Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Campaign 2016: Race to the Bottom

One of the stories on Democracy Now! this morning was about Donald Trump's "alt-right" connections, exemplified by his hiring of Breitbart's Stephen Bannon to run his campaign on top of his Birtherism, his appeal to white racists, and so on.  DN anchor Amy Goodman asked the reporter Sarah Posner (at about 56:50 in the video):
GOODMAN: Some are saying that this whole presidential election that he is involved with is actually a strategy for developing Trump TV, that he is consolidating a media leadership here, with Bannon, with Roger Ailes, who is now forced out because of sexual harassment allegations by more than twenty women, from Fox, and now reportedly advising Donald Trump.  How significant is this possibility?

POSNER: ... If this is something that Trump does, in fact, have in mind, the fact that he's asking Roger Ailes for advice, and was asking Roger Ailes -- he was in regular contact with Roger Ailes even before Ailes was forced out of Fox over the sexual harassment lawsuit, and the fact that he's hired Bannon, and combine that with how throughout his campaign Trump has been so disparaging of the mainstream media, the way he calls out individual reporters at his campaign events, calls on his rally attenders to turn around and scoff at and disparage the media that's covering the rally from a press pen, all of this points to -- and also how he talks about the unfairness of the way the media covers him, and almost setting the stage for blaming the media if he loses.  So if you put all of this together, regardless of what Trump actually does organizationally, in terms of creating a media outlet if he were to lose the presidency, after the campaign, it seems pretty evident there's a lot of sowing of discontent about the mainstream media, and of bolstering of these alternative media sites that have been supportive of Trump and supportive of the alt-right.
This is not insignificant, but Posner's answer made me laugh almost as much as Trump's running mate Mike Pence laughed when Fox News asked him about Trump's prospects with African-American voters.  Posner seemed genuinely indignant that anybody would disparage the mainstream media, would sow discontent about the mainstream media, would bolster alternative media sites to counter the mainstream media -- while she was appearing on an alternative media site that regularly disparages the mainstream media, to plug an article she had written for Mother Jones, an alternative media outlet.  The mainstream media provide many good reasons to disparage them, every day.  That being said, Trump and his supporters are no happier with the coverage he gets in the liberal and left alternative media.  It's not really about alternative vs. mainstream, but about fawningly pro-Trump vs. anti-Trump.

And it's not as if mainstream or left-liberal alternative media are more rational or responsible than alt-right media -- look, for just one example, at the ginned-up hysteria over Putin's alleged influence on the Trump campagin.  If, as Posner and Goodman mentioned, Breitbart publishes vitriolic attacks not only on liberals and Democrats but on right-wing figures who are insufficiently supportive of Trump, certain popular liberal and alternative media, such as Daily Kos, have become cesspools of center-right clickbait, posting material of minimal content whose sole purpose for production and publication (aside from getting site traffic) is to whip the faithful into a frenzy of ragegasms against Trump, the Republican Party, and the right in general, using many of the same tactics (slut-shaming, fat-shaming, racism [the evil of China is a point of agreement between center-right and far right, for example], religious bigotry).  The comments sections aren't as bad as right-wing comment sections -- yet -- but many of the commenters seem engaged in a race to the bottom with their fascist counterparts.  Many of my liberal friends and acquaintances on Facebook obsessively scratch the itch of Trump-loathing with meme after meme, clickbait post after clickbait post, embellished with remarks like "UGH", "SICK," and the like; the accusations of mental illness and/or mental retardation echo the same accusations from their fascist counterparts.  Factual accuracy and critical reason are optional, and indeed conspicuous by their absence. The 2012 campaign season, as bad as it was, looks almost like a paradise of sweet reason and love by comparison.  No doubt 2020 will continue the trend.

I still see a tendency among liberals to imagine that all this is something new.  It's not; it's a regular, ongoing feature of American political life.  I don't see any prospect of change.