Bride of Marginalizing the Mainstream, Mainstreaming the Margins

Yesterday, I argued that the enter-left’s cultural marginalization of the center-right is a form of identity politics that fuels the current vicious cycle of race/gender-based identity politics and makes progressives and conservatives alike worse.  Having called it a “retrograde exercise,” I want to expand on the point to examine where the vicious cycle leads.

Here’s a small passage from Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism — a book that is not about identity politics, but which cannot avoid the topic in a number of instances:

Inherent to the Enlightenment is the idea that all mankind could be reasoned with. The philosophes argued that men were all over the world, each blessed with the faculty of reason. It was the European right which believed that mankind was broken up into groups, classes, sects, races, nationalities, and other gradations in the great chain of being. The reactionary de Maistre railed against the notion that there were any ‘universal rights of man.’ In his most famous statement on the subject he declared, ‘Now, there is no such thing as “man” in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him. If he exists, I don’t know about it.’

De Maistre meant that we are all prisoners of our racial and ethnic identities. (He didn’t mention gender, but that would go without saying.) Indeed, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between today’s identity politics and the identity politics of the fascist past. As one fascist sympathizer put it in the 1930s, ‘Our understanding struggles to go beyond the fatal error of believing in the equality of all human beings and tries to recognize the diversity of peoples and races.’ How many college campuses hear that kind of rhetoric every day?

*** Indeed, the case for Enlightenment principles of individualism and reason itself is deemed anti-minority. Richard Delgado, a founder of critical race theory, writes: “If you’re black or Mexican, you should flee Enlightenment based democracies like mad, assuming you have any choice.

Today, there are neo-reactionaries on the right who reject the Enlightenment and seek a “Dark Enlightenment.”  They have no use for democratic republicanism, preferring a return to monarchy or the adoption of some form of corporate governance.  They are open about what they want.  They have virtually no purchase in mainstream politics (though Stephen Bannon’s comments on obscure Italian philosopher Julius Evola raised eyebrows in part because Evola is an influence on the neo-reactionaries).

Conversely, if you’re a writer immersed in identity politics who merely implies that the most likely way America’s race issues get solved is violent revolution, you can remain not only mainstreamed by the center-left, but also celebrated.  The New York Times may publish an op-ed noting that such identity politics are similar to those of the alt-right… but how many NYT readers have an epiphany based on a single column?  How many reflexively dismiss it due to confirmation bias?

That America’s center-left doesn’t notice this problem is a manifestation of the dynamic Megan McArdle described in the 2010 column I linked yesterday:

It’s obviously no surprise that the lunatic BS of our own side doesn’t strike us nearly as forcefully as the absolutely appallingly unforgiveable wingnuttery of the opposition.”

Insofar as the center-left dominates America’s cultural institutions, their blind spot drives the vicious cycle of anger and hostility I mentioned yesterday.  Equally significant, the center-left (and some of the center-right) remain blind to where the path of this retrograde cycle leads if we don’t seek an exit.

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Marginalizing the Mainstream, Mainstreaming the Margins

That title is from yesterday’s column by Dan McLaughlin at National Review.  RTWT (in part because there’s some stuff about The Federalist that I don’t think is reported elsewhere), but the column is a variation on “calling all conservatives racists desensitizes mainstream conservatives to the charge and helps open the door to racists.”  Having written in that subgenre, I don’t have much to add on the basic theme today.

However, I would add that the “crying wolf” dynamic is not the only way that marginalizing the mainstream helps mainstream the margins.  I think back to this subtly intersectional 2010 piece by Megan McArdle about the effect of center-left journalism and academia marginalizing conservative journalism and think-tankery:

The point is that when one group has privilege, and the other doesn’t, the response isn’t symmetrical, a fact that the dominant group tends to spend a lot of time remarking upon. The out-group is angrier and prizes its group identity–“conservative”–over weaker affiliations like “journalist” or “sociologist.” The angrier the out-group gets, the more uncomfortable and hostile the dominant group gets … which, of course, makes the out-group even angrier.”

