Top Stories of the Year, #3
I have been counting down the Top Stories of 2017. Today brings us to #3.
The beginning of this year presented Democrats and their sympathizers in the media with both an important job and a big opportunity. Donald Trump governs in a style that somehow manages to combine authoritarian bluster with a total lack of self-discipline. He requires an effective political opposition to keep him in check, but which also gives the opposition plenty of ammunition to work with.
So how is that the left spent most of 2017 managing to blow it?
The year began with the left screaming that Trump got elected because of the dissemination of “fake news” on the Internet. Then they immediately and repeatedly published false or uncorroborated news stories of their own. I focused on a specific one: BuzzFeed’s publication of a dossier of supposed intelligence on Trump, which was passed on with the admission that BuzzFeed hadn’t bothered to verify any of it, but “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
[This] makes for an interesting contrast to the outrage against Facebook for merely allowing its users to share dubious news stories, for which crime it has to bring back the old mainstream media “fact-checkers” to serve as gatekeepers for all of Facebook’s millions of users. Yet when BuzzFeed promotes news that may very well be fake—well, hey, you don’t expect them to be like the old media gatekeepers, do you?
Actually, I do expect them to be like the old media gatekeepers—exactly like them, like the actual reality of their practice, not their idealized self-image. I expect them to have the same attitude as Dan Rather and the New York Times all those years ago. Fake news is really bad, unless it’s about someone we hate.
The result is that “fake news,” which began as the rallying cry of the left trying to explain away the presidential election, has been taken up as a rallying cry by the president and his supporters to dismiss any report they don’t like in the mainstream media. It was the beginning of a long series of own goals.
Dissecting another piece of “fake news,” this time about how the House Obamacare reform bill would “make rape a pre-existing condition,” I analyzed how this helps the left get trapped in Perpetual Rage Mode.
As someone who attempts to interact with the other side pretty regularly on social media—and not always just to score rhetorical points—I’ve begun to notice a distinct pattern. People on the left will interact with someone on the right just long enough to be able to find some sign, some slip of the tongue, some violation of accepted speech codes (like not being a prig about Cinco de Mayo) that allows them to dismiss that person as racist, sexist, homophobic, or just insensitive—which provides an excuse to ignore anything he has to say. The conclusion is always the same: all arguments from the right can be dismissed without consideration because they come from bigots.
They need to stop doing this, and not for our sake—if you’re on the right, you’re probably used to coping with an omnipresent background radiation of political hostility—but for their own sake. It is a spectacularly unconvincing method of argument that drives people back into their own social media “filter bubbles.” It doesn’t convince anyone. It just convinces them not to talk to you any more. And then you end up on an evening in November, stunned at the fact that so many people voted for a candidate whose sole political function is to stick a finger in your eye.
The beginning of the problem is that the left was not content to view themselves as a traditional political opposition. Instead, they had to glamorize themselves as “the Resistance,” which implies a hostility to the entire system of government under which Trump is elected—which I suppose is why they began by protesting the peaceful transition of power in a republic.
If you’re “the Resistance,” then you might set yourself up to spy against your own government—which was my best theory New York Times exposed classified information that will merely have the effect of making things more difficult for overseas aid workers.
The whole report is inexplicable, and you get the sense that the reporters just wanted to tell a splashy, thriller-like story. Except that there’s a larger pattern: it has become acceptable to open the floodgates of classified information because Trump. This is the same paper that just outed the CIA bureau chief for Iran, citing as their rationale that he was “leading an important new administration initiative against Iran.” In a sane universe, that would be the reason not to report it.
This is more evidence that the election of Donald Trump has broken something in the American left. The same people who style themselves “The Resistance” have decided to treat the entire administration as an enemy country and appoint themselves as a freelance intelligence agency dedicated to revealing its secrets. They are placing partisan enmity, the desire to find or make trouble for the current administration wherever they can, above the interests and national security of their own country.
