Journalistic Complicity

As the Trump camp is roiled by dissension, a good many Republicans in his circle having lately discovered — Shocked! Shocked! — that the standard-bearer they signed on with was the actual Donald Trump, the unbridled bully, liar, rabble-rouser they now scramble to disown or, more chicken-heartedly, “distance themselves from,” was not a meteor who streaked in from outer space but the home-grown heir of decades of economic fantasy and white-supremacy dog whistling that they have made their brand.

Many journalists are now, at last, rising to the occasion to call Trump’s falsehoods falsehoods and his insults racist, to note that they are not incidental or specific gaffes but built-in features of his standard operating procedure. CNN’s Jake Tapper has been exemplary on this score, most recently bluntly telling Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, that statements he makes are “not true.” Trump serves up more fodder with every passing week. So let us tender due congratulations that more journalists are doing their jobs, pointing out that the emperor is not only naked but bonkers.

But let’s not stop with the congratulations.

Political journalists have yet to face their complicity in normalizing much of the garbage that Trump has packaged into pellets in this campaign. The normalization of which I speak is not new. For years, respectable media treated climate-change-deniers as legitimate dissenters, with lazy point-counterpoint coverage that gave the voices of a few flat-earthers equal weight with a vast scientific consensus. For years, they have left unquestioned a conservative (now metamorphosed by media groupthink into “centrist”) uproar about the magnitude of American taxes. But for now, let me emphasize only one component of conventional wisdom: hysteria about budget deficits, a conservative bugaboo since Ronald Reagan (in fact, since the days of Herbert Hoover, as demonstrated by the historian Kim Phillips-Fein, but that’s a subject for another time). In recent years, the poster boy for “responsible” budgeteering has been the choirboyish Paul Ryan, feebly carrying the flag for true conservatism even as he dare not detach himself from the loathsome Trump.

Ryan & Co. only seem respectable because their false premises go unexamined, starting with the crackpot, easily falsifiable claim that the United States is crushed by a tax burden second to none in the wealthy world, and supplemented by the corollaries that trickle-down economics works, that there is something non-idiotic about the existence of a “Laffer curve,” that American business suffers from excessive regulation, and that raising wages would impede growth.

There’s more and I urge you to click through; Gitlin nails it. The only surprise is it has taken this long for anyone to state the obvious…

Journalistic Complicity

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