Comforting the Afflictor

William Blake, Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils, c.1826, Tate, London, 2011. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

First, this isn’t a horse race. What we see in 2020 election prognostication is a media as flummoxed as the Democrats about how to deal with a phenomenon like Donald Trump. The Fourth Estate has yet to shake itself out of covering this presidency, this election, as it would a normal one. The election is a horse race. It’s always a horse race. This one, 2020, is a horse race. Except this is not Situation Normal, even if it is AFU.

The Washington Post and ABC News have another poll to show us this morning. This one purports (as they all do) to give us some insight into where the 2020 presidential race is headed one year out:

The new poll highlights the degree to which most of the country already has made a judgment about the president’s performance and their voting preferences next year. Among the 39 percent of registered voters who approve of Trump’s job performance, Trump is winning at least 95 percent support against each of five possible Democratic opponents. But among the 58 percent of voters who disapprove of Trump, he receives no more than 7 percent support.

Etc., etc.

And yet, the House will release another tranche of impeachment inquiry transcripts today. Politico asks, “Since the release of the first two transcripts … Monday, have you seen a single stitch of information that helps President DONALD TRUMP? Have you found any information exculpatory for him? Can you name one single fact that’s changed the basic arc of this story?”

The impeachment inquiry the Ukraine affair spawned is only going to get worse for the White House. Polls purporting to provide insight into next November’s outcome are meaningless except as thermometer readings of how the patient, our very republic, is faring today.

That’s the trouble with normal, Bruce Cockburn sang, “it always gets worse.” And it will. The question is, for whom?

The problem with “normal” press coverage of Donald Trump is it throws gasoline on a flame. Trump’s informal interactions with the press are litanies of unchallenged lies.

“We’ll be showing that to you real soon.” [evidence that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a Never-Trumper]

“The whistleblower gave a false report.”

“I have the real polls.”

“It was a perfect phone call.”

Why must the Fourth Estate encourage Trump’s performance-lying? Virtually everything he says is a lie. Asking Trump questions they know he will lie about gives those lies oxygen, spreading them like those your right-wing uncle used to forward in chain emails. Broadcasting lies (not uttered under oath) is not news. It is comforting the Afflictor.

The problem, of course, is what to do about it. There is no journalistic or business model for reporting on a chief executive who is either a pathological liar or, worse, a methodically deliberate one.

CNN’s Daniel Dale live-tweets Trump’s MAGA rallies. He tries “to give Trump the maximum benefit of the doubt.” Why? A courtesy to the office, one presumes, not to the man.

Trump has “given us reason to doubt literally everything he’s saying” because he is “proactively lying about tiny stuff all the time.” But @ddale8 says “I still try to give Trump the maximum benefit of the doubt” – watch his full remarks here— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 4, 2019

Credit Dale’s tweeting with live-correcting Trump on the fly.

But even when the press tries to push back live, as talk-show show hosts did on Sunday, interviews with Trump administration officials are time I’ll never get back. Nothing new is revealed. It’s talking points and propaganda reinforced from coast to coast. The press persists in going through the motions of covering this administration as it would a normal one.

As worrisome are the Democratic presidential candidates running as if there is a normal to get back to. Jamelle Bouie comments this morning on the Democrats who have yet to admit that is not going to happen:

Arguably the most important divide in the Democratic primary field isn’t by ideology, but between those candidates who understand the obstacles ahead and those who don’t. Despite the example of the last 10 years, the centrist candidates are still running as if persuasion and compromise will win the day.

Good luck with that.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

One thought on “Comforting the Afflictor

  1. In poll after poll and month after month more then 50% of the voters say they will not vote for Trump in 2020.

    Trumps only pathway to reelection is through the electoral college just like it was in 2016.

    Which means that it really doesn’t matter who the Democrats nominate, because more then 50% of the voters will vote ‘against’ Trump and not ‘for’ the Democratic candidate whoever that may be.

    And that brings us to Biden/Buttigieg versus the Progressives.
    Or said another way the Neo-liberals versus the FDR socialists.

    May the best philosophy win.

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