Part 1—Weaker and dumber apart: The general election is now underway. The weekend gave us many sad signs of where matters stand.
Two top-shelf examples:
Beyond any lingering reasonable doubt, we learned that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is supporting Candidate Trump in the November election. There's no longer room for doubt.
Dowd's colleague, Gail Collins, wasted her latest column with her latest silly election quiz. The day before, Collins devoted an on-line post to an updated form of the silliest question of all. This is the headline she used:
"Do Women Want to Have a Mimosa With Hillary?"
With whom would you rather have a mimosa? With Candidate Clinton or Trump? This is the kind of world-class piddle we get from the guild's top shelf.
The new generation of journalists also amazed us over the weekend with their familiar fatuity. What does a Yale degree bring you today? Below, you see the start of a column as it appeared in Sunday's hard-copy Washington Post. This wasn't intended as satire:
ROSENBERG (7/31/16): After a week of trying to unite a fractured party in Philadelphia, a few points of agreement seem to have emerged from the Democratic convention: that President Obama still has his fastball, that Sen. Tim Kaine can do the Dad Humor parts of the vice president’s job and that everyone could use a break from “Fight Song,” which has been an omnipresent part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign set-pieces.Trust us. The campaign's use of those precision-engineered pop tracks hasn't "concealed something particularly interesting about the way they’ve functioned on the trail."
I might have more tolerance than most for precision-engineered pop tracks. But whatever our basic tendency to fist-pump to anodyne affirmations, the use or overuse of “Fight Song,” along with “Brave” and “Roar,” by the Clinton campaign has concealed something particularly interesting about the way they’ve functioned on the trail.
More generally, you know you've reached the shallowest end of the wading pool when you start reading journalistic critiques of a campaign's background music. But so what? Editors at the Washington Post thought that piece should go into print in Sunday's hard-copy paper. In her previous on-line column, the rising star who penned that piddle worked beneath this headline:
"Bill and Hillary Clinton’s incomprehensible marriage"
Like Sam and Cokie before them, the rising generation of Harvard-Yale grads just can't seem to keep their noses out of that particular underwear drawer. Within the guild which is still called a press corps, this is what you get today from a Harvard/Yale/Princeton degree.
In today's press corps, what do you get from a prestigious degree? In yesterday's hard-copy Washington Post, did you catch Milbank—he was Skull and Bones!—complaining about the "laundry list" of policy topics in Clinton's acceptance speech?
As top-shelf journalists always have always said, policy topics are boring! Meanwhile, did you read this embarrassing piddle from Carlos Lozada, he who carries degrees from Notre Dame and Princeton? That embarrassment appeared in the Outlook section, which Lozada himself once edited.
Simply put, the rising generation in the upper-end guild is supremely unimpressive. Don't be surprised if they're deconstructing the Yankees and Cubs before this gong show is through.
As this gruesome campaign proceeds, we may not get a lot of help from our upper-end press corps. Because we need all the help we can get, we reach a sad judgment about Paul Krugman's recent columns, including the unenlightening column he has published today.
Krugman has long been MVP of the high-end establishment press corps. Routinely, he knew what he was writing about. In the press corps, that just isn't done!
That era may have passed. It seems to us that his column today announces his membership in the tribe—in a tribe which, like all tribes, very much needs strong intellectual challenges from strong intellectual leaders.
What's wrong with Krugman's new column? Consider the way he starts. He has made a remarkable statement by just his second paragraph:
KRUGMAN (8/1/16): Donald Trump said some more disgusting things over the weekend. If this surprises you, you haven’t been paying attention. Also, don’t be surprised if a majority of Republicans approve of his attack on the parents of a dead war hero. After all, a YouGov survey found that 61 percent of Republicans support his call for Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton.In just his second paragraph, Krugman has made a remarkable statement. He has said that "probably a majority" of Republicans are racists.
But this isn’t a column about Mr. Trump and the people who are O.K. with anything he says or does. It is, instead, about Republicans—probably a minority within the party, but a substantial one—who aren’t like that. These are people who aren’t racists, respect patriots even if they’re Muslim, believe that America should honor its international commitments, and in general sound like normal members of a normal political party.
Yet the great majority of these not-crazy Republicans are still supporting Mr. Trump for president. And we have a right to ask why.
