As usual, what even the most insightful members of the news media do not understand is the role played by the media in creating our present political moment and therefore misses as well the role they must play if we are to escape it.
Jon Chait has a piece about Never Trump Republicans failing to abandon the GOP and being totally useless as a result. His concluding paragraph sounds a lot like yours truly:
Over the long run, the country needs two small-d-democratic parties that are tethered to empirical reality. The GOP has no ability to be a party like that and no short-term prospects of becoming one. Even restoring the party to its relative sanity of a decade ago — a time when many Republicans agreed that the GOP was in dire need of reform — seems unimaginably ambitious from the standpoint of today. There comes a time when trying to patch things up and hoping for better days ceases to be a responsible choice, and one must conclude that the Republican Party’s straightest path to salvation runs through a cleansing fire of electoral destruction.
Earlier in the piece he makes an offhand observation that should be glaringly weird (emphasis mine):
One can make sense of the choices made by those Republicans, like Paul Ryan, most committed to the conservative movement’s ideological goals. They fervently support ideas, like reducing taxes for the rich and allowing industry to pollute the atmosphere for free, that lack popular support. They have no choice but to harness their program to the ethnonationalist base that Trump commands.
How on earth does a party win control of both Congress and the White House while espousing a policy program that voters do not support? The answer seems to be something about ethnonationalism, but how does that work?
Again, Jon Chait almost, but not quite, got to the answer just last week in a piece about how the fraudulent image of Paul Ryan the wonk, came to exist:
Ryan burst onto the national scene in 2010 because he simultaneously fulfilled two major needs. The Republican Party needed a new leader who could rebrand them after the disaster of the Bush administration. And the national media and the business elite needed a Republican who could serve as a projection of their disappointment with the Obama administration.
... They feared the budget deficit, which Ryan had spent his career working to increase, was too large, and they believed bipartisanship, which Ryan had spent his career ignoring, was the necessary solution. And so Ryan was cast to the country as the champion of bipartisan cooperation to solve the debt crisis, which was understood by these elites to be the country’s foremost problem.
... Ryan inhabited this peculiar role because the news media, having concluded that the Obama administration had forsaken bipartisanship and irresponsibly inflated the deficit, desperately needed someone to play the part it had cast.
So the media turned Paul Ryan into something he was not because of Obama? What about the long history of the same thing happening again and again with GOP politicians getting away with lies while being cast as equal and opposite foils to the Democratic Party?
You can’t say the media was reacting to something Jimmy Carter did when they said nothing at all about racism after Ronald Reagan gave a blatantly racist First Inaugural Address, endorsing “States Rights” and echoing George Wallace’s complaints against the “intrusion” of the Federal Government, can you?
And what’s so great about bipartisanship in the first place? Why on earth would the media ignore the reality of Paul Ryan that Chait presents in the name of bipartisanship ?
Why would they do that?
Reagan the principled small government conservative, John McCain the Maverick, and Paul Ryan the wonk are three myths with one cause: the post war media business model of appealing to the broadest possible audience requires framing political debates as a battle between to equal and opposite parties. You can’t sell Republicans and Democrats the same newspaper AND tell the truth that Republicans lie about their actual plans and make racist appeals in order to gather enough votes for policies that only a tiny minority support.
And so the media didn’t tell that truth. When the Republican Party stopped generating protagonists to match the likes of Carter, Obama and Pelosi, the media created myths.
Competition thanks to the Internet will eventually bring down the ethical superstructure that remains left over from the monopoly business model. But things would get better much more quickly if someone like Chait would see through to the problems at the foundations of the media worldview.