few checks and balances except budgetary constraints. Note that because of this, their goal is always to grow in budget and power. They are by nature liberal, never conservative, because their objective is to grow and then grow.
The fifth branch of government, encompassing the media, a large part of academia, and the two major political parties, is closely aligned with the federal bureaucracy. Conservatives have a few national media supporters, including many on talk radio and some from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, for example, but the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, including most television networks and most major newspapers, have a near monopoly on American media. Make no mistake, the mainstream media (including Hollywood) is an integral part of the liberal movement in the United States—as it proves whenever it covers politics.
This is a bad arrangement for the American people because it is heavily weighted. While the nation is split roughly in half between conservatives and liberals, and independents who lean Right or Left are almost evenly divided, the media is strongly liberal. In the famous pre-election survey of 2016, 97 percent of national media professionals were liberal.
This means that media attacks on Republicans in office aren’t going to diminish any time soon. In fact, they’re likely going to get worse. Most of the mainstream news media is no longer trying to be objective—it is openly part of the liberal movement. It does whatever it can to keep its power, and increase its power. This includes lying or skewing the facts if it thinks this will further its agenda.
To summarize: Whether you like or dislike President Trump (and a lot of conservatives are troubled by his style, words, and some policies), the idea that Republicans now control the government because they hold the White House, Congress, and soon the Court, is inaccurate. Even with the executive, legislative and judicial branches in Republican control, the government is deeply split. The majority of those who work for the government in the federal bureaucracy are liberals, and even among those who vote conservative on a personal level, the natural desire to see their agency increase in power and resources means they act like liberals at work.
Also, as mentioned, the media is overwhelmingly liberal. Republicans in Congress hold the purse strings, but they’ve proven afraid to use this power in recent decades. At the same time, the liberal media and bureaucracy have no such fear. They use their power as strongly as they can, and their boldness is escalating.
He Said, She Said
Here’s what to expect in the months and years just ahead: conservatives will try to reduce the power of the bureaucracy and K Street lobbyists (President Trump called this “draining the swamp”), but the media will cry foul—and it will be up to Congress to decide which direction we’ll take. If Congress backs major deregulation and defunding of the bureaucracy, we’ll see economic boom and a rebirth of American freedoms. If not, we won’t.
Whether you like Trump or not, and whether he’s doing things for the right reasons or more authoritarian goals, the current push for deregulation and defunding of the entrenched bureaucracy is good for America. If only Congress will follow through and make it happen.
But make no mistake: The media will fight this at every turn. The more successful Republicans are at deregulating and defunding, the worse the media will react. Remember, the mainstream media and others on the Left compared Reagan and Bush with Hitler and heaped upon them every negative they could muster, and Trump will be no exception.
In short, the conflict between media and conservatives is only going to escalate. If it slows down or weakens, it will mean that conservatives have backed down. Sadly, what we need is a lot more screaming and gnashing of teeth from the mainstream media—signaling that conservatism is making increased headway.
A lot of people don’t like this, but it’s true.
It Sounds Worse Than It Is
The biggest weapon on the media’s side is labeling everything conservatives do with terms like “chaos,” “chaotic,” “confused,” “divisive,” and “extreme”. As long as the media keeps saying this, conservatives know things are going well. Again, the media said similar things about Reagan before he helped reboot the U.S. economy and national security, and the media said similar things about Reagan before his leadership brought the Soviet Union to its knees and Berlin Wall to the ground.
The media said these kinds of things about the Tea Parties in 2010, just before conservatives took back the House. The media went on to say similar things about the GOP just before it took control of the Senate. The media said similar things about Republican candidates at all levels in the 2016 election, just before they kept both houses of Congress and took back the White House—and, by extension, the Court.
The media is saying these types of things about conservatives today, which signals that conservatives are making real progress. As mentioned, if the media ever stops accusing conservatives of “chaos”, “divisiveness”, “ineptitude”, “being unhinged’, and “causing upheaval”, it will be time to worry.
We are, today, witnessing the fight of our generation. Even conservatives and Right-of-center independents who don’t like Trump, Trump’s style, or Trump’s policies have to admit that under a Hillary presidency things would have gotten very, very bad—starting with the Court, and then spreading through government and society at all levels.
