The Press Beat Trump To It

Where o where would Donald Trump get the idea that all of Washington was corrupt? Not just full of bad ideas, but acting in bad faith?

Amy Davidson writes in The New Yorker of Trump's Inaugural Address (emphasis mine):

In the new President’s brief oration, those who had come before him—all of “Washington”—were guilty not simply of an inability to enact good policies but of corrupt bad will, even treachery: of “refusing” to safeguard the border; of protecting only themselves, and forgetting the country’s citizens. “Their triumphs have not been your triumphs,” he said. Trumpism, by contrast, would bring riches and greatness.

Have you ever forgotten to do what your boss asked you to do? 

Did you later "do it really quick" when you realized that your omission was about to come to light? Did that act of "doing it really quick" constitute corruption? Did it make your boss corrupt? 

Of course not. That would be insane!


Yet here's how the New York Times decided to start your morning back on September 2nd, 2016: 

WASHINGTON — F.B.I. officials questioned Hillary Clinton extensively about her judgment in using her private email system to discuss classified drone strikes and in allowing aides to destroy large numbers of emails, before ultimately deciding she should not face criminal charges, according to investigative documents released Friday.

The documents provided a number of new details about Mrs. Clinton’s private server, including what appeared to be a frantic effort by a computer specialist to delete an archive of her emails even after a congressional committee had requested they be preserved.

The facts: Hillary DID NOT DELETE ANY OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENCE. The "frantic effort" was in no way corrupt. There was nothing bad about it. I know you don't believe me, because look at how shady the NYT makes it sound. But it wasn't shady! The guy forgot to delete personal emails! Then he "did it really quick."

The former editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, has called Hillary Clinton a "fundamentally honest politician". Matt Yglesias has pointed out that the story about her emails was total "bullshit."

Donald Trump, meanwhile, managed to break the law about preserving electronic correspondence--the very law that Hillary emphatically did not break--within hours of becoming President!  

Trump Is Not A Populist Because The Word "Populist" Is A Dumb Effort To Preserve A Wrong Metaphor

Inspired by Yasterblanksy post, Don't Call Trump A Populist:

There's a certain amount of push from the thoughtful media to resist treating Trump as a Republican; he's not a "conservative" but a "populist". He's against free trade!


[Quoting Doyle McMannus] In Trump’s picks for economic and domestic policymaking jobs, there’s a consistent underlying thread. And no, it’s not that so many of them are billionaires. It's Republican orthodoxy.

Don't get distracted by embarrassed conservatives, and their stenographers at The Times, pretending it isn't.

 In a comment there I note... 

This goes right to my point of the way progress is thwarted by the inadequacy of our metaphor for politics: the spectrum.

Politics is in reality like a circle of high school friends. When softball season ends and your daughter spends more time with the band crowd, did she move left or right? And then when soccer starts up again, did she get closer to her softball friends who are on the soccer team? Or further away from softball because of the more distance between her and those softball friends who also do band but not soccer?

The meaning of the word "populist" as it is used in our language: someone who appeals to a coalition that isn't possible to understand using the spectrum metaphor because it represents moving left and right simultaneously.

A Prediction To Believe

How does this all play out? I have no idea. Will Trump sign his name to whatever Paul Ryan serves up? Who knows.  

But he's not some sort of malevolent trickster genius. Matt Yglesias gets it right: 

The first time anything goes wrong, Trump will be facing a public that’s primed to believe the president is ill-tempered, dishonest, unqualified, and already doing a bad job — and he has no media magic that can help him cover that up.

Do Journalists Think Their Job Is To Destroy Institutions And Public Servants?

What seems obvious to me turns out to be less so to others whom I respect. So I'm either wrong, or, at the very least, skipping a step. 

Is it the case that journalists are hellbent on destruction? Do they define their job as attacking institutions and tearing down public servants? 

Here's my thinking. 

