With few exceptions, the failure to recognize the viability of Trump was directly tied to the failure to acknowledge the decline and, in some cases, near collapse of various political and journalistic institutions. We've been making this point for a while now.
Last time we covered why the party didn't decide. Now let's talk about the role of the press.
Journalistic decline and GOP dysfunction
Picking up from Tactics, Schmactics...
we talk about the mainstream media and the right-wing media and all the
other little sliver media out there, there are all sorts of standards
with which we can make our distinctions. The one I prefer, at least for
this discussion, is axiom-based.
In the New York Times,
or Time Magazine, or Slate, or in any section of the Wall Street
Journal except the editorial pages, most of the writers start from the
same basic set of assumptions. To a slightly lesser extent, you can say
the same thing about the right-wing media: Fox news; Rush Limbaugh; red
state. We could argue about the validity of each of those sets of
assumptions, but the important part for the moment is the difference
between the two sets.
Though there had always been
right wing papers and left wing papers, it has only been in the past few
decades that it is possible to completely immerse yourself in one set
of assumptions while your neighbor is completely immersed in another.
part one of the story. Parts two and three are what happened to the two
halves of the journalistic universe since then and how those changes
have affected the breakdown of the Republican party.
the mainstream side, simplistic narrative journalism, dogmatic
centrism, and a increasing disregard for accuracy and for holding
subjects to a high standard of honesty all acted together to weaken the
press's traditional role in checking party extremes. Since these
practices had long been coupled with a sense that the Republicans were
the dominant power and a fear of conservative pushback, this primarily
worked on the right, allowing unpopular and extreme Republican policies
to gain traction. This was particularly true in the area of governance.
Unprecedented use of filibusters and other obstructionist techniques
were practiced up until recently with relative impunity due to the "both
sides do it" mentality of many journalists.
right wing media side, journalists traded off their normal role as
providers of feedback in order to be more effective motivators. This is
perhaps most obvious with Ailes and Fox News where the goal (after
turning a profit) was clearly to shape (and in some cases, falsify) the
facts in such a way as to keep the base loyal and energized. In the
short term, the strategy worked well but it always had inherent risks,
risks that have finally started doing serious damage.
can read this partly as a cautionary tale of Straussianism gone awry.
The first, the most fundamental assumption of any society based on the
noble lie is that you have a hierarchy with well-defined classes of the
liars and the lied-to and that all major decisions are made by people in
the first class.
Here's an analogy: officers have been
known to paint overly rosy pictures for soldiers ("Things are going
great on the Western front." "The enemy's factories are in ruins."
"Victory is near."). We can argue over the ethics of this kind of lying,
but it's easy to see why some officers might do it.
imagine that through a combination of field promotions, broken lines of
communication and general confusion, strategic and tactical decisions
start being made by people who actually believe all of the
misinformation that was fed to the ranks. I'm no military historian but
I'm fairly sure this would probably end badly.
We had a
pretty clear example of this kind of a breakdown in the Romney team's
analysis of poll data in the last days of the election. There was clear
value for Romney in having his supporters believe that he was ahead but
that value was more than negated by having his advisers believe the same
misinformation. You can see similar dysfunction in the recent shutdown
where many congressmen made what now appear to be disastrous decisions
based apparently sincere belief in such Fox News talking point as
"people won't get that upset about a shutdown."
more broadly, the processes that allow the right version of the truth to
get to the right people – something that has been an integral part of
the Republican strategy – has seemingly broken down entirely.
addition to the largely random flow of misinformation, conservative
media created an unforeseen problem in the rank and file with narrative
momentum. When most members of a group get much of their information
from outside, there's a natural friction on in-group narratives when
members realize that their version is not shared by the general public.
Conservative media is immersive to an unprecedented degree. Narratives
like "the only time Republicans lose is when they become too moderate"
are allowed to build unchecked.
On a related note, the
immersive quality also greatly facilitates social norming. This greatly
encourages extreme positions and widens the gap when members of the
group try to communicate with outsiders.
More on this soon.
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