We need conservatism to win this battle—to deregulate our nation and economy in numerous important ways, and to significantly defund the federal bureaucracy. This is going to be decided in Congress, and we need Congress to do the right thing. If this doesn’t occur, we may never have another chance in our life times.
So keep an eye on the mainstream media. As long as it is loudly opposed to the White House and Congress, conservatives are making progress. If the mainstream media ever starts praising the government or its leaders, citizens will know that something is going terribly wrong.
February 27th, 2017 // 7:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
(The Reality of Today’s Political Protestors)
Thought vs. Feeling
No doubt about it. Symbols matter. The flag. The national anthem. Stories about great heroes from history, such as Paul Revere or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. In short, symbols move us. They take on a life of their own—above the historical facts, more important to peoples’ hearts and minds than mere reality. “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” as Samuel Clemens put it.
Symbol has power. But not as much power as truth. The simple, genuine truth is even more formidable than symbol. Not always as influential, or persuasive, in the short term—but more important. Compare two views of the world:
Symbol over Substance: “Perception is reality.”
Substance over Symbol: “The truth shall set you free.”
The truth is that perception isn’t reality; reality is reality. Period. But perception, or symbol, does have great power. That’s why the arts are often more influential than science or logic: symbols make us feel, and feel deeply, and when our feelings are at high pitch our minds usually follow.
When politics is added to this mix, the results are interesting. Or, in more symbolic language: when our emotions take over politics, everything becomes larger than life–even overwhelming. The feelings are strong, tied to deeply emotional symbols: the White House, the media, election night agony or ecstasy. As a child I was always surprised at how much emotion adults exhibited when the names Nixon or Carter were mentioned. Immediate anger, or sadness, or a smile. Then came the name Ronald Reagan—a certain cause of sudden frowns or grins, depending on whom I was talking to at the time.
I wonder at today’s children. Say “Barack Obama” to them, or “Hillary Clinton,” and the immediate response is extreme. Happy or sad. Smiles or anger. Hardly ever anything in between. Say “Donald Trump” to our youth, and adults, and the response is pretty much never boring or uninterested. Anger, yes. Joy, yes. Sometimes mixed emotions. But seldom lukewarm.
Look Both Ways
But substance still matters. It is, in fact, vitally important. If we limit our understanding of politics to symbol, we’ve got a major national problem. Jon Stewart pointed this out very effectively when he noted that while many of his friends voted for Hillary Clinton, those who alternatively voted for Donald Trump didn’t do so because they support racism or calling people names, but because they tended to believe he’d be better for the economy.
In short, every top political figure is really two people: the symbol and the substance. To understand both is mature. To ignore both, thinking that the political leader is really only the symbol, or only the substance, is inaccurate and short-sighted.
The old adages “Focus on the issues” or “It’s the economy, stupid,” suggest that substance is king, that ultimately the voters choose based on the issues. But daily media spin and the words of celebrities, singers, actors (Oscars, Grammys, Music Awards, Hollywood, etc.) emphasize the other view—that symbolism is the real battle. One popular song says that we don’t want science, we want signs.
In the Information Age, the symbols frequently consume us. Wise citizens see through media spin that paints a leader as all symbol. But such citizens aren’t so fully swayed by substance that they think symbol doesn’t matter.
This is complex. It’s difficult for wise citizens, because they must weigh both the symbol and the substance of each political candidate, and decide which mix is best for the nation.
The two big political parties make it even more difficult, by constantly trying to put symbol above substance, trying to convince voters that their party is best and their candidate best—regardless of the details or the optics, how things really are, or how things look. “Just vote for us” the parties assure us. “We’re right; the other side is wrong. Always.”
Again, astute citizens see through the smokescreen. They identify each candidate’s substance, and symbols, and make the difficult choice. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more candidates who were strong both on issues and symbols?
For some, President Obama met that standard. The symbols were strong: first black president in the United States. Wonderful! The American Dream is real, the symbol of Obama assures us. For those who like weaker national security, supporting Israel’s enemies, more government intervention in the economy, and further regulating peoples’ lives, Obama made sense. But for people who wanted to reduce governmental regulation and get the economy booming, while strengthening our national security, Obama’s tenure left much to be desired.