Seven and one-half years later, the phenomenon of conservatives adopting the anger and victimhood of other marginalized groups is even more glaringly obvious.  It is not merely the case that conservatives have come to discount progressives’ claims of racism.  It is also the case that the marginalization of conservatives in our cultural institutions fuels a vicious cycle that makes progressives and conservatives worse people.

Making identity central to one’s worldview is a retrograde exercise that ultimately debases our common humanity; this was apparent long before McArdle’s column, let alone McLaughlin’s.  The only thing that’s really changed in the intervening years is that the supposed mainstream (even as broadly defined to include a swath of the Right) has headed further in the wrong direction.

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A Tale of Two Trumps

There are so many posts I could write about Mollie Hemingway’s latest at The Federalist, “Trump Renders Media Blind To All But Chaos.” This is the one I did write.

She essentially argues that last week, the media was so obsessed with the narrative of “Trump White House in Disarray” that they missed what the administration accomplished on policy.  RTWT.  I basically agree with this thesis, even if both sides of it are a bit overstated for dramatic effect, imho.

Mostly, I want to agree with the headline (although I don’t know for sure who wrote it).  Pres. Trump does — to one degree or another — have that effect on media, which focuses more on his leadership and character than his agenda.

In particular, while reading Hemingway’s argument, one of my main thoughts was “Why isn’t Trump this clever?”  Trump will mention that the economy or the stock market are doing well, but his overall message discipline is poor.  Ramesh Ponnuru made a similar point last Friday, asking why Trump didn’t use his bully Twitter account to rebut the media on policy matters.

Unfortunately, these questions are fairly easy to answer.  First, Trump likes to make everything about him.  The media obliges him because it makes for good ratings.  The broadcast media also obliges him because audiovisual media gravitates toward stories where they have pictures and sound.  Accordingly, coverage of the imperial presidency tends to devolve to “what the president did and said today” out of laziness and habit.  This has been true for decades.

(You can argue that the media also obliges him out of bias.  There’s likely some truth to it.  But the media did cover some of Trump’s major policy moves, almost always negatively and often inaccurately.  And that would happen to any GOP POTUS.  The media’s personal focus on Trump is different because Trump is different.)

Second, as I’ve noted many times (as has virtually everyone), Trump has only the most tenuous grasp on policy and policy-related matters.  I don’t know whether this is voluntary or involuntary.  But last week, Trump revealed in an interview with Sean Hannity that he doesn’t have much grasp on how the national debt works (and in that peculiar Trumpian verbiage that careens from non sequitur to gibberish within a single paragraph).

His incoherence turns up in interview after interview.  It’s not particularly surprising given that his debate answers during the 2016 campaign also tended to be word salad.  This is the man the GOP nominated and who won the general election.

That this incoherence was well-known makes the media chatter about the 25th amendment now seem far-fetched.  But it also explains why people would believe that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”  And Trump’s Twitter rants are why people would believe the White House is — as Sen. Bob Corker called it — “an adult day care center.”  The fact that when Trump does articulate a position, it often seems to be at odds with his cabinet explains why people might believe his cabinet is containing what would otherwise would be an entirely chaotic presidency.

Dickens could have summed up the two narratives Hemingway describes: It was the best of Trump, it was the worst of Trump.  The media could do a much better job of providing a more balanced portrait of this administration.  They probably will not until Trump does.  He’s made some effort at the outset of the push for tax reform, but his history calls his ability to sustain any such effort into doubt.

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Democrats Are Not Playing Checkers

For decades before the election of Pres. Trump, Thomas B. Edsall has been covering how the Democrats have been losing the white working class vote.  His latest, “Democrats Are Playing Checkers While Trump Is Playing Chess,” is an interesting survey of Democratic thought on the subject (rtwt), but is also strange in one respect.

