When last I published in this space, the nation was facing (again) the most important election of our lifetime. Politics, both directly and as it manifests in the general culture, has been a frequent source of interest for me since I began this blog. Temporarily, I imagine, I will be taking a break from the subject after today’s post. Frankly, I’m sick of the whole mess right now but the last couple of pieces I wrote were about the above mentioned contest and I thought one more for the road seemed only right.
I don’t have any interest in rehashing the events of the last three months. They’ve been seen, discussed and written about ad nauseam. If you think the election was stolen it’s unlikely I would be able to convince you otherwise. State governments had more than half a year to adjust their electoral process so that all their early and mail-in voting could be processed by the time the actual election day votes were being tabulated. If you think that a failure to do that didn’t in some way contribute to the ensuing national embarrassment, then you’re on the other team of morons. I can’t help either of you without a prescription pad. If you find yourself in the dishearteningly small group that considers the perspectives represented in the two divergent mindsets I just referenced, to be the lions share of the problems we face as a nation, what follows is for you.
Watching the news the morning of January seventh there were two moments that I thought of as quite telling with regard to where we are and how we got here. The first one came as George Stephanopoulos and the rest of the ABC morning crew were going through the list of Republican congress members statements of condemnation of regarding the disorder and violence at the capitol. There were a series of fairly standard, though not insincere missives concerning the criminal nature of the previous days events. Representatives and senators had, for the most part, gone on record decrying the rioting in simple straightforward terms. There was one quote that stood out a bit from the rest. Rob Portman, Republican Senator from Ohio, had previously issued a statement concerning the accusations of election chicanery that were the place of origin for the ugliness on the Wednesday of what I now think of as the 53rd week of 2020. In a November 23rd op-ed piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the senator acknowledged that suspicion of voter fraud had merited a thorough investigation of all allegations. He then went on to say that although some instances of irregularities had been revealed, there was no indication that the malfeasance was widespread enough to alter the outcome in any state. That being the case, Portman felt it was time for the country to accept the outcome and move on. This caught my attention for a few reasons. Most obviously, the statement was not actually in reference to the preceding day’s events. More interesting, Senator Portman had articulated his position in a way that managed to address the concerns of the majority of Trump supporters without either enabling the more paranoid members of that group or dismissing them en masse. Considering the measured tone of his writing I was surprised to hear a network talking head cite it. It was firm but not inflammatory, and as I mentioned was not contemptuous in any way.
I’m not a big viewer of television news coverage but in the weeks following the election I’d managed to sample a story or two each day. The President’s claims that he and the people who’d voted for him had in some way had something stolen from them was one of the lead stories almost every day, and I can’t recall one reporter or anchor taking the same approach that Portman had. The pervasive tone of the media indicated that those in the news business believed giving any credence whatsoever to the allegations was emblematic of a two digit I.Q. or a sociopathy worthy of The Hillside Strangler. Hearing someone on a network news broadcast swim against that tide, even if only for a moment, was refreshing, but short-lived. In the weeks that followed the only time I heard the senator’s name repeated was to break the news that he would not be seeking re-election in 2022. Since then he voted for acquittal in the impeachment trial so I imagine he may become a frequent target for the opprobrium of a variety of pundits. I can understand a vocal hostility towards Portman in light of his decision to let Trump off the hook. I can’t extend that perspective to the general indifference to his aforementioned demonstration of a measured response to a potentially volatile situation. It strikes me that all that quiet indifference was to some extent born of a belief held by “the chattering classes” that any willingness to see the events in question as even somewhat complex would be a betrayal of their own dearly held sense of moral superiority. And really, there’s the problem. Whether or not one shares their essential view of the world, people who make a living bringing us the news are not supposed to allow their own biases to become a part of their job. Still, my perception of their behavior is certainly colored by my own convictions and so can’t be presented as a definitive moment. What followed a few minutes later is a more obvious example of the problems that this country’s news media suffer from and in turn visit upon the people that should be able to depend upon it.
Following the litany of statements from Republican congress members, Stephanopoulos conducted an exchange with a representative, whose name I don’t recall. He appeared to be in his late thirties to early forties and was a Republican. His tone was one of unwavering castigation for the rioters and the president as well. He offered no sympathy for those involved, or their motivations. The house member began to extend the circle of responsibility to his fellow politicians and Republican voters too, all of which resulted in a round of satisfied head nodding from the anchor. And then he went to the well one too many times. Perhaps intoxicated by the seeming spirit of bonhomie that was developing, he opined that even the media might share some culpability in the direction the nation had taken. Stephanopoulos’ face suddenly looked as if he’d reached into a cookie jar and come out with a handful of baked dog shit. His response was a terse denial of even the possibility that the fourth estate could ever be seen in that light. The conversation terminated not long afterwards. What’s most troubling is not the denial of culpability but it’s reflexive nature. The ABC anchor didn’t challenge the statement by way of asking for an explanation. He shut it down, and was visibly perturbed at the notion that the behavior of he and/or his professional cohort could be anything but exemplary. Frankly, his angry incuriosity is not, with regard to those that practice his trade, unusual. It is painfully rare to hear anyone in the news business address the stark prejudices that have become de rigueur for it’s practitioners. I’ve written about this before (The Malice of Absence, Kepner Revisited) but it’s worth bringing up again. Partisanship is the essence of our political system. That being the case I think most of us expect it in those that seek office and the electorate. We might scream about it and point fingers at one another but it doesn’t intrinsically make one feel that the odds are stacked against them. When the group we rely on to act as neutral truth-seeking third parties demonstrates that sort of thing, and what’s worse refuses to even acknowledge that such a thing might be so, people who fall on the wrong side of that judgement might end up acting out on what they see as an unfair fight. In writing this, I offer no excuse for the disgraceful lawlessness displayed at the Capitol building. If you were there and did anything that exceeded the bounds of legal protest you have earned some jail time. But if you’re a reporter or editor who’s let their feelings impact on the way you’ve done your job you’re part of this too. Without the crap you’ve pulled for the last twenty years or so, Donald Trump would probably never even have achieved escape velocity as a candidate. It should come as no surprise that he spent the better part of a year convincing his supporters that there would be no legitimate way he could be voted out of office. Suck it up George.