Neither McCain nor Romney offered something clearly different. The overwhelming symbol of both was “more of the same,” “a repeat of the status quo,” “a continuation of the Bush Administration.” Both candidates actually offered significant differences in their policies—but the symbol most voters experienced was still “the same old thing.”
Hillary had a similar problem. Her policies and symbols offered voters “more years like the Obama era.” For many Americans, particularly among those who were hurting economically, the idea of more Hillary/Obama policies was appalling. They wanted something drastically different. They yearned for change. In fact, it is very possible that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, with his powerful symbols of change, he would have won the White House.
This is the complexity of voting. Sanders and Trump both owned the symbol of “massive change”, while by 2016 the leading Hillary/Obama symbol was “no change, bad economy.” For some, Hillary symbolized “first woman president,” but the larger public view for many was “more of the same”. She found this symbol too deeply ingrained in the populace to overcome.
In other words, voters don’t just have to choose who to vote for in presidential elections, they also need to choose their personal voting criteria: for specific policies, or for the symbols. It can be even more challenging than this, in fact. Voters also have to choose between every candidate’s good and bad symbols, and good and bad policy promises.
For example, Trump lost a lot of votes because he too often symbolized “acting like a jerk, attacking people who disagree with him, being insensitive to women, minorities, the disabled, etc.” But he gained votes with citizens who believed he symbolized “truly big change in Washington” or who focused on the issues of “booming economy and stronger national security.” Many voters hated the first set of symbols, but liked the second.
In earlier elections, Obama supporters had to choose between the motivating symbols of “yes we can” or “breaking the glass ceiling of race” and the divisive symbols of “Americans cling to their religion and their guns,” as if personal faith and individual freedoms are somehow suspect. This lost him votes, but it gained him votes as well. No candidate’s take on the issues is perfect for a majority of voters.
Hamilton and Madison started the Federalist Papers with a discussion of this same reality. Specifically, Federalist 1 notes that a number of wise and good people opposed the new constitution, while a lot of wise and good people supported it. With any important issue, Hamilton assures us, there are wise and good people on both sides. How can this be? The answer, Hamilton explains, is that only bad people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, but good people act in three ways:
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the right reason
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason
- good people sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reason
In other words, in our day not everyone who voted for Hillary wanted the economy to get even worse or for public officials to be lax with national security emails, and not everyone who voted for Trump looks down on women and minorities or hates immigrants. The symbols and the substance aren’t in lock step. This makes attacking someone who wears a Trump hat or openly supports Hillary, for example, particularly disgusting kinds of physical abuse.
Indeed, while supporters of Hillary often downplay her use of emails as much less important than the media suggested, or note that her views on national security and trade were actually much stronger than Obama’s, even though the media refused to effectively show it, and Trump supporters will point out that he’s spoken widely of wanting more legal immigration (going against the Republican norm), symbols once ingrained in the public mind are hard to overcome. The reality is usually far deeper and more complex than the symbol.
Response and Responsibility
The truth is important: the symbols and the substance aren’t the same. The way the press portrayed Senator Clinton is only partially true, full of spin and falsehoods; same with President Trump. The reality has layers and levels. Wise citizens need to look deeper than party, media, and popular spin.
All this makes the violent protests of the Left even more ridiculous. Many on the Right hated President Obama’s policies and his perceived symbol of “bigger and bigger government” every bit as much as many on the Left now hate Trump’s approach. But instead of breaking windows, starting fires, looting, and violently assaulting those with a different view of things, they focused on working hard in their jobs, raising families, and serving in their communities.
They suffered under a president whose policies and perceived arrogance they deeply disliked, and with every Obama increase in regulation that made the Bush-era economy even worse. But they accepted the votes of those with a different view who put President Obama in office. They didn’t mob together to destroy property or physically assault people. Even the Tea Parties, as vocal as they were, didn’t make a national trend of out looting, burning, and assaulting. They focused instead of sharing ideas, seeking for a more favorable election outcome in the future.
