Friday, July 5, 2019

The Political Correctness of the Center

I hate-listened to The 1A on the road to northern Indiana this morning, which at least kept me alert during the three-hour drive.

Today being Friday, the program covered the week's news in summary, which may account for the rushed, breathless pace at which the commentators had to work.  As usual, today's commentators were from the corporate media and the Beltway.  They weren't stupid, but neither did they have anything to say that you wouldn't be able to hear on CNN or MSNBC.  (On the other hand, I heard that the historian Kevin M. Kruse, who's been correcting right-wing historical discussion to great effect on Twitter, appeared on The 1A earlier this week; I'll have to listen to that segment.)

The dominant topic during the domestic segment was immigration.  I don't intend to dissect the discussion in any detail.  It stayed well within the bounds of the mainstream, framing the issues in terms set by the Republicans: if you want to "decriminalize" crossing the border, for instance, you're in favor of "open borders."  The commentators were, I think, aware that this is a false dichotomy, but they didn't have time to explain why, so they just quoted it.  Noam Chomsky's strictures on concision were confirmed once again: if you aren't given time to explain complex issues, soundbytes and slogans are all the audience will get, and then you can dismiss the masses as brainwashed sheeple incapable of understanding, unworthy of having input.

I noticed that the people being held in our concentration camps were almost always referred to as "migrants."  One of the commentators called them "asylum-seekers" once, but returned to "migrants" after that.  I realize that journalists seeking the phantasm of objectivity have a difficult time with terminology, and I suppose that "migrants" is the best our corporate media can do.  It seems to have become the word of choice all over the media, from what I can tell, so it would be surprising if The 1A strayed from the consensus.

But "migrant" isn't the right word for people who are fleeing from intense economic and political misery.  True, many such people do migrate in search of work and/or safety; the first Mexicans I encountered in Indiana were migrant farm workers who came north in the summers and returned south, even back to Mexico, when the work was done.  (It's worth remembering that most Mexicans who came north returned home periodically until undocumented crossing was criminalized during the George W. Bush administration: that had the effect, not of keeping them out, but of keeping them in.)  There have also been American migrants, most famously the Okies who fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s (see Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath), and African Americans who fled southern poverty and Jim Crow to the north at around the same time.  Internal migrants, as both those precedents remind us, are not more welcome, or treated better, than refugees from abroad.

"Asylum-seekers" is more specific and accurate for the people who are crowding the US/Mexico border now, but "refugees" is also specific and accurate, and I don't believe it was used once today.  (Nor do I recall encountering it often in most respectable media coverage these days.)  "Refugee" has emotional connotations and might generate sympathy, so of course objective journalists shy away from it, but the disinclination to use it is also a choice -- what could and should be called the Political Correctness of the Center.

Once I noticed this, it was easier to notice that "migrant" was the word of choice by a different batch of commentators in today's international segment for refugees from Africa and the Middle East trying to reach Europe.  I believe "refugee" was used more often for such people before, during the Obama administration; why "migrant" has replaced it, I don't know, but it does seem to have happened.

Among numerous other matters that annoyed me was the discussion of the power-sharing agreement that has just been reached in the Sudan between the military junta currently in charge there and the civilian opposition.  The main question for The 1A's team was whether it would last.  It's a pointless question, because no one can answer it -- certainly none of them really tried.  So why waste time on it?  Because it's the kind of question that such people love to chuckle over.

At that, The 1A wasn't as bad as a BBC segment I heard earlier this morning: the newscaster interviewed one of the civilian negotiators, and tried repeatedly to badger him into saying on the air that he didn't trust the military to hold up their end of the agreement.  The negotiator did his best to evade the question, but even to ask it was irresponsible; I could hear the smirk in the newscaster's voice as he pressed for the answer he wanted, which would have been a handy excuse for the military to accuse the civilians of bad faith, and even put the negotiator in danger.  We're talking here about a country struggling to emerge from decades of one-man rule, in which the military has killed over a hundred civilians recently to, um, "restore order" I think the term is.  Whatever happens, it won't happen to James Copnall.