Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chris Hayes and Hillary Clinton had an interesting moment during yesterday's interview. Hayes asked Clinton whether (to paraphrase) she believed that she lost votes because Trump and Republicans had signaled that they would create scandal after scandal to bring her down as President, so that a vote for Clinton was a vote for endless scandals, even if constant investigations were not merited.

Clinton immediately responded, basically -- No, no. Her example was that Trent Lott vigorously opposed her as a prospective Senator, but after her term in the Senate, admitted that he had found her to be someone he could work with on legislation. So, the argument goes, she would be able to overcome scorched earth tactics.

These two viewpoints are not incompatible. Clinton may well have lost the votes of potential supporters who could not bear the prospect of ginned up 'scandals' throughout her presidency, as we have suggested in This Is Gonna Hurt You More Than It Hurts Me.

Chris Hayes' point may be correct. And Clinton may be correct that the efforts to make her presidency a failure as the primary goal may well have fallen short. But that would not have been for a lack of trying. It could be that after eight years of constant obstruction for obstruction's sake with Obama as president, Republicans in Congress could have been faced with an electorate that eventually caught on to their shenanigans over the next four to eight years. And who knows. The current political environment under Trump may be just what is needed for the Republican political gamesmanship to be recognized for what it is - unless the Republican tactics get lost in scandals of money laundering, collaboration with Russian spy agencies, and blackmail. In that case, Republicans would argue that Trump was an aberration, instead of the apotheosis of Republican strategy in politics over the past three decades.

Becoming Rational

James Hohmann (with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve) contributes mightily to public dissection of the Trump phenomenon in The Daily 202: Why the divider in chief embraces culture wars.

Finally an article that shines the spotlight on the tools employed by Trump (and other traffickers of logical fallacies.)

"Trump ... has long been a builder of straw men...his chaotic approach to governing also depends on constantly presenting the American people with false binary choices."

Hohmann continues with a description of the recent week of Trump attacks on mostly black NFL players:  "Trump talks about the world in black-and-white terms: You’re either with him or against him."

That is actually two salient points in one sentence. As a black and white thinker, Trump's style appeals to black white thinking - never mind that we live in a world of shades of gray. And Trump has built his own world as dependent on unquestioning loyalty. If you are not loyal, you are fired.

After that, the key points continue to be made in bold:
"He is also looking for distractions." (Distractions divert attention from his incompetence and corruption."
"This is part of a pattern." (No kidding. Of course, this was the pattern last year too, but as a candidate, Trump was judged by mainstream media under the rule that if journalists observe a pattern of misbehavior, they must report using the rules of fair and balance - only the opponent of the candidate can make the observation of a pattern of misbehavior. Otherwise, the journalist is being 'biased'. Which is exactly how Trump got away with the misbehavior by being the more aggressive attacker. Observation of patterns of behavior is an important element of accurate factual reporting in context. Without a journalist's noting the pattern, the context is lost and we are left with competing "facts" in support of alternative narratives and no reliable method to discern truth from fiction.)

"Facing blowback over his false moral equivalency after the violence in Charlottesville, Trump embraced the cause of preserving historical statues." The piece continues with  "Employing the fallacy of the slippery slope, Trump warned that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues would come down next if statues to Stonewall Jackson are taken down."

So the authors take two more shots at the irrationality of faulty logic with "false moral equivalency" and the proverbial "slippery slope". If you don't have a credible argument against your opponent's position, argue against the supposed outcome.

"Picking fights with people like Kaepernick is Trump’s modus operandi. He thrives on feuds, and he likes setting up binary contrasts between himself and others." There you have it again - the world in black and white. No shades of gray.

"A similar dynamic was at play when Trump attacked the Broadway musical “Hamilton” last November after the cast read a statement to Mike Pence celebrating diversity"

The piece continues with other great insights and surmises that this could be Trump's  Army vs. McCarthy moment. Maybe, but not likely. For Trump is still controlling the narrative. He shines the spotlight where he wants it and will deflect away from the NFL at a moment's notice. Only when the mainstream media fails to take the bait of the daily tweetstorm will the distractions lose their power. Unfortunately, that result may require dramatic legal action by Mueller and his team.

The Washington Post has done a better job of producing insights on Trump (and Republicans) trafficking in logical fallacies. A significant portion of mainstream outlets, including much (but not all) of the New York Times reporting misses the purely tactical nature of the Trump posture.

One hopes that WaPo and other mainstream outlets will double down on their new rationality so much that whenever a politician says, for example,  "Obamacare is a disaster" (which Republicans use as their go to line about health care reform,) those politicians will be called out on the logical fallacy of invoking a frame --hating Obama -- while evading serious discussion of the issues.

And, more than anything else, we need the next election year to be marked by new journalism that recognizes patterns of behavior and reports on real context - context established by observation of clear patterns of behavior rather than he said/she said reporting without context. The true test for journalists will come when the current mode of speaking truth to power with Republicans having taken over all three branches of government and most state houses is replaced by the rules of campaign reporting.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When Old News is New Again

I am always suspicious when new news about an old story that has been beaten to death breaks in the midst of a separate and independent, but related event. Huh? What in the world does that mean?

Well, back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, before sensitivity to Cristobal Colombo's slave trading tendencies emerged, the annual Columbus Day celebration seemed to coincide with an amazing new discovery of a previously unknown mariner's map of the New World or some discovery about Leif Erickson. Newspapers would breathlessly report the amazing new find.

In Boston, the costliest art heist ever occurred in the early morning hours after St. Patrick's Day of 1990. The case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner robbery of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas  was never solved. Sure enough, what seems like every year, a sudden and promising break in the investigation occurs around St. Patrick's Day.  Just in time for breathless reportage.

And so it is no surprise, that the breaking story at Fox News shortly after the publication of Hillary Clinton's book about the 2016 campaign is none other than an "exclusive report" on Benghazi.

We do not know who the next Democratic Presidential nominee will be, but as 2020 draws closer, we know that Fox News will feature stories alleging heinous acts committed by that candidate.