Those on the Left who have chosen violence to protest the new president are entirely out of line. There violent acts are, in fact, illegal and immoral. Both the symbols and the substance of violent protest are wrong. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. stood loudly and effectively for peaceful protest, and left a powerful and noble legacy of standing up for change, for what they believed in, for what is right—the right way.
James Madison considered every election a “peaceful revolution”. There are ways to disagree in a civil society. Violence isn’t one of them.
In fact, the worst negative symbol of the Trump era is calling names and acting like a jerk to people who disagree with you. It’s often offensive, and sometimes extreme. Note that some of the talking heads on MSNBC and other networks have done the same thing for a long time. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right; both sides are to blame when they overstep the bounds of civil discourse.
But as bad as this is, at least it is done with words. The physical violence of those on the contemporary Left who loot and destroy in the name of political anger is a true tyranny in our time, a literal fascism in our midst—and the media who encourage this by portraying it as noble, or somehow blame it on the president or anyone else, or who refuse to condemn it in the strongest terms because the looters agree with their politics, are just as bad. This is precisely the wrong kind of symbol—and substance.
February 16th, 2017 // 12:51 pm @ Oliver DeMille
We are on the verge of a new media era in America. The first occurred during the American Founding, and was characterized mostly by articles and pamphlets—short, direct commentaries by numerous citizens on whatever topics they considered important. The second era was dominated by full-time commentators and publications—the Newspaper Age—where nearly everything that got published had to go through editors and editorial boards.
A third phase of American media centered around professional journalists—newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and cable—who saw themselves as intermediaries between those with financial/political power and the rest of the populace. At its best, such journalists bravely stood up to power and told the populace the kind of truth that only insiders can know. At its worst, mainstream media became a tool of spin for the elite Establishment.
Today a fourth, different type of media is taking over; and while some of its members naturally attempt to look as much as possible like the journalists of the Professional Era, many others couldn’t care less about what is increasingly considered old-style “credibility”. In this new stage of American media, we are in many ways witnessing a return to the kind of media that dominated the American Founding.
Consider the parallels, noticeable in the following quotes about American media between 1760 and 1790:
- “The newspapers, of which by 1775 there were thirty-eight in the mainland colonies, were crowded with columns of arguments and counter arguments appearing as letters, official documents, extracts of speeches, and sermons.”[i] Some of these were closely screened by editors, but the majority were not. Newspapers during this time period were a gathering place, where practically anyone could share an opinion or argue with the views of someone else. Unlike modern newspapers—where even op-eds and letters to the editor are carefully vetted, partitioned, and “blue-lined”—this was a grassroots free-for-all, much like today’s blogs, memes, vines, posts, tweets, etc. Regular people (not editors, boards, or committees) wrote them.
- “Broadsides—single sheets on which were often printed not only large letter notices but [short] essays…appeared everywhere; they could be found posted or passing from hand to hand in the towns of every colony.”[ii] This is in many ways a similar kind of media as modern blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, and social media posts—specifically, news and thoughts on the issues go directly from the individual to others. Some ideas catch on and spread, others don’t. But professional editors and committees are entirely left out of the process. It’s person-to-person media, like that experienced during the American founding.
- “Above all, there were pamphlets: booklets consisting of a few printer’s sheets…. Then, as now, it was seen that the pamphlet allowed one to do things that were not possible in any other form.”[iii] This is like the modern blog or online article—from 1 page in length to 8 or even 10. It addresses a topic, without editorial oversight, and is shared with anyone who shows interest. Many of today’s pamphlet-equivalents are also found in online tutorials, YouTube videos, TED talks, etc. In the same way that reality television is often more popular than shows that are scripted, edited, and re-edited, person-to-person media is the new reality. The professional mainstream media—big business—doesn’t like this shift, of course. But that hasn’t stopped it from spreading.
Apply what George Orwell said about person-to-person news in his day: “The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression…more…than is ever possible in a newspaper, or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book…. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. All that is required is that it be topical, polemical, and short.”[iv]
The word polemical certainly describes a lot of modern online posts—clearly expressing opinions, and frequently against something. When people see a concern or a need, the Internet allows them to research, learn about it, and share their opinions widely.
