The Biggest News Story That is Not Being Told

In February of this year, I started a writing the following post (which I have edited just now):

Acquittal of Trump Feels like the Beginning of a Dangerous Moment in the U.S.

I actually think that for most of the Trump presidency, the U.S. was in a dangerous situation. Trump is erratic and ignorant. Even if he didn’t start a catastrophe, he could mishandle a situation and create one. But here’s why I single out the recent Senate acquittal. Even if Republicans actively or passively supported Trump, in spite of his egregious acts of corruption, incompetence, and gross unfitness—I believed Republicans still could still redeem these failings and their party, if they stood up to or stopped Trump in a significant way at a critical time. Impeachment and conviction/removal of Trump was one such moment. Up until something like impeachment and removal, I had a small glimmer of hope for Republicans, at least a meaningful number, deep down respected the rule of law and Constitution, and would ultimately put the country ahead of their party. Senate Republicans, joining Democrats, to convict and remove Trump would have shown this.

But this did not happen. This action now suggests to me that Republicans, overall, either do not embrace the rule of law and Constitution or are too weak and craven to meaningfully defend it—which, to me, is another way of sayingthe Republicans, as a party, have essentially stepped away from being a liberal democratic party, and have become an authoritarian one instead. (Continued in the next comment post.)

10 thoughts on “The Biggest News Story That is Not Being Told

  1. (continued)

    If this is true, this has to be one of the biggest news stories, and news outlets should devote more time and space to this story. Largely, they haven’t; certainly not like this May 26, 2020 Bloomberg News op-ed I just saw today, American Politics Is Now Democrats Versus Authoritarians, which I recommend reading. (It’s short.)

    I want to comment on a few passages.

    One hallmark of authoritarian politics, in addition to an adversarial relationship with the truth, is ignoring the law as it applies to party interests while deploying it as a weapon against political opponents. For example, party politicians might ignore lawful subpoenas intended to expose their corruption while subsequently using subpoenas of their own to construct a phony case of wrongdoing by opponents.

    I could argue that the GOP has been using this approach before (maybe long before) Trump, but their authoritarianism seems more pronounced given their support and protection of him. In any event, expect to see this tactic in the upcoming months—with Republicans trying to subpoena and investigate Biden and Burisma, as well as Barr investigating the origins of the Russian investigation (which the author points out).

    Because neither the news media nor the nation’s larger political culture has reckoned with the GOP’s authoritarian evolution, the habitual response is to mislabel GOP authoritarianism as hypocrisy. Calling out hypocrisy is a pointless shaming mechanism for a party that has broken free of shame. Worse, it camouflages a war on democracy as democratic politics as usual.

    I really agree with all of this, and I want to make specific comments about each point:

    • While I agree the news media has failed to recognize and accept that the GOP transformation into an illiberal party, while the Democrats, overall, remain a liberal-democratic party, I do sympathize with their plight. I do not believe their current modus operandi, which also includes set of beliefs about journalism, politics, and political parties, cannot adequately handle this notion. To accept the difference in the parties would lead largely destroy their approach, which are based on the assumption that both parties largely the same—i.e., accept liberal democratic values, operate in good faith; respect the truth and facts; have an ability to feel shame, etc. They cannot accept this unless they can find a new way of covering the politics and the parties—and this new way also has to be economically sustainable as well (which can’t really be known). The news media is in a tough place. Still, without accepting this change, they are actually obscuring a major story—that Republicans have become an authoritarian party.
    • I agree using hypocrisy is somehow inadequate and inappropriate. It’s like describing an authoritarian Putin as a hypocrite if he only invoked laws and democratic norms when it suited him, but subverted it when it didn’t. Maybe cynicism is a better word? I think simply calling him an authoritarian is more appropriate.And yes, I agree that using hypocrisy to describe Republicans is ultimately misleading the public.
    • I think the news media and pundits are also making another error, similar to using hypocrisy to describe Republican actions. I’m thinking specifically of expressions of confusion about GOP continued support of Trump—the way this would ruin the Republican party, if not in the short term, then the long one. The congressional Republican support can be hard to understand if you assume that the Republicans are typical, liberal-democratic party. But if you assume they are largely authoritarian—that they are willing to subvert the rule of law, undermine democratic institutions and processes—then their position isn’t so confusing. Even if one doesn’t fully agree that the Republicans are authoritarian, I think it’s unwise to rigidly believe they are typical liberal-democratic. One should at least be open to the idea that they are not. (The case for this: Trump has history of publicly undermined legitimacy of elections—calling it rigged, before results; playing coy that he would accept the winner; claiming millions voted illegally for Clinton; and he and Barr de-legitimizing mail-in ballots. McConnell has refused to allow discussion and vote for a bill to secure elections as well; and of course the Senate Republicans acquitted Trump even when he used his office to pressure a foreign leader to politically damage Biden.)
    1. A quote from Stuart Stevens’s new book mentioned in this Max Boot op-ed seems apropos for this thread:

