But who was Amal Husain? Will our democracy survive? If so, what happens next?
You're asking thoughtful questions! Today, we'll postpone the conclusion of our current series to offer a few reactions.
For our text, we'll draw on Andrew Sullivan's essay about this week's elections. We'll reject one derogatory turn of phrase, while recommending perusal of the rest of what Sullivan says.
We'll react to four parts of his rumination, though there's more food for thought in his piece.
Who are the 45 percent?
Early on, Sullivan offers a remark on the continued existence of Donald Trump's many supporters. We wouldn't frame the situation exactly this way ourselves, but we think Sullivan's formulation raises a basic question:
SULLIVAN (11/9/18): I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout—a 50-year high for a non-presidential election, no less—we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).Sullivan paints an extremely unflattering portrait of Trump, then notes an important fact. Something like 45 percent of the country approves of his performance in office.
Why do so many people feel that way about Trump? Answering that question is a fundamental challenge to progressives and liberals.
For ourselves, we'd recommend that we try to do so in an intelligent way. The history of the human race suggests that even we, within our flawless tribe, won't always be so inclined.
Who is Donald J. Trump?
As he continues, Sullivan extends his description of Donald J. Trump. His description reintroduce a very basic question:
SULLIVAN: So where does this point us? To nowhere good, I’m afraid. The trouble with a normal election cycle in 2018 is that we do not have a normal president in 2018. We have a deranged, fabulist bully. For a presidency like Trump’s to generate less opposition after two years than Clinton’s or Obama’s is a rather chilling sign of how far down the rabbit hole we have already gone. To greet what is an emergency for liberal democracy as a business-as-usual political cycle, is de facto a big win for the whole idea of strongman rule. And on the key issues of a free press and the rule of law, the strongman is winning.Sullivan describes Donald J. Trump in psychiatric terms. He says the president is "a deranged bully" with "a deranged psyche."
Confidence in the mainstream media—not great to start with—has tumbled even further in the last couple of years, as the very concept of a common set of facts has been corroded. Trump aids and abets this the way all authoritarians do—because he simply cannot handle a different picture of the world than his deranged psyche has managed to twist into existence. But the result is a weakening of our common discourse, which means that politics becomes much more about emotion than reason, about tribal reality than any lingering notion of objectivity. In that atmosphere, bullies and liars will tend to win. And the press itself will respond in defensive ways that actually make it more vulnerable to the charge of subjectivity and bias.
We've said, since early 2016, that Trump's peculiar behavior seems to suggest that he may be in the grip of some version of "mental illness." Is this man mentally ill in some way? In our view, this remains an extremely basic question, one the floundering, ersatz "press corps" has explicitly chosen not to discuss.
Let's be fair! This would be a very difficult conversation to conduct. Almost surely, our press corps, as it exists, wouldn't be up to this task.
But instead of addressing this basic question, our cable pundits keep adopting an extremely dull-witted approach. Day after day, week after week, they pronounce themselves to be shocked, shocked over the latest peculiar or ridiculous thing Trump has said or done.
Day after day, month after month, they mount a version of Groundhog Day with respect to whatever it is that Donald J. Trump said ten minutes ago. They're always amazed that he's done it again. As Nestor the seasoned charioteer said to the headstrong Diomedes:
Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,Day after day after day after day, our pundits act out their childish morality play. They exhibit their standard shocked reaction in the face of Trump's most recent statement or action.
and in council you excel all men your age.
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
They fail to press on toward a useful end, in which they might examine the reasons why so many people 1) don't see Trump's behaviors in the way they do and 2) don't believe a single word these useful idiots say.
Who is the upper-end mainstream press corps?
In the passage posted above, Sullivan makes a gloomy prediction about the future conduct of that mainstream press. Later, he discusses the phenomenon of "Jim Acosta-ism:
SULLIVAN: Trump aids and abets this the way all authoritarians do—because he simply cannot handle a different picture of the world than his deranged psyche has managed to twist into existence. But the result is a weakening of our common discourse, which means that politics becomes much more about emotion than reason, about tribal reality than any lingering notion of objectivity. In that atmosphere, bullies and liars will tend to win. And the press itself will respond in defensive ways that actually make it more vulnerable to the charge of subjectivity and bias.For our money, Sullivan's reference to "the social-justice cult" isn't likely to lead toward a useful end. We think his reactions to Acosta and CNN land right smack dab on the money.
The Kavanaugh hearings were a disaster in terms of encouraging that perception of bias. The coverage was ludicrously tilted against Kavanaugh, and along urban, left-feminist lines. Reporters like Jim Acosta don’t help either. I’m a First Amendment fanatic, but Acosta’s self-regard appears to be fathomless. He and Trump almost need each other to sustain a mutual narcissism. I’ve also been a little shocked, to tell the truth, by the way CNN has moved in just a couple of years into MSNBC territory. The surrender of mainstream newsrooms and magazines to the social-justice cult has also hurt their credibility with readers who are looking for insight rather than ideology. All of this makes it easy for partisans to ignore or dismiss all the excellent journalism being done by mainstream outlets. Trump’s entire business career was brutally exposed by the New York Times, for example, a month before the election and it mattered not a jot.
Acosta isn't especially bright; truth to tell, he just isn't bright at all. Unfortunately, he's an incurable loudmouth to boot, a trait he sometimes put on display in dull-witted histrionics at the expense of President Obama.
Now, under Donald J. Trump, he's fashioning himself as one of history's most useful useful idiots.