As noted, this is a significant return to media between people, rather than media controlled by experts and handlers. No wonder the modern media is apoplectic about this development in the Age of the Internet. They’re losing both their jobs and their status; even media professionals who keep their jobs are watching their prestige and credibility decline.
In much of society the media is now less popular than Congress—a dismal position in the past few decades. The reasons are instructive: (1) Increasing numbers of people simply don’t believe what the media says. (2) A lot of people, maybe a majority of people, think the media has deeply abused its power by trying to sway the populace on numerous occasions—and that perhaps it always did, even before most people realized what was happening.
The Need to Question
During the American Founding era, all “great public events”[v] were “surrounded”[vi] by numerous individually-produced media responses from various citizens on all sides of the issues. This had huge influence on the nation. While some people argue that professional media is better at emphasizing the facts than person-to-person media, a growing number of people simply don’t trust the mainstream media to remain objective. The history of media in just the past twenty years proves that media outlets have almost consistently exhibited a clear and obvious bias.[vii] To trust them now without skepticism and deeper personal research would be entirely unreasonable.[viii]
Moreover, more people are asking themselves: If individuals must research things on their own to find the truth, why should we give any real credence to the words of “expert” media figures? A lot of Americans don’t. Since most of the professional media is clearly biased, even partial, why give it our carte blanche trust? The truth is, all media has some spin.[ix] Let’s just admit this reality, and let citizens read what they want and draw their own conclusions.
The myth of a truly objective and accurate professional media system is just that: a myth. Certainly there are still good journalists,[x] but trust in our media Establishment is largely fractured. Citizens must take what the news tells them with a grain of salt—or continue allowing themselves to be expertly “shepherded” by the mainstream media.[xi]
A look back at history is instructive: The American Founders deeply believed in the people. They didn’t consider the masses perfect, or infallible. But they realized something today’s elites seem not to understand: that experts and political leaders have the same flaws, faults and weaknesses as the regular citizenry. Trusting either group is potentially dangerous, but trusting elites to take care of the masses will always fail, while trusting the people to take care of their own interests will, over time, lead to better results than giving such power to any small group of influencers or rulers.[xii]
The differences between experts/elites and the people are important. While the modern media tends to operate on a “chisel of skepticism driven by the hammer of social passion,” as Michael Polanyi put it,[xiii] the people have long been too trusting of, and too dependent on, the press. The masses needed a bit more skepticism, and it has come in spades in recent years—spurred more than anything by the triangular relationship of the people, the media, and the president, from Bill Clinton and George Bush to Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Freedom vs. Followers
We live in an era of Reality News, not just Reality Television. The people of the nation are less and less interested in news filtered by experts. They want things straight up, raw, and direct. Media consumers now prefer the smartphone camera version of the news, captured by whoever happens to be passing by, rather than the slick, doctored news filmed and edited by professional camera crews and producers (although we usually need to take such reporting with a grain of salt as well).
The worst “problem” with the new era of person-to-person media is that people will have to think deeply, think independently, avoid being swayed by whatever they read or watch or hear, do some further personal study on news stories that interest or effect them, and ponder the issues on their own.[xiv] Which, we should all note, is precisely what every citizen should have been doing all along with any news reported by the mainstream media.
This is necessary for freedom to flourish. The new era of widespread person-to-person media is more conducive to real freedom than any media system since the American Founding. It also has real dangers—if people don’t actually study and think.[xv] But at least with person-to-person media, we know this is the reality: it is up to the people to vet the news.
The truth is that a media revolution has already occurred: anyone still largely trusting the mainstream media and accepting its words at face value is stuck in fantasy.[xvi] Nobody reads multiple Facebook posts and just believes everything. But that’s largely how many Americans absorbed ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN news for decades.
It is time for a different kind of citizen. The era of implicit trust in a professional media is over. What remains to be seen is if we as citizens will do any better.
[i] Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, ch. 1: “The Literature of the Revolution”.
January 26th, 2017 // 7:59 am @ Oliver DeMille
(How Bias in Media is Getting Even Worse, and What To Do About It)
The U.S. media hasn’t been so blatantly biased since the days of the muckrakers. For decades many Americans have known that the mainstream media has a liberal lean. It treated Bush I, Bush II, McCain and Romney differently (worse) than progressives like Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Hillary, and Obama. But in the Trump era the media has gone all in: it has largely lost its sense of objectivism or balance.