Edsall refers to a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month documenting the growth of the partisan divide, and presents graphics on the overall growth of partisanship.

But Edsall also observes that “[m]uch of the current polarization is driven by difference of opinion on issues of race and immigration.” And the analyses from Democrats and political scientists in the column also gravitate toward these issues; the column’s title refers to Trump exploiting race-related issues while the Dems talk about economics.

Accordingly, I’d suggest Edsall should have shown his readers the Pew survey’s graphs showing the changes in public opinion on issues of race and immigration.  Here they are:

Majority says country needs to continue making changes for racial equality

The seemingly obvious takeaway from the Pew survey is that in recent years, Democrats’ opinions on issues of race and immigration have shifted dramatically.  Republicans’ opinions have not changed nearly as much.  (And party identification has not shifted radically in the past few years.)  Democrats might argue that Republicans’ opinions should have tracked theirs, but they can’t deny their own opinions are the ones that have changed more.

The Democrats and political scientists Edsall surveyed have plenty of theories of how Trump won.  They have plenty of theories about why white working class voters left them over these hot-button issues.  But until they account for their own relatively sudden polarization on these issues, they won’t even be playing checkers.

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Weinsteingate: Liner Notes

I turned out a piece on Harvey Weinstein — or more accurately the reaction to the Weinstein scandal — for The Federalist today.

For reasons of length, I cut a couple of grafs wondering whether Hollywood is particularly susceptible to sex harassment scandals.  It is, as Josh Barro wrote, “there are industries with cultures that involve after-hours social activities that blur the lines between business and leisure and can easily appear inappropriate for colleagues who could be suspected of sexual involvement.”  There’s now just a line about it being a business (and by the business, I mean the industry) that is built in part on the objectification of beautiful people for a mass audience.

I also cut a bit about Clooney claiming he discounted the Weinstein rumors because actresses are often smeared as having traded sex for roles.  In fairness to Clooney, Gretchen Mol claims she was smeared with just such a rumor — involving Weinstein.

But let’s not pretend that sex is not traded for jobs well below the A-List.  Let’s also not pretend that every case is non-consensual (though in many cases we can’t ignore the pre-existing power imbalances).  And let’s not pretend that those consensual cases do not unfairly weigh on the minds of other actresses and actors when confronted with a Weinstein type.

Mostly, the column should be seen as a counterpart to what I wrote on Friday about the inevitable, uncomfortable questions raised by this type of scandal.  I started this sideblog in part as a way to develop my thinking in ways that might inform columns.

This is a case where having picked through the moral ambiguities of this type of scandal, and even my own moral failings, gave me a leg up in a case involving a de facto deadline.  Otherwise, it would have been an easy trap to lump everyone into the category of “enabler,” esp. when so many Hollywood folks make for unsympathetic subjects.  People in Weinstein’s world should all be taking a self-inventory, and some of the less-culpable ironically have tougher questions to address about how Hollywood faces the future.

(Of course, it’s possible that Hollywood tries to shrug Weinstein off as just one bad apple.  But “wokeness” may have gained too much traction in Tinseltown for that.  This may end up representing a generational shift in power not seen in Hollywood since the days of Easy Rider.)

As a bonus, I’ll suggest that anyone interested in Weinsteingate check out how NBC rejected Ronan Farrow’s story.

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The “Culture War” is Interested in You.

Business Insider’s Josh Barro and Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman both wish politicians would drop the so-called “culture war”* and get back to the business of government.  It’s a grand dream… and a pipe dream.

You may not be interested in the culture war.  It doesn’t matter.  The culture war is interested in you.

Barro writes that in the long run, he thinks voters would be happier with the government if public officials made: (1) concrete promises; (2) about matters voters care about; (3) that are within the government’s power to deliver; and (4) then actually deliver them.  That’s in the final section of his column.