That is a remarkable statement, unless you belong to our own blinkered tribe, where it is now sacred writ. But then, by the end of his previous column, Krugman was saying this:
KRUGMAN (7/29/16): So if it seems strange to you that these days Democrats are sounding patriotic while Republicans aren’t, you just weren’t paying attention. The people who now seem to love America always did; the people who suddenly no longer sound like patriots never were.That column carried this headline: "Who Loves America?" According to Krugman, our tribe always did (and he uses that term). Their tribe never did.
That was amazingly narrow tribal thinking. In its claim about patriotism, it makes the type of flag-waving assertion liberals have criticized for lo, these many long years.
That said, this is where it's come with Krugman as he becomes a political writer rather than a policy expert. On politics, he isn't an expert—and he betrays ancient tribal instincts. Once again, consider today's third paragraph:
"The great majority of these not-crazy Republicans are still supporting Mr. Trump for president. And we have a right to ask why."
It's certainly true that liberals and Democrats "have a right" to ask Republicans why they're supporting Trump. In a functioning democracy, we don't just "have a right" to do that—we have an obligation.
We have an obligation to ask—and, beyond that, to listen to fellow citizens' answers. We've been amazed, in recent weeks, by Krugman's failure to engage in these patriotic tasks.
When did Krugman ask Republican voters why they're supporting Trump? In the past year, we've been amazed by our corporate "journalistic" leaders' disinterest in any such task.
How often do you see Trump voters interviewed on MSNBC? By way of contrast, how often do you see them denounced as racists?
The failure to ask and let others tell leads us to tribal blindness. Consider Krugman's remarkable column from July 25, "Delusions of Chaos." In that column, Krugman announced his inability to understand his own nation.
In that column, Krugman wanted to know how anyone could have responded favorably to Candidate Trump's convention speech. He started by making an accurate observation.
"National crime statistics," including the murder rate, are vastly lower than they were in the early 1990s, Krugman correctly said. On that basis, he proceeded to wonder how anyone could respond favorably to Trump's convention address, which he characterized thusly:
KRUGMAN (7/25/16): How, then, was it even possible for Donald Trump to give a speech accepting the Republican nomination whose central premise was that crime is running rampant, and that “I alone” can bring the chaos under control?"Crime is running rampant?" Was that really the central premise of Trump's convention address? Has that been the central premise of Trump's disordered campaign?
[W]hile there are, as there always were, bad neighborhoods and occasional violent incidents, it’s hard to see how anyone who walks around with open eyes could believe in the blood-soaked dystopian vision Mr. Trump laid out.
Yet there’s no question that many voters—including, almost surely, a majority of white men—will indeed buy into that vision. Why?
On both counts, we'd have to say no. But having established that shaky premise, Krugman puzzled over how anyone could respond favorably to such an inaccurate claim—how anyone could "accept a nightmare vision of America that conflicts so drastically with everyday experience."
From there, Krugman proceeded to our tribe's standard claims—Trump voters are "racist" and are bothered by changes in gender roles. Nothing else could explain their reaction to that nightmare vision.
In that column, the MVP announced his tribalized blindness. For ourselves, we aren't attracted to Trump's nightmare vision, nor would we suggest that others should be. But because we aren't completely blind, we understand the way those "occasional incidents" might imaginably fuel it.
Those "everyday experiences" include events in San Bernardino and Paris and then again in Nice. In close proximity to Trump's speech, they included the murder of five police officers in Dallas, followed by the murder of three more in Baton Rouge.
"Everyday experiences" of this "occasional" type have been arriving thick and fast. We're not suggesting that such experiences should lead people to vote for Trump. We're saying that Krugman's column displayed a striking tribal blindness.
Leading journalist are going to hand us all manner of crap through the November election. "With whom would you like to drink a mimosa?" Inevitably, the inquiring minds of our leading journalists are going to ask.
We're in a very dangerous time. Candidate Clinton, a bit of a gaffe machine, authored a strange appearance on yesterday's Fox News Sunday. Candidate Trump, who seems to be mentally ill, may well prevail in the end.
Krugman hasn't been asking Trump voters why they're supporting Trump. When he tries to figure it out inside his own head, the process hasn't gone well. In the absence of asking and telling, it very rarely does.
We liberals are weaker and dumber when we don't ask that question and listen as others tell. Putting it another way, we're weaker and dumber when we choose to stay apart.
We're going to need all the help we can get from our leading journalists. Tomorrow, we'll cite a New York Times column whose (possible) "nightmare vision" struck a point of recognition in our own fearful hearts.
Tomorrow: Alarm bells in the night