For the rest of the year, I could write columns, ripping a long piece for the New York Times by the job-hopping, Pulitzer-winning former Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada. His piece is so delicious. He picks up on a long-standing theme in this column, Donald Trump’s bottomless cynicism about the game of politics and the people who play it.
Sir. Trump’s big election lie, writes Mr. Lozada, “is tied to an older deception without which it could not survive: the idea that American politics is essentially a joke. . . . When politicians publicly defend positions they privately reject, they are telling the joke. When they abandoning the challenge of governing the country for the rush to unleash the enemy, they are telling the joke. When they express that they need to address the very fears they have encouraged or created among their constituents, they are telling the joke.”
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What gives Mr. Lozada’s piece a richness he doesn’t intend is that he himself engages in joke-telling, where this is all the work of Republicans, the 2000, 2004, 2016, and 2018 Democratic recusals don’t exist, the fabricated Russian secret lies do not exist, Mr. Biden is not playing up white supremacy for his own benefit, he and his allies are not whipping up a climate apocalypse that is nowhere to be found in science.
The joke continues. See the strangely similar treatment in the Washington Post and the New York Times last week of the news of the winding-up of special counsel John Durham’s investigation, which both papers measured and found wanting by the standards of (wait for it) Mr. Trump’s own hyperbolic and self-interested rhetoric.
Since when is Mr. Trump the measure of all things? Only when it serves the purpose of ignoring Mr. Durham’s performance in getting to the bottom of the collusion, which the press refused to do. Case in point: His detailed claim that the Moscow hotel sex scene that the media reveled in for two years was a complete fabrication, attributed by a paid Democratic “investigator” to a source who denied his calls.
The joke is present in both Mr Trump’s and the media’s delight at the New York attorney general’s 214 pages of not alleging any wrongdoing in Mr Trump’s exaggeration of his wealth to bank loan reviewers who, of all people on earth, knew exactly who they were dealing with with (unlike the public who accepted the media’s Russia reporting at face value only to later find out it was a Lozadian “joke.”)
Mr. Lozada’s joke metaphor captures the arch-cynicism of contemporary political fabulizers (except those on his side), but perhaps doesn’t give the public enough credit. If my interactions are any indication, voters have made rapid progress in decoding the turn toward absurdity in our politics as something akin to the inexplicable waves of high fashion, and yet they still understand how the underlying struggle for power affects things they care about. such as jobs, crime and education.
The real source of the problems – or maybe just the real joke – is a news industry that is no longer interested in evidence for what it says, only how it can be used. The notion is a modernizing impulse in which traditional standards of “objectivity” are set aside for higher, consequentialist purposes. But there’s a reason the press motto used to be “Tell the truth, no matter if the ox is gored.” We do not and cannot know what the future will look like. Take the simple question of being honest about the Russia scam. By acknowledging the truth, are we empowering Mr. Trump—or are we showing his voters that the media and government elites are not irredeemably corrupt and can perhaps be trusted at least some of the time?
To their credit, a couple of leading Post and Times columnists have charted brave new courses recently by recognizing that collusion fraud has a corrosive effect on public trust. In 2020, I suggested Joe Biden do the same; by supporting the Durham inquiry he could have taken a major step towards promoting the reconciliation he preached. Listen to his speeches now and you realize he was never interested in reconciliation. He “tells the joke” in Mr. Lozada’s mind. Mr. Biden’s interest lies in stoking Trumpian outrage as his best bet to extend his own streak across the stage.
There are glimmers of hope, such as signs that CNN’s new owner wants to clean things up, but take comfort in the fact that time heals many problems. Today’s reporters and editors will retire and go to their ultimate rewards. As the late Steve Jobs said in a commencement speech at Stanford, the main reason hope springs eternal for humanity is the possibility of renewal that comes from the fact that we will all eventually fall victim to the tables of mortality.
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