This isn’t limited to a few channels or outlets. Nearly every news organization that once claimed journalistic objectivism is clearly one-sided. Journalism is dead, for all practical purposes, as some political watchers have suggested.
Consider TIME magazine’s handling of its famous Person of the Year. In 2015 it refused to put Trump on the cover, even though by the end of that year he had clearly turned American politics on its head (for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint). When the magazine did choose Trump as the 2016 person of the year—even TIME couldn’t deny the surprising revolution he presided over—it did so in backhanded fashion. The cover announced: 2016 Person of the Year, Donald Trump, President of the Divided States of America.
Note the word “divided” in the last sentence.
This kind of bias is now the norm. Not that our nation isn’t divided. It clearly is, and no doubt Trump would gladly own responsibility for that in 2017. But it was deeply divided in the Obama era as well. Why would objective media attribute such divisions to Trump but not Obama? Indeed, this level of divisiveness is perhaps the major lasting feature of President Obama’s legacy. Much of the media simply ignored how many people were deeply alienated by Obama’s politics. Top media outlets literally fawned over Obama, and his heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, during the past several years. It lauded them, praised them, discounted and downplayed failures—as if such things didn’t matter in the presence of such glowing leaders.
A commentary in The Atlantic noted that Trump voters tended to take his words seriously but not literally, while Hillary supporters took Trump’s words literally but not seriously. But progressives applied the same standard to Obama: they took him seriously but not literally, quickly dismissing broken promises about Syria, Guantanamo, keeping one’s healthcare provider, the cost of insurance going down, etc. They excoriate Trump on the details of his promises, while giving Obama a pass on a long string of failed promises.
Extremism in media is now the fashion. Extreme flattery of Obama and Clinton coupled with extreme vilification of Trump and anyone who voted for him. Even if you dislike Trump’s approach or politics, this development in our national media is alarming.
Moreover, we seem to be entering a new era of media behavior. During the Bush years the mainstream media was clearly liberal, but conservatives, centrists and even progressives could find some balance in media coverage by reading and watching both sides of the media: The New York Times and also The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and also Fox, The Atlantic and also The Weekly Standard, The Huffington Post and also National Review.
For every mainstream liberal media outlet there were comparable conservative publications and networks. This is no longer the case. Conservative news is still available, but much of Fox is anti-Trump, and many traditionally conservative media outlets publish articles that read like The NY Times or Huffington Post in their attacks on Trump and his embryonic administration.
The reason for this is obvious. Many on the Right distrust Trump, considering him an authoritarian at best (which may or may not turn out to be true), and the old balance of Right versus Left is almost entirely gone in the media landscape. Where are the publications or channels that support the administration’s platform, viewpoint and interests? They are practically nonexistent.
Regardless of how you feel about Trump as president, this is a dangerous development. Americans have long decried Soviet-style media in nations where the government controlled journalistic outlets and the people only got one side of the story—the official line as approved by the dominating state. In the United States we are witnessing the rise of the opposite extreme: a one-sided media that only tells the American people one story: zealous anti-Trump rhetoric. The media that blasts Trump for his bombast also frequently surpasses him in pomposity (toward Obama and Clinton) and arrogant anger (toward Trump and Trump voters). They spin and inflate (and quite simply misreport) policies, utterances and choices he makes, without clarification or retraction.
Again, this is alarming, even if you dislike Trump. A one-sided media simply cannot be objective, and to aggressively set out shape public opinion in such a fashion is a reprehensible tact for a sector of society that has traditionally been a watchdog of democracy. If this continues, we won’t be getting the full story, or the real story, in the years ahead. And we won’t be able to balance mainstream views with strong media reporting from the other side—because pretty much no media anywhere cares about truthfully communicating both sides. Nearly the entire industry is committed to either passionately attacking the new administration, or misrepresenting its loyal opposition.
