Starting tomorrow, Basic Skill Levels Down: It was the featured, front-page essay in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Review. It ran beneath a conspiratorial headline:
Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.A hint of conspiracy was already in the air. It continued in the essay's first paragraph:
POTTER (5/5/19): If the supposedly unlikable Hillary Clinton didn’t break the highest, hardest glass ceiling in 2016, she made enough cracks in it to encourage others to try again: Six women are competing for the Democratic nomination today. But guess what? We don’t seem to like them either.You can possibly begin to hear what was apparently being said.
For what's it's worth, Candidate Clinton's "supposedly unlikable" problem didn't keep her from winning the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million votes. The other candidate—he was a man—was seen as perhaps less likable.
That said, Professor Potter seemed to hinting at something different in that opening paragraph. Six women are running for president this year, she said—and "we don’t seem to like them either."
Basic skill levels were way, way down as the professor continued. It ought to be an embarrassment to see that her third paragraph could get published at all, let alone in the New York Times, our nation's most famous newspaper:
POTTER (continuing directly): As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.Has Candidate Biden really received "glowing press coverage," full stop? Or is that perhaps a bit of a fantasy, delivered live and direct from the kingdom of critical theory?
But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining—Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last—and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who—you guessed it—is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”
Has the New York Times fawned over Candidate Sanders? Does anyone really believe that?
In a similar vein, have Candidates Harris, Klobuchar and Warren really received some sort of unremitting negative coverage? Did anybody take a look at Harris' coverage last week?
Claire Bond Potter is a professor of history at the New School. As she tried to establish her apparent claim, she cherry-picked her quotations about those candidates in much the way an indolent high school sophomore might.
It's stunning to think that nonsense like that could emerge from the pen of a full professor. It's stunning to see such obvious nonsense get published by the New York Times on one of its highest platforms.
It's stunning to see the Times do that. And yet it's not stunning at all!
That absurdly cherry-picked passel of quotes is a good example of what we might call Basic Skill Levels Down. In this instance, basic skill levels were way, way down among the professoriate, and at our most famous newspaper.
Alas! We live in a time when any bullroar is A-OK as long as it seems to advance some pre-approved tribal narrative. Journalistic work doesn't have to make traditional sense in this era of Skill Levels Down.
Starting tomorrow, we'll examine this remarkable problem throughout the course of the week. It's all about tribal story-line now. Despite claims that man [sic] is "the rational animal," we live in an age which is characterized by Basic Skill Levels Down!
Last week, we began a month of reports with an introductory series entitled Leadership Down. Within our floundering public discourse, destructive deficits of leadership have been apparent for decades.
This lack of leadership has led to our current failed situation. Last week's introductory reports went exactly like this:
Tuesday, April 30: A disordered president reached a milestone. But so did Morning Joe!The liberal world has been failed by its leadership cadres for at least three decades now. All this week, we'll be exploring the basic problem of Basic Skill Levels Down!
Thursday, May 2: One corporate cable star's recent adventures track decades of self-defeat!
Friday, May 3: Outstanding youngsters who starred at Yale seem clueless about recent past!
Saturday, May 4: The mainstream press corps still [HEART] "gaffes!" It's one part of Leadership Down.
Current plans for future reports: As currently planned, our month of reports will proceed as shown:
This week: Basic Skill Levels DownIncomparably, this will set the stage for Professor Horwich's work. Having said that, let's try to remember—it's all anthropology now!
Next week: The Rise of Leadership Down
The week of May 20: Professoriate Down