The two prior sections are sub-headlined: (1) voters asked for this [i.e., cultural politics]; and (2) the electorate has been reactive to social trends, not policy.  Which is another way of saying voters don’t seem to want what he thinks would make them happy (and he also presumes voters these days aren’t on some level made happy by being unhappy).  The subtext may also be that voters focus more on the short-term; this may be true, but does not account for identity politics not being a short-term phenomenon.

Rothman, despite sharing Barro’s general dream, adds that “neither activist voters nor the arbiters of cultural-political discourse are interested in recoupling politics and public policy. That’s a failed business model.”  He further suggests that the media flogs identity politics to draw audiences in the attention economy (and this is partially true, as I’ve suggested on prior occasions).

So voters, activists, the commentariat, and the media more generally are all invested in identity politics.  It’s not clear who Barro or Rothman think their market is.

Rothman continues:

Barro suggested that it should be policymakers’ mission to make politics about government again. I would add that a consequence of that mission’s success would be to make politics boring again. It would help Americans to have a realistic understanding of governmental functions in a country that no longer teaches its citizens basic civics. It would also allow the press to neutralize the efforts of politicians to incite controversies that exacerbate these tensions.”

This is flawed (e.g., Rothman’s own thesis concedes “revenue-starved” media do identity politics for ratings/money, which is why Trump’s coverage dwarfed his 2016 rivals, who were mostly policymakers), though there’s a good point implied within.

Identity politics tend to totalitarianism.  Identitarians refuse to recognize the politics/culture dichotomy.  Politicians can try to ignore them but… isn’t that how we got here?

Aren’t the protests at NFL games related to complaints about policing long ignored by politicians (esp. urban machine politicians)?  Isn’t Trump largely the product of politicians having ignored people in swing states on issues like immigration and trade?  Isn’t the ascendance of white identity politics (and worse) largely a product of the political/corporate/media elite accepting left-wing identity politics and ignoring the reaction from working-class whites?

Rothman strikes far closer to the mark in complaining of “a country that no longer teaches its citizens basic civics.”  Ideally, we should not be seeking that education from politicians, but from educators.  And yet the institution of education in America is generally a dumpster fire, particularly on matters of civics.

If you are looking for an example of how politicians’ benign neglect of identity politics works out, here it is.

As the New Left (which is where the current version of identity politics finds its roots) went from seizing campus administration buildings in the Sixties to running those campuses in the Eighties, the Right did very little.  Conservatives wrote a lot, and said a lot.  But on the “doing” front, the Right was closer to ignoring.

As a result, few right-leaners now go into academia, and the smaller pool of conservatarian thinkers was often content to land in think tanks, where relations with the GOP gave them much greater short-term political influence, with the emphasis on “short-term.”  Meanwhile, schools were dumping core curricula and becoming more hostile to or mocking of the net benefits of Western civilization, of which American civics are (or should be) one of the crown jewels.  In the process, they have become narrow-minded, intolerant, and increasingly violent places — the exact opposite of what they were established to be.

The Right largely ceded the field to the Left.  In K-12 education, you had social conservatives traditionally more concerned with fights about evolution in textbooks and such; their successors would become homeschoolers fleeing the education blob.

The Right is generally reluctant to get politics involved in education, despite the pervasiveness of (various forms of) public funding thereof.  We thought we were protecting academic freedom; we got ideological monoliths that increasingly shun any debate.  We valued a certain form of classic liberalism over cultural conservatism; as a result, we are losing both.

America now has generations of graduates whose politics are are skeptical of or hostile to the American project.  Our nation expects more understanding of and identification with America from immigrants seeking permanent residency or citizenship than we expect from the far larger pool of Americans who are citizens by birth.

Although I would join Barro and Rothman in preferring a stronger separation between politics and culture, that water flowed under the bridge long ago; rerouting it will take a lot of work.  It will also take a recognition that culture and politics are not an upstream/downstream phenomenon and that each informs the other.  Politicians trying to bury their heads in the sand will be swept away with the tide of identity politics.