On a deeper societal level, part of this growing media problem is couched in the national antipathy toward the so-called experts. Our economy has become so specialized in many sectors that people are increasingly expected to rely on experts for major decisions in their lives (educational, financial, parental, healthcare, etc.), often without even seriously questioning the “accepted expert wisdom” or making their own choices. For the Establishment, Trump voters represent the opposite of this trend.
For example, a political cartoon from The New Yorker showed a middle-aged man, balding and portly, standing up in the aisle of an airplane and announcing to the passengers: “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”
At first blush, few of us want some regular guy from our next flight to use democracy to take over the cockpit. But the cartoon hits an even deeper chord. While it is apparently meant to criticize many American voters, it actually does a lot to point out flaws in the expert-dependent Establishment.
First, nearly all passengers shown in the cartoon are raising their hands. Democracy is strongly against the expert-dependent Establishment right now. Most people are skeptical of experts, seeking a second or even third opinion even in arenas where expertise is most sacred.
Second, the word “smug” in the cartoon is poignant. Only smug experts would believe such a political cartoon would make their point; the truth is that most voters, unlike most airline passengers, aren’t seeking a political expert in the White House. They specifically prefer a non-expert, a non-politician. The Establishment can’t quite grasp why anyone would hold this view. They really are out of touch.
These people want a wise and effective leader, not a bureaucratic manager. They want a visionary and strong commander-in-chief, not another smug political specialist. (There is an excellent commentary on the same cartoon in USA Today, January 6, 2017.) Voters want an outsider. They want someone who doesn’t actually like the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Most of the media realizes this on a logical level, but just can’t bring themselves to believe it in their gut. Mainstream media wants government by experts. A lot of voters don’t.
Of course there is an important place for expertise in society. But clearly elections should be up to the people, all the people across the U.S. – not just the population-dense regions on the right and left coasts. Our era of over-reliance on professional political experts and bureaucratic dominance has caused a lot of problems. Concerning journalism, we want experts in telling us the truth and letting us make our own decisions, not experts of spin who sway the populace to a certain political view—whatever it is. Unfortunately, for decades many in the media have been telling us that their opinion is the truth—to trust them—to follow them—because they know what is best for us. The people are calling their bluff.
At the highest level, the Establishment acts on the assumption that experts determine elections. For example, most elites are convinced that expert choices, not voters, really swayed the latest election, and other elections as well. This is broadcast in various ways, including the following Establishment beliefs:
- Obama’s social media gurus and ground game won 2008 and 2012, while Jared Krushner’s Silicon Valley-style analytics and online campaign won 2016 for Trump.
- Russian hackers were responsible for election outcomes, since clearly the American people wouldn’t have voted this way without some kind of sinister expert intervention.
- Media sway makes the biggest difference in presidential elections, and the mainstream media was clearly anti-Trump; therefore, Fox and talk radio are responsible for the “skewed” results on election night.
In reality, voters gather information in many ways, consider their options, and then select whom they want to lead (or vote against the candidate they least want to be in charge). It is ironic that the Establishment lauds democracy at every turn, but doesn’t actually believe in it. The Establishment believes, rather, that experts ultimately determine votes, one way or the other. And that they should.
Again, this arrogance is only expanding in the current media environment. I expect it to widen and deepen in the months and years ahead.
In all this, what are freedom-loving citizens to do? What about those who sincerely want to get both sides of the news and really compare what the White House is doing and thinking to what the mainstream media is reporting? Answer: such citizens are largely out of luck. They aren’t getting much help from institutional media.
They can try reading The Economist, which is certainly not a pro-Trump or even remotely conservative publication but is at least European and not quite so caught up in the anti-Trump venom of the American national media. This is a good option for some readers. Or they can read the business news, like Fortune and Forbes, for example, which focuses on commerce and addresses the news only tangentially—and with less extremism. Again, some readers can use this kind of sidebar-journalism to get a more objective read on the new.
But it’s hardly a solution. The real answer is for the media to self-regulate and deliver objective, quality journalism. Until this happens—if it ever does—citizens who want to know what is really happening are going to need to find quality sources of knowledge. Most sources of this kind will come not from big media outlets, but rather from deep thinkers who share important views online.