Matt Yglesias, days before the election (and therefore before all the finger pointing) described the behavior of the New York Times under managing editor Dean Baquet: 

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way.

Faced with this very specific charge--that the New York Times had relentlessly flogged a bullshit scandal about a fundamentally honest public servant--Dean Baquet responded with an unprecedented letter to subscribers which said in no uncertain terms:

"FUCK YOU! What you are complaining about is us doing our jobs! And we will keep doing them!"

Think I'm unfair in my paraphrase

After such an erratic and unpredictable election there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters? What forces and strains in America drove this divisive election and outcome? Most important, how will a president who remains a largely enigmatic figure actually govern when he takes office?

As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

We cannot deliver the independent, original journalism for which we are known without the loyalty of our readers. We want to take this opportunity, on behalf of all Times journalists, to thank you for that loyalty.

I Might Be Finding My Way To Where Richard Rorty Was

A friend of mine received his PhD in Philosophy from UCLA while Rorty taught there. And O certainly read some Rorty during my undergraduate days. Between the two, it's likely that I have been exposed to a good deal of Rorty. So are my own thoughts as original as they seem to me to be? Probably not. 

In any case, I may be on a collision course with the late philosophy professor Richard Rorty as described here by Stephen Metcalf in the New Yorker:

The principal object of Rorty’s derision was neither identity politics nor the rise of an ignoble free-market right but a peculiar form of decadence, which his larger intellectual project aimed to counter. I knew Rorty a little; he was a shy and gentle man, a red-diaper baby who grew up to be a bird-watcher and a savorer of Proust and Kant in their original languages. But his loathing of the academic left was neither shy nor gentle. The “Foucauldian” left, he writes in “Achieving Our Country,” “represents an unfortunate regression to the Marxist obsession with scientific rigor.” In the specific case of Foucault, this involved locating the “ubiquitous specter” known as “power” everywhere, and conceding that we are without agency in its presence. “To step into the intellectual world which some of these leftists inhabit is to move out of a world in which citizens of a democracy can join forces to resist sadism and selfishness into a Gothic world in which democratic politics has become a farce,” he writes.

"The Comey Letter" Is The Complete Answer To: "What Did Democrats Do Wrong In 2016?"

Stop blaming each other! Kevin Drum blogging at Mother Jones sumarizes Vox

If it weren't for Comey, Hillary Clinton would have won the popular vote by about 6 points and the Electoral College by 70 or more. And that might have turned into control of the Senate as well, though that's a little more speculative.

This bit from Vox is critical. You can always find grumbling campaign workers. Wisconsin had a surplus this year! What you don't always have is a controlled experiment with 3 "rust belt" states flipping in the last week despite 3 very different efforts from the Clinton campaign. If the campaign strategy is what made the difference, then these 3 states would reveal that. They reveal the opposite

The appeal of big-picture narratives about demographics, along with anecdotal evidence of big mistakes by the Clinton campaign in certain key states, makes it easy to point fingers. But looking specifically at the three “Rustbelt” blue states mentioned at the beginning of the article, no unifying picture emerges. Most stories mention Michigan, where Clinton didn’t campaign, rather than Pennsylvania, where she campaigned intensely. Indeed, these three Midwestern states (Wisconsin being the third) provide essentially an A/B/C test of different campaign strategies — and in each state she came up just short.

Just Give Them The God Damn Fish, Part Whatever

From NYmag's Science of Us blog

As all that history implies, basic income serves as a Rorschach test for your account of human nature. If given the chance, will people be as lazy as possible? Will they abandon work? Or will having security enable them to contribute, rather than take, from social resources? Are the poor impoverished because of their lack of effort and competence or because of systemic, even unconscious disadvantage? The problem is that large-scale, long-term, methodologically rigorous studies of basic income are yet to be done.

Still, the evidence that’s already out there looks good.

Two Paragraphs Explain Why No One At The NYT Thinks They Are In The Business Of Selling Newspapers

Can't figure out why people like RT? The clickbaity Russian propaganda outfit got a lot of folks to click during the election with stories designed to sink Clinton and help Trump.