      “How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held.… [I]t had always been about power. The rest? The principles? The values? It was all a lie.”

      (emphasis added)

      This basically describes a party who is authoritarian.

      And yet they will continue use principles and values to justify their actions, when really, it’s about power. A good current example is the Republicans desire to investigate Joe Biden and his son because they’re concerned about corruption. But if they were concerned about corruption, there would support multiple investigations on Trump. Actually, if corruption really mattered to them, they likely would have impeached Trump. But like Stevens said the concern about corruption is a lie.

  2. A lot depends on what you mean by “Republicans.” One could argue the difference is negligible, as your actions speak for what you are, but there are the Republicans in elected office and there are the Republicans who vote them in.

    There is a connection between the conservative evangelical takeover of general Republican politics and the behavior of their elected officials. Evangelical churches have moved more and more toward fundamentalist interpretations precisely (and I suppose this could be debated but I’m not really willing) for authoritarian direction for Christian living. Consevative believers in every religion want to be told what to believe and how to act. Which is ironic because until these past three decades or so, Southern Baptists (the largest evangelical denomination) have stood for the autonomy of the local church, soul competency, and the preisthood of the believer, tenets that go against authoritarian leadership.

    I’m making this distinction because if the pendulum swings back within the party, I think it has to be via a changing of heart by the electorate. Here’s where you and I are going to differ (if we haven’t already). The country is becoming less religious. The church may be getting older (I honestly don’t know, but I suspect it is because the nation is getting older), but as churchgoing ranks get smaller, even if the nature of the evangelical base stays the same, its influence ought to shrink.

    If you look at how quickly the country swiveled on gay marriage and how suddenly it seems to have swiveled on Black Lives Matter, this seems possible. Not overnight, mind you. But maybe a few elected seats at a time. The idiot in chief lost the popular vote by three million votes. Whether he wins or loses this November’s elections, he’s going to lose the popular vote by even more. It’s a sign, I’m nearly convinced, that the Republican masses are creeping toward the conservative center while the Democratic masses are (perhaps to their detriment) creeping toward the liberal left.

    I don’t want to speculate on the election at all. I’m trying not to even think about it. My hopes were so high four years ago that I never recovered from the sense of betrayal and feeling of personal failure. But look at what’s happening: the idiot in chief is playing more than ever to his base, and his overall support wanes, at least according to what people are telling pollsters, which I have less faith in than ever.

    This isn’t really a response to your entire treatise. Whether it’s an underreported story or not, I’m not that interested, if only because my beleaguered soul can only handle so many outrages at a time, and my metaphorical throat is raw from screaming so desperately into the abyss. But in that last bullet, I think there’s room for a little sunlight. When I have moments to turn away from the abyss, I welcome whatever light I can get.

