There must never be blood: Thomas Friedman wrote an excellent column today, except for the fact that he wrote a remarkably terrible column.
You see, Friedman observed a key tenet of Hard Pundit Law:
There must never be blood.
Friedman's column concerns the disintegration of our political culture. As he starts, he describes the rise of a political culture devoted to hard tribal vision.
This is the way the column begins. Hard-copy headline included:
FRIEDMAN (6/21/17): Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?It's what we mentioned yesterday. Our two tribes now share a common motto:
A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”
I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’—that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites—we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”
It used to be that people didn’t want their kids to marry one of “them,” referring to someone of a different religion or race (bad enough). Now the “them” is someone of a different party.
When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.
"Don't Let Them Win"
Increasingly, we loathe The Others—and each tribe has its own set of acceptable facts.
Friedman asked a friend, the author Dov Seidman, to tell him how this came to be. What is the source of this brutal tribalism? In one basic way, the answer which emerges here is very, very strange:
FRIEDMAN: We’ve had breakdowns in truth and trust before in our history, but this feels particularly dangerous because it is being exacerbated by technology and Trump.Donald J. Trump is part of this problem, Friedman says. That point is more than fair.
Social networks and cyberhacking are helping extremists to spread vitriol and fake news at a speed and breadth we have never seen before. “Today, we’re not just deeply divided, as we’ve been before, we’re being actively divided—by cheap tools that make it so easy to broadcast one’s own ‘truths’ and to undermine real ones,” Seidman argued.
This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”
Social networks and hacking also “have enabled us to see, in full color, into the innermost workings of every institution and into the attitudes of those who run them,” noted Seidman, “and that has eroded trust in virtually every institution, and the authority of many leaders, because people don’t like what they see.”
That said, he and Seidman seem to have settled on two other bogeymen—"social networks and cyberhacking." They're the twin technological demons which have created the "anger industry," an industry which turns We the People into Us and Them.
Good lord! Let's assume those twin demons of technology have played the role described. At no point does Friedman mention these other technological advances of the past thirty years:
Sources of tribal otherization:How do you talk about Us and Them without mentioning the rise in tribal identity which started with talk radio, then continued to wend its merry way through the twin realms of partisan cable and the partisan Net?
Talk radio, especially national talk
"Cable news," especially partisan cable
Internet "news" and opinion sites
Why would Friedman blow past these obvious bogeymen? Just yesterday, we gave you the answer! In writing about a book review in the New York Times, we incomparably told you this:
"We haven't read Luce's book; we've only read this review. That said, we know something from past experience—if Luce criticized trends in our rapidly evolving news business, a reviewer in the New York Times might be inclined to skip that part of his book."
Dearest darlings, it's Hard Pundit Law. What happens in the news business stays in the news business! The problems are all Over There.
The New York Times has run and hid from talk radio and cable news for a very long time. It ran and hid from Rush Limbaugh and his thousand imitators. In more recent years, it ran from the pernicious effects of an influential crackpot/hustler like Alex Jones.
In recent years, the Times has begun using cable news as a means of self-promotion. That may be enough said right there. For decades, no one has criticized cable news because everyone wants to appear there.
The endless demonization of Them got its powerful start on talk; more recently, that stupid, destructive culture has migrated to cable and to the Net. The Times pretends it doesn't see the destruction being wrought by these powerful country cousins.
Dearest darlings, use your heads! For reasons which go unexplored, unpleasant commentary of that type simply isn't done!
It wasn't people like Rush and Sean. The hackers have made us nuts!