What is it that is broken in the left that causes them to get caught in a loop—a “pattern of action, over-reaction, and counter-reaction—of Trump, Anti-Trump, and Anti-Anti-Trump”?
The entire Trump phenomenon is a live-action version of the old parable about the boy who cried wolf. Spend decades telling everyone that Bush is Hitler or that Mitt Romney is a racist, and you’ll find that there is nowhere left to go when you try to warn everyone that Trump is worse. Crank your reaction to every Trump statement or speech all the way up to eleven, and people dismiss you as noise and tune you out. So there’s no reserve of extra outrage to tap when Trump really does do something awful….
I have suspected for a while that Trump’s election seems to have broken something in the left, and I think I can finally put my finger on exactly what it is. He so thoroughly seems to confirm all of their fondest caricatures of the right that they think he excuses them from having to react objectively and thoughtfully to new facts, or from having to understand the actual arguments, ideas, and attitudes of anyone who disagrees with them. This means that they’re not figuring out how to appeal to anyone who is not already with “the resistance.”
I would say that Trump outsmarted the Resistance, but that doesn’t seem to take much work. The Resistance has framed the issue so cleverly that they are on one side, and Trump is on the other—along with the national anthem, the flag, and military veterans….
It was an ill-conceived form of protest, bound to backfire. The symbolism is all wrong. By its very nature, it does not come across to most Americans as a protest against excessive use of force by the police. It comes across as a protest against the national anthem. And since the national anthem is, well, our national anthem, it comes across as a protest against America….
If anybody thinks this is going to hurt Trump with the people who voted him into office, then this is going to be a long eight years.
In retrospect, the warning of this total incompetence in the use of symbols was the brief fad of wearing a safety pin after the 2016 election. In theory, this is a symbol that tells oppressed minorities that they are “safe” with you. But a safety pin is also a good way to send the message, “I’m a big baby.”
But wait, the disastrously misplaced symbolism gets even better.
To give you an idea of how far the Resistance has disappeared up its own backside, several prominent left-leaning figures are now suggesting that “The kneel will now become a sign of opposition to Trump.” But kneeling, of course, is an ancient sign of submission, not resistance. So you get suggestions like this, and I honestly can’t tell whether it was meant ironically or not. “Wouldn’t it be great if taking a knee became the symbol of resistance to Trump & wherever he want, wherever people gathered, they did it?”
That’s what happens when blind, unthinking opposition become more important to you than actual principles and good sense. You end up resisting Trump so much that people kneel before him wherever he goes.
And they actually did it, kneeling before Attorney General Jeff Sessions “as if he were the viceroy of an absolute monarch.” This led me to conclude: “I hereby declare this political opposition to be mentally incompetent and unable to manage its own affairs.”
The ultimate lesson is something I figure out while doing a segment for an online video special from Sports Illustrated.
What struck me about the discussion before my segment is how everyone in that office—way up on the 60th floor somewhere, with Manhattan spread out below them—really seemed to think that we’re all having a great conversation about race and policing because of this. But it’s a conversation they’re having with themselves. They somehow forgot that a conversation is supposed to have two sides and that maybe they should listen to the other one.
The thing that struck me after my segment is how resistant they all were to anyone bearing the message that people outside of their bubble are not having the same conversation and don’t see the protests the same way. There are big, obvious reasons why normal people would view refusing to stand for the anthem as a sign of disrespect for the country. Anyone paying attention to the reaction of viewers and fans would decide to rethink this form of protest and find some other way to make their point. But for years, the left has trained itself in the habit of assuming that the only reason anyone disagrees with them is because of racism. As a consequence, those who live in this bubble tend to reflexively dismiss anyone who brings them a contrary message from the outside world.
Their ideology and the groupthink of their closed-in peer groups insists that they show contempt for the very country and the very people they’re supposed to be winning over to their side. That’s how they can use basic symbols with such apparent incompetence and be out of step with at least half the country and still convince themselves that they’ve reached a consensus.
The conundrum created for the right by the presidency of Donald Trump will be the next step in our countdown of this year’s top stories.