    1. A lot depends on what you mean by “Republicans.”

      I was thinking primarily of elected officials, especially congressional Republicans. I could act party leaders, especially on the national level. I haven’t thought much about citizens who are Republicans.

      This isn’t really a response to your entire treatise. Whether it’s an underreported story or not, I’m not that interested, if only because my beleaguered soul can only handle so many outrages at a time,…

      I understand we’re you’re coming from. Most people have to prioritize their attention and outrage, but you don’t think this story, if true, should be near the top of the list–at least in terms of attention. It should be one of the main stories the media should be trying to convey to the public–especially voters– in my view, also that Trump is essentially an authoritarian wannabe as well. If this is accurate, it shouldn’t matter what their policy positions are. They are a threat to the republic.

      And if this story is accurate, I really think it would fundamentally change coverage, and it would color every story about Trump, Republicans versus Democrats. The press still largely operates from the assumption/framework that Trump and Republican party are essentially normal, liberal-democratic party. My guess is that the vast majority of voters view them this was as well. If that’s no longer the case, that’s a big deal, right?

      1. I’d like to think so, but I don’t. People don’t see things this way, at least not in specific terms. They have a vague notion of what’s good for the country and what’s not, and the see things through this lens. This is actually why liberals’ rhetorical question about how conservatives can vote for officials whose policies work directly against them isn’t really a valid point. A lot of people vote for a greater ideal over their personal benefit, even if they don’t actually use those words or see it that way.

        The Republicans who are planning to vote for Biden might be doing so because they see an authoritarian party emerging from what they thought was just conservative politics, or they (more likely) see that the legislative and executive branches are not governing in good faith, which they see as bad for the country.

        The ones who are planning to vote for the incumbent don’t care or won’t agree with coverage pointing to an authoritarian slide. Shoot, if you ask the most conservative people in the Senate if their party favors authoritarianism, they’ll say no, not because they’re hiding anything — they just won’t believe it.

        As usual, I’m going to stick to letting people decide for themselves what’s good for the country and what’s bad, using whatever is at their disposal. It’s like the racism discussion we just had — at some point, it doesn’t matter what someone’s intentions are or what’s in someone’s heart. What matters is what they’re doing, and even reasonable conservatives can see what’s going on is bad.

        I hope.

    2. I’m making this distinction because if the pendulum swings back within the party, I think it has to be via a changing of heart by the electorate. Here’s where you and I are going to differ (if we haven’t already).

      Well, let’s see if we disagree. Ultimately, I think Republicans–the politicians and party leadership–are only going to change if they suffer huge losses at the polls. That’s basically it.

      Which is ironic because until these past three decades or so, Southern Baptists (the largest evangelical denomination) have stood for the autonomy of the local church, soul competency, and the preisthood of the believer, tenets that go against authoritarian leadership.

      Yeah, there’s a definite irony, here, but if we dig below the surface, isn’t this essentially about power? At some point, the state was a bigger threat to the autonomy (power) of Southern Baptist and other Christian denomination. But now the cultural and social influence and prominence of Christianity seems to be waning, the threat is non-Christian, non-whites. At this point, if they can use state, or anything, to push back, they will. I haven’t thought this throw, but off the top of my head this makes sense.

      But that is tied to Republican voters–a change in their hearts, as you say. I think we agree there. I don’t think this depends on decline of influence of evangelicals–or at least I don’t think that’s specific enough. I think the heart of the matter is the grievance and anxiety of white Christians–specifically their fear and resentment at social and cultural changes, creating an imminent sense of loss of their status, influence, and prominence. I think the Republican party, Republican politicians, and American politics overall will dramatically change, for the better, if these white Americans can work through and move past these grievances; or, the number of aggrieved white Americans dramatically shrinks.

