Monday, April 11, 2016

Paul Krugman provides a coda to the naked emperors thread

Back in August, we ran a post on the dilemma Donald Trump presented to the establishment press:

Symbiotic relationships, non-aggression pacts and naked emperors

I did a post a while back arguing that Fox News was partisan rather ideological. I didn't get very far into the obvious ethical concerns associated with having a major news and entertainment conglomerate in partnership with one of our two major political parties. Fox is able to maintain this symbiotic relationship and still keep up at least a facade of independence and respectability partially because most of the mainstream press has entered into an unspoken but remarkably well-observed non-aggression pact with Fox and the Republican Party.

Writers for papers like the NYT still criticize conservatives, but only in measured and indirect ways. They won't come out and say that an emperor is naked. Instead, they come up with all sorts of ways of saying sheer and flimsy and overly revealing.

This system has worked fairly well as long as their subjects have met them halfway. Even bomb-throwers like Ted Cruz kept up at least enough pretense of seriousness that the journalists could maintain some plausible deniability.

The problem with Donald Trump is that he doesn't give journalists any cover. He isn't actually that ideologically extreme compared to the other GOP candidates on most issues (if anything, he's to the left of the field on health care, monetary policy and the Iraq war). His comments about immigrants and support of birtherism are clearly designed to appeal to racist elements in the party, but it's not like we haven't seen other racist candidates recently and the press was remarkably OK with it.

Over the past couple of decades, the press has gotten stunningly good at not noticing things they don't want to notice. You can get journalists to ignore all sorts of lies and bigotry if you just give them an out, but that's just the thing Trump refuses to do. His whole campaign up to this point has depended on being as memorable and entertaining as possible, the ultimate reality show villain in what is arguably the ultimate reality show.

There have been other naked emperors on the stage recently but they've all played it at least a little coy. Trump is basically running around, grabbing his crotch, shouting "Hey, baby, do you want a piece of this?" then skipping away singing "I'm naked, naked, naked."

The press can't ignore Trump's behavior, but if they want to maintain any credibility and consistency, they really need to stop ignoring a lot of other candidates' behavior as well.
It turned out to be a futile thread.

More naked emperor reporting -- at this point, the NYT is just trolling us

"... while Governor Bush's attire was tastefully sheer and minimal"

Breaking news: New York Times spots naked emperor at GOP royal court

Now that there are no establishment-approved candidates in contention for the GOP nomination, the naked emperor reporting has tapered off considerably, but it hasn't gone away entirely, In a couple of excellent recent posts, Paul Krugman points out the absurdity of focusing on Trump's protectionism while Cruz is out on the Ron Paul fringe, then offers an explanation [emphasis added] that suggests some things haven't changed all that much in the last six months.
But too many anti-Trump critics seem to have settled on one critique that happens not to be right: the claim that a turn to protectionism would cause vast job losses. Sorry, that’s just not a claim justified by either theory or history.

Protectionism reduces world exports, but it also reduces world imports, so that the effect on overall demand is a wash; textbook economic models just don’t say what conventional wisdom is asserting here.

History doesn’t support this line of attack either. Protection in the 1930s was a result, not a cause, of the depression; the early postwar years, when tariffs were still high and exchange controls were pervasive, were marked by very full employment in many countries.

Why, then, focus on such a weak argument against a truly despicable candidate? I think I know the answer: it’s an argument that doesn’t involve taking on bad things in the Trump agenda that differ from the agenda of other Republicans only in degree — as Matt O’Brien says, on tax policy Trump is just Paul Ryan on steroids.

But bad arguments are bad arguments, even if used against a bad guy. And the choice of this argument is telling us something about what’s wrong with a lot of people beyond Trump.

P.S. Along similar lines, check out this Chait column pointing out the disparity in the coverage of the very similar health care plans of Trump and Cruz.

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