Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This Is Not a Story / Ceci N'est Pas un Histoire

Now, this is symptomatic of political discourse in our elite media.  "This is exactly why Trump won" is frankly idiotic, and when challenged, Peters admitted, "There are countless, unquantifiable reasons he won" before doubling back down: "But my problem with the bulk of these criticisms about reporting on the Trump coalition is that the left doesn’t want to hear it explained unless the answer is 'they’re all racist and stupid.'"

To see why it's idiotic, try reversing the terms.  The mainstream, to say nothing of far right-wing opinion in the US, has constantly "dismissed controversies that seemed small and exaggerated" when they involved the complaints of minorities: gay people, transpeople, women, people of color, the poor, and so on.  "But they were galvanizing for [those groups,] who are highly reactive to being told by the media 'this is not a story.'"  Which is exactly what we have been told by the corporate media, sometimes explicitly, sometimes simply by neglect.  Poisoned water in Flint, Michigan?  Unarmed people being shot in the back by police?  Stagnating wages and underemployment?  Not a story.  I myself sometimes forget how much this is true, because I forget that most people don't use the alternative media that I rely on to fill in the vast, gaping omissions of the mainstream.

I agree with Peters that we shouldn't call people "racist" or "stupid" at random.  The trouble is that Trump and his base are overwhelmingly, demonstrably racist and often stupid (which is why Trump keeps calling his enemies stupid and "low IQ", as kneejerk denial).  They want to be racist, but they don't want to be called racist.  They want to be stupid, they hate the pointy-headed intellectuals, and they don't want to do the necessary work to be smart.  (This is not to say that people who are less intelligent should be insulted or derided -- I've written before about the misuse of the word "ignorant" as an insult. Everyone is ignorant of more than they know; everyone has some valid and important knowledge that must be respected.  But it's patronizing to pretend that they know what they don't in fact know.  On the other hand, the Right refuses to respect the knowledge that others have.)

"But my problem with the bulk of these criticisms about reporting on the [vast majority of the population] is that the [center and right don't] want to hear it explained unless the answer is 'they’re all [lazy welfare moochers, Social Justice Warriors, and communist elitists].'"  The corporate media are terrified of offending the Right, who, while they are certainly numerous, are not the majority of Americans.  They are not even the majority of the voters, who, I have to keep reminding almost everybody, did not vote for Trump. The anti-democratic, anti-majoritarian Electoral College is "exactly why Trump won."  Anyone who chooses to ignore that is lying.

Significantly, the corporate media are not only not terrified of the mass of Americans outside Trump's base, they reject and ridicule us when we too become "highly reactive."  Or even slightly reactive.  It's just unbearable to them that the Right should be upset by a little restaurant in Virginia that refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  The feelings of Trump's base are sacrosanct and must be handled with kid gloves.  Everybody else's feelings?  Mnyeh, who cares?  We are just oversensitive, humorless injustice collectors.  No story here.

Indeed, it's one of the major complaints of the Trump base that they've had to hold in all their bigoted opinions for too long, afraid of being called names by Social Justice Warriors, and they're not going to tolerate it any more.  Their complaint is not that they want their feelings to be respected also; they want only their feelings to be respected, and everyone else's ignored.  It's summed up very well by this photo; as the person who posted it to Twitter noted, the operative word is "your," not "feelings."

If you disagree with me, consider: Trump and his base are so furious about Huckabee Sanders's being refused service, not because they believe that businesses should serve everybody without exception - they believe the exact opposite - but because they are outraged that anyone should disapprove of them and refuse service to them. When their own rules are applied to them, it doesn't make them reconsider their beliefs, it makes them more determined to punish everybody else.  They demand civility from everyone else, but they pursued what they wanted by being assholes.  And it worked, so why should they change now?

I suggest that one problem is that the vast majority of people, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, don't know what do when their opinions are challenged, disagreed with, criticized, condemned.  It's not pleasant, but hey, I've gotten used to it.  Activists and writers and intellectuals are constantly denigrated because we know how to debate, by people who can only flail around frantically when someone disagrees with them.  It's not enough to say that you're mad as hell and you're not going to take any more: the question is what you do after you've declared your complaints and your anger.  That's harder, and it can't be done with slogans and memes and a neat ending.

I'm willing to let the Trump base frame the refusal of service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a major controversy if that will make Jeremy Peters happy.  In fact, I agree that it's important, and it seems to me that most people who approve of the Red Hen staff's decision feel the same way.  This is not trivial.  It is important that the Right get some pushback and some accountability for their actions, as much as they hate the idea.  The American "mainstream" -- really corporate media, political, and corporate/financial elites -- has been tiptoeing delicately around the feelings of the Republican Right for too long, while dismissing the concerns of the rest of the country. I'm not going to wax prematurely triumphant about this and claim that the culture war has been won before it has properly been fought, but there are many signs that the rest of America (those who are neither media/business/political elites nor the Trump base) have been "galvanized" and are looking for ways to confront, engage, and challenge the forces of American reaction.

Unlike many people, I know that my opponents will never go away, but then, my opponents need to learn that everybody else won't go away either.  It's clearly what they want, but it's not going to happen.  So, the lines are drawn.  The question is what to do now.  We can't exterminate each other, and I don't really think that most non-Trumpers believe that we can or that we should.  I believe, though, that it's the Trump base constitute the real threat to everybody just getting along in this country and in the world.  I don't know how to get along with them without surrendering to them -- even total surrender wouldn't be enough for them anyway, they are unwilling to tolerate the presence of most of their fellow citizens -- but we're going to have to find a way if at all possible.  We are, I believe, in a very dangerous time, though all times have been dangerous if you look at our history.

The trouble with people like Jeremy Peters is that they are appeasers.  They hope that if we give the Right what they want, they'll let everyone else live in peace.  I think that the rise of Donald Trump is strong evidence to the contrary.  But literal war won't stop them either, even if they are finally defeated, and I'd really rather not see our cities firebombed and our towns leveled in the attempt.  We need to know where we stand, however, and anyone who exculpates the Right while telling everybody else that it's all our fault for upsetting the the Right is distorting reality.