First part of a year-end report: If we were inclined to restart today, we might restart with this New York Times editorial, which is actually an "editorial substitute."
In hard copy, the presentation looks like the day's lone editorial. In fact, it's a signed "Editorial Observer" piece by Bill Saporito, who's identified (though only on line) as "a contributor to the editorial board."
Is a contributor to the editorial board the same thing as a member of the editorial board? As best we can tell, the answer is no.
That said, Saporito's piece has the look, and the positioning, of this morning's lone editorial. Readers of today's print editions will likely think that's what they're reading when they peruse his piece.
For what it's worth, we thought we were reading the day's lone editorial when we read our hard-copy Times! At any rate, along the way, Saporito offers this:
SAPORITO (12/27/18): Mr. Trump is King Minus. Everything he touches turns to lead. And everyone else is at fault but him. He can’t understand it. Didn’t he give Mexico and Canada a great deal in replacing Nafta with Naft2? He thinks so, even though the Canadians fought furiously until they got an agreement they could live with; the Mexicans are still on the fence, if you’ll pardon the pun.Snore! If you're alive on the planet, you're encountered that array of prepackaged editorial observations a million times by now.
And didn’t he win the trade war with China? The president brays that jobs will be moving here from there, which will make the trade deficit diminish. The reality is that the trade deficit continues to climb, mostly because it helps our economy. What is diminishing instead are sales of soybeans to China, once the largest customer for American farmers. In November, China bought exactly zero soybeans from us. Merry Christmas, Iowa. Does this feel like winning?
In Mr. Trump’s snow-globe reality, our days are merry and bright as long as he’s in charge. It’s only when those other fools interfere—the courts, the Fed, Congress, whoever is chief of staff—that things go wrong. Thus the government shutdown that he bragged he would own he now says belongs to the Democrats. No one is buying that one, not even in his own party. And no one is buying his $5 billion Mexico wall, either. And that includes the Mexicans. Nor should they. The number of people entering the United States from Mexico has been declining for a decade, but Mr. Trump has now wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars placing American troops in Texas to protect us from an immigration threat that doesn’t exist.
As we read Saporito's piece, we thought of the December 24 Deadline: White House broadcast. The Christmas Eve effort was a pre-taped affair. For that reason, it was even more repetitive and scripted than the almost insanely repetitive program's standard daily fare.
Within the tents of our generally useless tribe, everyone knows what to say about Donald J. Trump. Pundits take numbers and stand in line awaiting their chance to recite, just as they did in 1999 and 2000, when their insanely repetitive claims were designed to defeat the very bad person who was Bill Clinton's chosen successor.
This is the way the minds of us the humans tend to work! For ourselves, we think of what Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, told the headstrong Diomedes at the moment of truth on the plains outside Troy:
Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,In council, the youthful Diomedes exceeded everyone else his age. But, at least in this instance, the vastly more experienced Nestor—"he always gave the best advice"—told Diomedes that he had failed to "reach a useful end."
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end...
For our money, it's the greatest fictional scene we know—the scene which has been reenacted the most times in the millennia since it passed into tribal song.
Everyone knows how to repeat the complaints Saporito repeats this morning. You can see them stated, almost insanely, for an hour each weekday afternoon on Deadline: White House.
Our tribe knows how to repeat these complaints. But we're struck by the way our corporate tribal leaders fail to move beyond the obvious to reach a useful end.
In large part, we blame the New York Times itself. Back in January, the newspaper warned us not to say the sorts of things Carl Bernstein said, not for the first time, on last Sunday's Reliable Sources.
Bernstein questioned the president's psychological state. Speaking with CNN's Brian Stelter, he moved beyond rote recitation toward a potentially useful end:
STELTER (12/23/18): Carl, help us connect this fight [about the exit from Syria] to Trump's precarious position overall. To me, James Mattis issued a warning to America with his resignation letter, and that's the other big story this weekend, loss of support for the president. How do you connect these fights?All through the past year, Bernstein has said that journalists should conduct a public discussion concerning Donald J. Trump's psychological state—concerning his mental health.
BERNSTEIN: Well, you just said it right, it's all one big story and that story is about the fitness or unfitness of Donald Trump to be president of the United States. What the Mattis letter has done in a monumental way is to push Republicans into making some real judgments, they're talking to each other, there is coming to be a much greater consensus that he is unfit to be the president of the United States, if you talk to Republicans, that he is unfit on psychological grounds, that he is unfit perhaps because of his contempt for the law and particularly unfit in his conduct of foreign policy in such a way as to be a danger himself.
And this is what Mattis has said, Tillerson has said, McMaster has said. They view the president of the United States as a danger to the national security of the United States...
I think as journalists that we need to be going to all Republican members of the House and Senate and having serious discussions with them, questions on background, what do they think about the fitness of Donald Trump to be president of the United States. And let's start running detailed stories about what they really think.
This is not just a question of whether he is going to be impeached, convicted, not convicted. This is about whether or not a consensus is developing that the president of the United States is not fit to serve in a situation such as we have never had in the history of this country.
Read what individuals are saying in the Congress, being quoted as saying he's off the rails. Republicans saying that, not Democrats. "He's off the rails psychologically. He's not stable enough to be president."
These are questions that as journalists we have to look at, not pejoratively, not saying whether we think he's psychologically unfit, but what people of the country think. We also ought to be talking to people in the country about all these things, but also about Republicans particularly and what they say about these questions...
In Bernstein's view, Trump's lack of stability makes him a danger to the nation, presumably to the world. But alas! In January of this year, the New York Times editorial board said we shouldn't have that discussion, and the rest of the mainstream press corps quickly fell into line.
This undercut the effort by Yale psychiatrist Bandy Lee to initiate such a discussion. Her efforts were thrown under the bus as the Times, predictably enough, said we should ignore the questions she was attempting to raise.
This leaves our pundits repeating their useless daily claims concerning whatever ridiculous thing Trump said or did ten minutes ago. They refuse to reach a (potentially) useful end as they conduct this insanely repetitive pseudo-discussion.
In this morning's New York Times, Saporito repeats the basic points for perhaps the ten millionth time. He repeats the claims they all can repeat, the claims they repeat every day.
Repetition is easy and fun, but does it reach a useful end? As they repeat and repeat and repeat, Donald Trump still holds the nuclear codes, and the generals who were supposed to prevent their use are increasingly absent.
The latest pleasing daily complaint concerns Trump's alleged bone spurs during the Vietnam War. Inevitably, the corps is now claiming to be shocked, shocked by the latest relatively trivial thing they may or may not have learned.
Last night, Don Lemon was shocked by this latest report. This leads us to our mini-topic for this, the last full week of the year:
These presidential historians today! Tomorrow, we'll start a lazy year-end semi-report by showing you what Michael Beschloss recently oddly said.
Tomorrow: Pleasing but blatantly false
The charioteer's fuller tale: He always gave the best advice! In this instance, his advice went exactly like this:
Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,The charioteer continued from there, chastising even Agamemnon. For ourselves, we think we see a lot of lusting for war with our own people within our own current discussions.
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.