Find writers and thinkers—instead of relying on publications or channels—that spark your thinking and help you see things differently than the major media retailers and showrooms. Since the big media isn’t doing its job anymore, it’s up to us as individuals to more actively seek out ideas and knowledge.
The silver lining in this new era of media is real. In the current news environment, it is up to each of us to dig deeper and think more independently if we want to see through media spin and really keep an eye on the news. The mainstream media is taking much of the nation on a pied-piper-style spin, and only the vigilant will actually know what’s really going on in current events.
(Consider taking our Current Events Course, which helps participants learn to more effectively see through the media, whatever its agenda, and know what’s really happening. Once you’ve completed this course, try getting your news by reading a major publication from both sides of the aisle, such as The Atlantic and also The Wall Street Journal, and then adding one or more of the sources listed above to get a more objective view of things. We all need to read more closely in this new era of media, and keep our thinking caps on no matter what we’re reading.)
January 23rd, 2017 // 1:55 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(What it Means for the Future of America)
First of all, the very idea that each president must aim to leave a lasting legacy of some sort is wrong-minded. Some of the best presidents in history did little except what they were elected to do: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from intervening in the economy.
This is precisely what they should do. For example, presidents Madison, Harding and Coolidge are seldom given props for their legacies—but they were better presidents (using the Constitution as a measuring stick) than many others who used their time in office to “do more”, and in the process went beyond the Constitution and reduced American freedoms.
At its root the concept of legacy as a vital part of the presidency comes from the Establishmentarian desire to have a king. Establishment media, political parties, and many professional politicos want the pomp and circumstance of looking up to “royalty,” and the perks that come with close connections to those who hold executive power.
Jefferson once chided John Adams for this same tendency. In the Jeffersonian spirit, the president should…well, we already said it: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from messing up the economy with too much regulation and/or bureaucratic intervention. This bears repeating over and over in our generation—until we get it.
In fact, this is the opposite of Obama’s legacy, which could be summed up as: “The more government intervention in the economy and people’s lives, the better.”
But let’s put aside the battle over ideals for a moment and focus on the practical side of governing.
Obama established at least four major precedents that could be a serious problem for Americans—depending on how Trump and future presidents apply them. These include the following presidential disasters:
1. Do what you want unilaterally, using executive orders, instead of doing the hard work to lead and persuade Congress to work with you—as required in the Constitution. Just dictate things from the Oval Office.
2. Use the “nuclear option” to get things through Congress (the Barack Obama and Harry Reid approach of forcing things with a majority vote instead of sixty Senators). One more check and balance gone.
3. Doggedly ignore the views of people and groups who didn’t vote for you. Act like your supporters are the only Americans who matter, and like those who didn’t support you are sub-par citizens whose concerns aren’t important. Treat opponents as enemies (and idiots), not the loyal opposition whose voices carry some important truths. President Obama was a master at this approach.
4. After you’ve been voted out of office, before the next president is inaugurated, reject two centuries of precedence and don’t try to make things smooth for the incoming president—instead, do everything you can in your last two months of office to establish policies and take actions that make it more difficult for the next president to implement the agenda voters selected during the campaign. Simply assume you know better than the people.
This is the Obama legacy. If Trump adopts it (any of it, for that matter) he’ll do much harm to our nation. We can only hope that the Trump Administration will take a better approach to leadership. Note that he can use executive orders and push the “nuclear option” in the Senate to undo Obama overreaches without using these tactics to engage any additional policies that unwisely expand executive power.
Rise or Fall
I have friends who believe he’ll do exactly that, and others who think he’ll use these negative Obama precedents early and often. If he does the latter, such behaviors will become forever part of the executive branch and the Obama-Trump legacy will further damage our society.
Historically, few presidents choose to exert less power than their predecessors. Jefferson and Madison did, and Jackson. As mentioned, both Harding and Coolidge did the same. Washington is a special case, because he had no predecessor. He belongs on the list of those who did it right, because he chose to exert less power than he was offered.
Other U.S. presidents built on the power they inherited and tried to expand it. That’s a dangerous pattern, one we need to reverse. It remains to be seen what president Trump will do.
Ironically, in all of this, the Obama legacy is a devil on Trump’s shoulder. We can only hope that better angels prevail in the next four years.