[*Regular readers know I’m not a fan of the “culture war” metaphor, but such is the power of a meme to briefly signify a concept I didn’t want to be bogged down in defining. I’m not a fan of the term “identity politics” either, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.]

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What About Bob?

The war of words between Pres. Trump and retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has plenty of people talking. The problem is that almost all the talk is about Bob.

Anti-Trump folks and Trump skeptics tend to note that Corker was an early adopter of Trump, was a classic case of a GOP always feigning disappointment at various bits of Trump misbehavior, and perhaps even a living symbol of what happened to the GOP under Trump.

Trump supporters find Corker’s retorts to be “self-serving” and “disrespectful.”  They also speculate that Corker was retiring because he didn’t get named Secretary of State, knew he would lose a primary, or he was too cowardly to brave one. (Many of this crowd, btw, remains angry about his role in the bipartisan pact to review Pres. Obama’s Iranian nuke deal, tho Corker voted against the deal itself.)

This coverage isn’t surprising.  It’s right in line with the old adage I’ve referenced several times before: “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.”  I get it.  If I was being paid to write about this story, I’d have to be writing about the personalities.

Instead, I have the luxury of noting that what really matters here is whether Corker’s comments are correct.

Does Trump run his administration like “a reality show”?  Is the White House “an adult day care center”?  Is “every single day at the White House *** a situation of trying to contain him”?  Could Trump’s threats toward other countries set the nation “on the path to World War III”?  Has Trump “hurt, in several instances, *** hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway” by attacking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Twitter?  Does Trump “tweet[] out things that are not true”?

Although the WWIII comment might be hyperbolic, does anyone see Trump supporters make any sort of effort to deny the substance of Corker’s criticisms?  Not really.

Nobody really denies how this White House is run (or not run) by Trump.  It’s as much an open secret as Harvey Weinstein’s reputation.  I noted the problem of a president disconnected from his own cabinet — and the power it vests in the latter — back in May.  Trump tweets screwing up Middle East diplomacy was known about in June.  Everyone knows Trump is a BS artist, on and off Twitter.

Trump critics can have their moment of Schadenfreude now that Corker is getting his karma.  Trump supporters can enjoy bashing Corker for being self-interested, old and busted.  But Corker will be gone soon enough, while the problems no one really disputes remain.

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Behind the NYT’s Communism Nostalgia

Plenty of conservatives have written about the New York Times’ 100th anniversary nostalgia for the totalitarian communist regimes of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  While providing the necessary historical perspective on the horrors these regimes perpetuated, I have not seen many pieces asking why the NYT has engaged in the project.

Back in August, Robert Tracinski theorized that it’s simply because they can — that the passage of time now allows them the attempt (presumably focused on the younger and dumber).  But I think he hits closer to the mark simply in observing that 1989 was “the year reality pulled the rug out from under all of the earnest young socialists.”

On the Right — particularly in the Trump era — there has been an increasing amount of discussion of the way conservatism’s Reagan-era successes led to the eventual collapse of the Buckley/Meyer/Reagan fusionism that lifted Reagan to the White House.  Fiscal, defense and social conservatives made common cause, but the success of tax reform and the policies that ultimately helped bring forward the end of the Cold War left the GOP with mostly the unpopular factions of the coalition (deficit hawks and the Religious Right) left unsatisfied.

In retrospect, it’s surprising the populism that began to assert itself in the early 90s (via Pat Buchanan within the party and H. Ross Perot outside it) didn’t become ascendant earlier.

But Reagan-era successes, particularly those leading to the defeat of totalitarian communism, were just as hard on the Democratic Party.  They sampled and now have rejected Bill Clinton’s third-way policy agenda.  A host of factors (an open seat, the failures of the GW Bush administration, a financial crisis) gave Pres. Obama the opportunity to take one more swipe at the the health insurance industry, albeit without the “public plan” he wanted; it’s failing.