    3. I’d like to think so, but I don’t. People don’t see things this way, at least not in specific terms.

      Put aside how people view the parties for a moment. If, in fact, there is considerable evidence that one party no longer embraces the rule of law, crucial democratic norms–if the quest for power far outweighs vital principles, norms, and institutions for a functioning democracy–then this should be a big story–from the point of view of a journalists, particularly in the context of prioritizing stories. This is what I mean by “big deal.” Are we on the same page here?

      Now, whether many citizens care about this or not is another question, and on some level I don’t care what their reaction is. The Russian interference in the 2016 election was an important story. I get the sense that many Americans don’t think it’s a big deal–not as big as I do, anyway. On some level, that doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about the people and institutions, who play a primary and critical role in informing the citizens of a democracy. What events or stories should receive the most emphasis?

      But this story actually goes beyond a matter of emphasis. The normal assumptions journalists apply to covering both parties would have to radically change–they’d have to portray one party as a threat to liberal democracy. One huge problem would be that this would create the impression that the journalists were being unfair and biased towards Trump and the Republicans. On the other hand, failing to do this would hide the threat of the Republican party.

      Suppose journalists found a way around this problem. Some people may not care. Again, I’m less interested in that; I’m more interested in journalists serving, not misleading, the citizenry on something that I think is a very important story. Does that make sense? And is this something you would agree with?

      As usual, I’m going to stick to letting people decide for themselves what’s good for the country and what’s bad, using whatever is at their disposal.

      Would you agree that this determination by individuals is greatly influenced by the decisions journalists make about what is important and what is good/bad?

  3. I used to work in US intelligence advising presidents on risk. The biggest threat to our country today is the Republican Party from The Independent (caveat emptor: I’m not familiar with this outlet.)

    In an event, I do agree with the article. (Fox New would be up there, as well.)

    Let me say it again: the Republican Party is the biggest threat the United States is facing. And without proper attribution, recognition, and a well-articulated and implemented counter-strategy, it could be terminal.

    There is no other reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts.

    An enemy of the United States might seek to sow discord between ethnic groups, or to wage a disinformation campaign, or to highlight moral inconsistencies that weaken the standing of the United States on the world stage. An enemy of the United States might try and degrade the capacity and public trust within our intelligence apparatus. It might use propaganda and weaponised information. It might seek to engage in fraud or other criminal acts to sway an election in their favour.

    Does any of that sound familiar?

    This was written in July 17, 2019, and it seems even more accurate.

    (The author is writing under a pseudonym. If he is or was an American, he now spells words like a Brit.)

  4. Another piece of compelling evidence the Republican party–and Fox News–are abandoning liberal democracy and embracing authoritarianism.

    Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign paper from Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

    (Note: I didn’t examine the entire report–I’m just going by their summary of their findings.)

    One of the main findings is that Trump, Fox News and the RNC spread disinformation more than social media (which I presume are entities like Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.).

    Throughout the first six months of the disinformation campaign, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and staff from the Trump campaign appear repeatedly and consistently on message at the same moments, suggesting an institutionalized rather than individual disinformation campaign. The efforts of the president and the Republican Party are supported by the right-wing media ecosystem, primarily Fox News and talk radio functioning in effect as a party press. These reinforce the message, provide the president a platform, and marginalize or attack those Republican leaders or any conservative media personalities who insist that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud associated with mail-in voting.

    Also, from Trump’s former National Security Adviser, General McMaster, here:

    By logic we can conclude that the RNC and Fox News–and AG Barr– are also aiding and abetting Putin by sowing distrust in the voting process. That’s where we are.

  5. From one of Utah’s senators:

    At best, this is a bad choice of words–particularly in the context of a president who is publicly undermining the legitimacy of the election, who won’t say he will accept the election results or commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and has been open to receiving assistance from a hostile foreign power to win an election, and has been undermining the US Postal Service to hinder mail-in ballots from getting on time. The next tweet sums up what I mean:

    It is reasonable to see this as indication that Republicans are giving up on liberal democracy. If you told me in 2015 that Republicans would do this, I would think you were being irrational.

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