We agree about CNN as well. The channel has massively taken the bait. Don Lemon has fallen into a well. Cooper has gone all sardonic all the time. When The Others tune in, they can see this, even if we tribals can't.
What happened to Robert S. Mueller?
As his gloomy assessment continues, Sullivan cites the latest data about the way the Russia probe is viewed:
SULLIVAN: It also seems evident that Trump has little to fear from Mueller. One small nugget from the exit polls that hasn’t been adequately noted: Americans believe that the Mueller investigation is politically motivated by a 54–41 percent margin, and they disapprove of Mueller’s handling of the inquiry by 46–41 percent. Since Mueller was appointed by a Republican-led DOJ, is himself a lifelong Republican, and, by almost everyone’s account, has behaved impeccably, this is grim news. At this point, I don’t think it matters what Mueller finds. I can’t imagine any revelation that could seriously damage Trump.A minor correction. Those data don't show how "Americans" view the Mueller probe. They show how people who voted in this year's elections view the Mueller probe.
Having said that, ponder this:
MSNBC has built its world around the Mueller probe. It cares about little else.
The channel's leading figure, Rachel Maddow, feeds us porridge about the probe in much the way a mother robin stuffs worms in her baby's mouths. She takes us deep into the weeds of the probe. Night after night, week after week, she takes us nowhere else.
In truth, The Corporate Cable Industrial Liberal Complex is built around devotion to that probe. And uh-oh! Even among the voters who produced Tuesday's approximation of a blue wave, even among those Dem-tilting voters, Mueller and his investigation get low grades on the order of Donald J. Trump himself. Go figure!
Maddow goes deep in the weeds to acquire her worms about the Mueller probe. She supplements them with a podcast about Spiro T. Agnew, peddled to us with all the usual humblebrags and artifacts of false modesty.
This is all designed to create us as a tribe. She doesn't tell you who the late Amal Husain, age 7, is and was.
A photograph of Amal Husain appeared on the New York Times front page on Sunday, October 28. On balance, we probably wouldn't have published the photograph, and we won't link to it today. If we might quote Yevtushenko:
To each [her] world is private.That said, Amal Husain died in Yemen at the age of 7. The corporate executives who run MSNBC don't ask you to hear about that.
And in that world one tragic minute.
These are private.
The sacred child Amal Husain died of starvation, at age 7, as part of a war in which the United States is involved. Back in August, quite a few other Yemeni children died in a series of gruesome incidents in that ugly war.
To his credit, Chris Hayes devoted two minutes to one of those events (actually 2:03). You can watch the videotape here, but what follows is the only mention of those events, or of Yemen itself, on MSNBC's prime time programs that entire month:
HAYES (8/9/18): If I were to stand here on this broadcast and tell you that a foreign power had bombed a school bus full of American children, there would be no bigger story. We would be in a state of panic, horror, and mourning, and certainly a media war."It's our government and our representatives that can stop it?" According to junior high civics texts, our "journalists" have a role to play here too. But let's repeat our basic point:
In fact, the thought experiment doesn't even work, because if that had happened, you wouldn't need me to tell you about it at 8:45. You'd know minutes after it happened.
Well, today a foreign power did bomb a school bus full of children, only it was Yemeni children, and the Saudi-led coalition that did that bombing is backed by us, by the United States.
The images you're about to see are extremely disturbing, and it's because a school bus bombed in a crowded market was left utterly destroyed, resulting in the deaths of at least 50 people, and most of them are children. And injuries, scores more according to the authorities in the Houthi-governed Sana region; those are the rebels who are fighting that war in Yemen. The Red Cross says its medical team has received the bodies of 29 kids, all under 15 years old, and is treating dozens more injured children and adults.
This attack is part of a U.S.-backed Saudi-led war in Yemen. And it began during the Obama administration. It has intensified under the Trump administration. It has prompted what NGOs call the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, and I quote here, "with indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, denial of access to humanitarian aid, and the use of starvation as a weapon of war."
Now, the horror of this specific attack prompted a howl of outrage from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He wrote:
"U.S. bombs, U.S. targeting, U.S. midair support and we just bombed a school bus. The Saudi/UAE/U.S. bombing campaign is getting more reckless, killing more civilians, and strengthening terrorists inside Yemen. We need to end this now."
He is right. Our government, our public dollars are paying to kill Yemeni children, and it's our government and our representatives that can stop it.
That was the only mention of Yemen on MSNBC in the whole month of August. Nor did the New York Times' front-page report get mentioned in the days after Sunday, October 28.
Maddow feeds us worms about Spiro T. Agnew. She is devoted to the task of convincing us that we are part of The Very Good Tribe, and that we are at war with the very bad people in The Very Bad Tribe.
Our war-like species is wired to think that way. The wiring is especially strong in certain types of true believing tribal players.
According to the Nexis archive, the word "Yemen" (or its derivatives) has been mentioned on Maddow's program exactly one time this year. That one mention was a glancing aside by Andrea Mitchell.
At present, our liberal tribe is deeply invested in constructing a world of good and evil. As 6-year-olds playing war games do, we tell ourselves that we're the good, smart, decent people fighting against The Others.
Even in the current case, it just isn't as simple as that. But this is where our species' wars have always begun.
We're told about Russia and Spiro T. Agnew. We aren't told about the late Amal Husain, age 7, dead of starvation.
On the corporate level, our vaunted tribe's values are painfully slight. Some of The Others suspect this, and those Others are right.