Journalists close their eyes as Campaign 2016 reshapes America

Summary: There are many astonishing aspects of Campaign 2016. The resurgence of populism, with slightly fascist overtones. The unabashed racism. The overthrow of the lavishly financed dynasties candidate of the GOP establishment, and the strong insurgency from the Left against the Democratic Party establishment’s lavishly financed dynastic candidate. But journalists disinterest in these issues is perhaps the most amazing. Campaign 2016 is a choice, not a horse race.

Slate’s home page yesterday: it shows why the news makes us ignorant.

Slate Covers Campaign 2016 as a carnival
Slate’s mindless cover page on 21 February 2016.

It’s difficult to even list all the powerful cross-currents of this election. The resurgence of populism powers the rise of Trump, although the Left refuses to see it, preferring to mock Trump and run funny pictures of him.

Unfortunately populism has now as always has its dark side: nativism, racism, and even fascism. The good news is that we begin to see that we are sliding towards fascism (the first step to resisting it). Instead of dealing with these things, our journalists and political experts discuss the most trivial — even mindless — aspect of the election: the horse race among the candidates.

This election did not just happen; it’s the surfacing of stresses that have accumulated over decades, opening a too-large gap between rulers and the ruled. Such as the numbers about immigration that fuel Trump’s campaign. No matter who wins, 2016 will be a revolutionary election (Trump, not Sanders, is the revolutionary).

Instead of analysis of how this Campaign 2016 happened, with powerful rebellions in both major parties, we get this vapid warning from darling of the Left Ezra Klein:

“Donald Trump’s run for president has been so wild, so strange, so entertaining, that we’ve stopped noticing — or maybe just grown tired of pointing out — what a dangerous force he is in American politics. …he’s a dangerous personality perched atop an ugly ideology.”

Well, OK then. Perhaps Klein could look at Trump’s platform and explain why it’s dangerous. But then the establishment’s reaction to populism (and progressivism) is usually “it’s dangerous!”

Max Weber

A deeper process at work

If our journalists and political experts wanted to look deeper, beyond these obvious developments, there is another process (perhaps) at work. The philosopher Max Weber said that political legitimacy evolves through three stages: it originates from a charismatic leader, who passes it to those who rule by traditional authority. Eventually it decays until nothing remains but bureaucratic authority — the weakest form, easily eroded away by events, setting the stage for the rise of a charismatic leader to fill the vacuum.

This year both parties offered bureaucratic candidates, the now-departed Jeb and Hillary. The Democratic base responded with nostalgia, the elderly Sanders with his equally tired nostrums — an appeal to an exhausted traditional legitimacy.

The Republican base responded with bold experiments, a medley of outrageous candidates. From this Trump emerged, as he (probably accidentally) tapped into the long-suppressed power of American populism and became a charismatic leader to restore America.

The mystery solved

By now many or most people see the importance of this election. Which makes the almost issue-free coverage of the GOP race (largely, not exclusively) so strange. To understand what’s happening requires seeing this election as a choice we make. and understanding the issues. The various candidates are not horses, and cannot be sorted into goodies and baddies.

So why do journalists report the election in such vapid terms? Probably because that’s what we, consumers of the news (i.e., the product they sell), want to read. I suspect that we do not want to see what’s happening to America, and hiding this information is a service provided by journalists. Perhaps the importance — the intensity and sensitivity — of the issues makes it too hot for our mainstream experts to touch. Much easier to mock and talk about the delegate count.

Crisis in Mandarin


But this election seems likely to turn on the candidate that best appeals to the public’s hopes and fears, inchoate though they are today. My guess is that little or nothing will get resolved in 2016. This begins a new cycle, during which the public will decide what it wants — and politicians will both shape and be shaped by the public’s will.

The Mandarin characters for “crisis” do not mean “danger” and “opportunity”. But even so, that’s a powerful and optimistic way to see a crisis. The Republic has had such moments before and come out stronger than it began. If we try, it can again — though I suspect today we cannot imagine the result.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For ideas about what you can do see Reforming America: steps to new politics. To understand this election see the posts about Campaign 2016, especially these…


6 thoughts on “Journalists close their eyes as Campaign 2016 reshapes America”

  1. I & millions of young people disagree with your claim that Sanders nostrums are old, tired or in any way not possible to implement. The real revolutionary is not Trump.

  2. restless94110: “The real revolutionary is not Trump.”

    I need to disagree with this statement. Although I really like Bernie, he is a throwback to the “New Deal” days and is a one-hit wonder when it comes to discussing the issues. But I still favor him over Hillary because his campaign is about something other than Hillery’s bureaucratic excellence. Her prescriptions for the US are more of the same and that is what is causing the problems we face.

    I have a theory about why the news media are unwilling to talk about issues with the candidates. The problem is caused by two issues:
    1) Their 24×7 news cycle that needs an enormous amount of something resembling content at a relatively low production price
    2) The quantity of news organizations

    This puts the candidates in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining what topics will be covered in interviews. Networks are afraid they will lose a candidate if they press too hard on a topic and that the other networks will take advantage of that. Press all the candidates too hard and the network might well find itself out of the election and unable to feast on the electoral ratings bonanza.

    A similar, related theory, is that the networks have discovered that the public is more interested in personality than in issues and feel fortunate that personality stories are cheaper and easier to produce.

    But only time will eventually tell why yet another part of the system of American self-rule fell into disuse.

    1. Pluto,

      “Bernie is a throwback…”

      Exactly (nicely said). Sanders appeals to traditional sources of legitimacy that have long since been burnt out. While regeneration is always possible, I doubt it can be done with his grab-bag of tired ideas.

      Oddly, the Left prefers to stick with its fantasies rather than its long history of progressive — which could contend with populism, and with an alliance could prove decisive.

  3. You keep using the term old idea, to imply tired idea. As if. Old ideas that work are not tired. Heterodox economists have shown decisively that Sanders’ old ideas will work. Democracy is an old idea. You are foolish to conflate old with tired in order to imply unworkable and/or tried it, but it failed or some other utter nonsense. Neoliberal economic thought decrees Sanders’ ideas to be one thing when they are literally his is the only concrete idea back to prosperity and the greatness of America you are so rightly concerned about.

    1. restless,

      “Heterodox economists have shown decisively that Sanders’ old ideas will work.”

      What does that mean? Heterodox economics includes every form of non-standard economics, Marxist, feminist, Austrian, and whatever. I doubt these have “shown” anything, let alone “shown decisively”.

      As for the rest, I suspect my meaning was quite clear to most readers. Your fanciful misinterpretation of it is … amusing.

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