Maybe it's because RT doesn't hate it's readers. People want what they want. Why is "clickbaity" a term of derision in a for-profit industry that sells clicks?.

As for the legacy media, there is a historical reason why they are confused: TV killed regional newspaper competition in the post-war era, and another name for what the NYT does is "post-war journalism."

Justin Fox explains how journalists ended up with a job description that doesn't include, you know, doing their job of selling newspapers:

The business model that the owners of the metro dailies gravitated toward in the decades after World War II was this: 1) establish monopoly, 2) milk that monopoly. The monopoly was on the delivery of printed advertising messages into homes in a given city or (better) metropolitan area: department store ads, supermarket ads, car dealer ads, and, most of all, classifieds.

Notice that I didn’t mention news. That’s because, once a monopoly was established, the editorial content of a newspaper had no detectable impact on its financial success. News gave a paper legitimacy, and some protection from antitrust laws (in the form of the joint operating agreements that the Justice Department allowed newspapers to set up to maintain editorial competition while consolidating business operations). Big news, especially sports news, even sold some extra papers from time to time. But even that didn’t really matter, since circulation wasn’t a profit center. The business of the metro monopoly papers simply wasn’t about news.

Darwinian Constitutional Analysis

I have argued (mostly in various Disqus comment threads around the Internet) that much current wrongness is the result of Newtonian metaphors for Darwinian processes. 

For example, "the political spectrum"  suggests that policy preferences and party coalitions in some way resemble visible light refracted through a prism. In fact, they do not. 

We owe this unfortunate missed metaphor to the fact that before Voltaire wrote the book on politics, he wrote the book on "The Opticks" by Isaac Newton. See, Stanford Plato Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  

Anyway, here's a good example from Stephen Griffin of how analysis of the US Constitution proceeds under a Darwinian rather than Newtonian worldview.  

Beginning at a high altitude, I believe the right place to start is with the most important question the American constitutional project faced at the outset – how the Constitution would be enforced. Any constitution said to have the status of law, especially supreme law, must answer this question. The insight that constitutions must be self-enforcing is at most a starting point, an invitation to theorize how this could happen. Perhaps the most persuasive answer the framers came up with is that the people themselves would be the Constitution’s ultimate enforcers. But however persuasive, this is not the best answer. The most practical and effective answer they hit on was to rely on the institutions the Constitution created. These institutions would operationalize the Constitution and make it truly effective as a supreme law, subject of course to the somewhat theoretical check of the people. ...

There's more. Read the whole thing.  

The Media We Have and The News We Need

Two pictures to explain my thoughts on the media. My central contention is that Fox News is not the problem. The New York Times is the problem. Why?

Because we have lost the idea that the point of a for profit news organization is to sell newspapers. Mid-Century monopolies made that a guaranteed reality. The 15 white guys that owned all 15 news outlets needed to justify their existence. So they came up with the professional objective media as the agent of the First Amendment and bulwark of democracy. You can't really blame them for the result being a self-serving pile of shit.

Now, there are no monopolies but news organizations are still playing the old game where it is unethical for journalists to try to sell people newspapers. That is the publisher's job, "the business side" and business must be carefully separated from editorial. But the monopoly is gone. A bunch of people rejected the ethics of journalism and started selling newspapers to the Tea Party base of the Republican Party. There is no equal and opposite force on the other side because liberals still subscribe to the old rules.

The result:

Conservative media organizations cannot attract good responsible journalists because trying to sell newspapers to the Tea Party (or to anyone) is by definition unethical.

Liberal media organizations follow the rules of good responsible journalism but ignore their audience: people like me who desperately want news with a point of view.

In pictures:

The Media We Have

The Media We Have

If The New York Times would move over just a little bit, they could bring Fox into the fold of respectable journalism and have a salutary and simplifying effect on the whole system.

The News We Need

The News We Need