More significantly, the failure of international communism created a vacuum on the Left at pretty much the moment the New Left succeeded in capturing many cultural institutions, including higher education.  This was the moment where the Left turned to de-legitimizing the achievements of Western civilization and its institutions in earnest.  They were so successful that approximately two generations later, so-called “identity politics” are all the rage, with the emphasis on “rage.”

In 2016, neither of the major Democratic campaigns effectively exploited identity politics.  Indeed, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ran afoul of it on various occasions, feeling the wrath of what should be the party’s activist base.  There were many reasons for this failure, from Clinton and Sanders not understanding how identity politics differs from the old movement politics to the inherent problems in translating identity politics into policies a majority want.

My theory, which is mine, is that the New York Times understands the practical problems of identity politics and fear that fmr Trump advisor Stephen Bannon was correct in identifying identity politics as a tempting, but fatal trap for a losing Democratic Party.

While the Gray Lady has been running a series trying to re-contexualize the communist past, it has been running columns like the Mike Lilla op-ed that he turned into a book-length critique of identity politics.  And it was the New York Times, of all outlets, that published a column comparing the thinking of identity politics icon Ta-Nehisi Coates to that of alt-right weasel Robert Spencer.

What can possibly compete with the revolutionary, romantic radicalism of identity politics?  Communism.  And Tracincki was right in noting that Millennials have been made open to it by out awful left-leaning educational system (and in fairness, a Wall Street panic not seen in decades).  And thus the Times leaps forward to re-educate the lumpenproletariat on the coolness of communism.

Mind you, the NYT’s seeming preference for a totalitarian ideology focused on class instead of race may be entirely practical, not principled.  Progressive politics have long had the qualities of a protection racket, wherein the more revolutionary agitators play the “bad cop” while the center-left establishment plays the “good cop” that saves capitalism (albeit less and less of it as the years pass).

But the Times may see Pres. Trump’s upset victory as demonstrating that Clintonian neoliberalism doesn’t motivate the Democratic base and that white identity politics may trump left-wing identitarianism.  The NYT may see a rejection of identitarianism as necessary now for Dems to not lose quite so many working-class whites that they lose political power.  If that means that a fresh coat of paint has to be airbrushed onto the disgraceful history of communism, so be it.

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Harvey & Milo & Roger & Me

I started off yesterday thinking I might write about the decades of sex harassment allegations against movie honcho Harvey Weinstein.  As the day wore on, I thought I might write about the documentation of how much the alt-right was encouraged at Breitbart.  And at the end of the day, I decided to write about both stories, and the string of sex harassment scandals at Fox News Channel that started with Roger Ailes.

What I think about is the fact that in any of the above stories, the scandal tended to be an open secret, that people beyond the victims knew something was rotten, but said nothing because of the power imbalances at work.

I think about Ailes not getting busted until he wronged someone with degrees from Stanford and Oxford, who had an immensely wealthy husband.  I think about Weinstein not getting busted until his company started falling on hard times after a string of flops.  I think about the Breitbart crowd not getting busted until someone decided to do an anonymous document dump.  The circumstances often have to turn out just so for exposure to occur.

I think about Jonah Goldberg’s periodic reminders that when Lord Acton said power corrupts, he was really referring to how it corrupts those who want to be close to power.  I think about — as I do periodically — Michael Brendan Dougherty’s 2010 column about the problem righty media folk often face: sell out to the movement or sell out the movement. 

I think about the role donors play in conservative media, even if it’s never affected me (afaik).  They’re a big deal in ideologically left media also, I suppose (I can think of a case or two).  But I don’t assume Breitbart is the only place where donors’ views seem to matter, even if their influence elsewhere is more subtle, indirect, or simply anticipated.

And I think of how, in any business that depends on relationships and networks, maintaining those relationships may cause people to go easy on each other.  It’s not even mercenary in many cases.  People are always easier on their friends or political allies than their rivals or enemies.  We humans are flawed.

I think about how at least one center-left outlet giving the Weinstein story big, outraged coverage is rumored to have plenty of skeletons in its closet, which go unpublicized for center-left versions of the reasons listed above.  Plenty of outlets, plenty of rumors, really.

Lest you think I am jockeying a high horse myself, I tend to feel mildly complicit.  Hanging around the outskirts of media for over a decade, there are conversations I haven’t started or joined, sometimes because I don’t want people to feel awkward, sometimes because I think rumors not related to business aren’t necessarily my business, and sometimes because maybe I wouldn’t like the answers.

So I’m not trying to be judgmental here.  Confronting and exposing these toxic cases presents collective action problems.  And to the extent that I dip my toe into the punditry arena, this is the business I’ve chosen.  It’s not like lawyering doesn’t have its share of ethical and moral quandaries too.

OTOH, I don’t want an understanding of the collective action problem or of our human foibles to become an excuse for them, either.  These are just the sorts of thoughts I have when stories like these get exposed.  Maybe I’m not alone in those thoughts.  I hope not, anyway.

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President Trump’s Biggest Problem Remains Donald Trump

Writing about Pres. Trump’s lack of character and leadership skills is difficult because it seems like beating a dead horse.  But not writing about it occasionally would be like writing about Puerto Rico without mentioning Hurricane Maria.

One of the recent reminders of this is the recently published study from the Pew Research Center on media coverage of Trump.  During the first three months of the administration, Trump got coverage that was 62% negative; prior presidents got coverage that was 20-28% negative.

Conservatives will point to this as evidence of media bias against Trump, as it is.  But there’s an even more lopsided statistic in this study that got little attention:

When reporting on any event, a reporter can choose any number of ways to orient the storyline. This study classified stories into one of two main frames: the president’s leadership and character or his core ideology and policy agenda. Overall, journalists structured their narratives far more around President Trump’s leadership and character than his policy agenda (74% vs. 26%, respectively).”

In addition:

The study also found that, overall, Trump and his administration played a large role in the stories that ended up getting reported on each day. Nearly half the time (45% of all stories) the reporter produced the piece in response to something the president or his staff said or did.

I tend to think that these basic trends have continued past the first three months.

Whatever else one may want to say about the media, it should not be surprising that the vast majority of the Trump coverage is about his character and leadership instead of policy.

Trump is not a policy guy.  That’s not to say his administration hasn’t done some good things on the policy front; it has.  But Trump does not drive narratives about his policy accomplishments, because he’s not a policy guy.  It’s also why conservative Trump skeptics may give him less credit for those conservative policies (and nominations) than other presidents might get.

Instead, Trump often seems more engaged with Twitter feuds than in his job duties.  That disengagement is a big part of why  — despite the efforts of the latest chief of staff — his White House continues to have conflict among the staff (and between the staff and Trump).  That’s a big part of why that conflict gets leaked to the media… when Trump isn’t live-tweeting it.  That’s a big part of why many administration positions, including some major ones, go unfilled.

For Trump, it’s almost always personal, not business.  Thus, he will attack Sen. Jeff Flake, who has generally been a reliable vote, but not Sen. Rand Paul, who has been unreliable.  And his disengagement is why he’s not driving a legislative agenda, while staffers complain his non-agenda is being thwarted.  Moreover, when legislation does pass, it is more likely to reflect someone else’s priorities because Trump fails to assert his.

Trump’s supporters like to claim that the attention on character and leadership elevates style over substance, though they would almost certainly claim otherwise if Trump had a (D) after his name.  Yet it is clear that Trump’s character and leadership problems degrade his job performance.

This is the elephant in the Oval Office.  Not discussing it won’t make it go away.  And it’s tough to blame the media for not focusing on policy when Trump doesn’t either.

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