Apart from the task of deciding how things should be done morally, there is the more mundane but equally important task of accurately describing how things are done. In American politics, our failure at morality is complete. Our failure to describe this failure makes everything worse.
There is a point where cynicism becomes boring. And inaccurate. Die-hard cynics are like die-hard conspiracy theorists, shoving every incident into a predetermined framework that cannot be changed no matter what happens. It can be tedious to talk to the most hardcore cynics in the same way that it is tedious to talk to someone who possesses an unshakeable belief that the earth is flat. Cynicism is therefore not considered a drawback when it comes to political analysis—a quality that causes one to see things less clearly. The worldview of utter cynics may be warped, it’s true. But when you compare it to the way that the mainstream political media attempts to describe what is happening in American politics, you have to admit that the garden variety dismissive cynic has a more truthful grasp on what is happening than most professional pundits.
Today, in 2018, under President Donald Trump, with both houses of Congress controlled by the Republican Party, politics is nothing except a naked grab for power. That’s it. Any attempt to explain what is happening in Washington via any framework other than pure gangster capitalism is missing the point. Here I am not even trying to have the argument about rightness and wrongness and the history of who started it. I am making the much more modest point that if we do not at the very least speak accurately about what is happening, we are misleading the public, and wasting everyone’s time, and, as a side effect, abetting the actions of those doing the plunder, who rely on their ability to constantly throw up barely-plausible smokescreens to conceal and distract from their actions.
What was the driving force behind the Republican tax cut plan? What is the driving force behind the push to gut Obamacare? What is the driving force behind the absolute destruction of every function of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? What is the driving force behind the deregulation of public lands? What is the driving force behind the choice to open ANWR and offshore waters to oil drilling? What is the driving force behind the urge to maximize the privatization schools and infrastructure and other public functions? The driving force behind all of these Republican priorities is the same: the desire to maximize profits for the patrons of the Republican party. That is the driving force of the politics being conducted in Washington today. Furthermore, the driving force behind the voracious flag-waving and attacks on immigrants and ostentatious displays of Christianity is simply to attract the broad base of public support necessary to implement the policies that enrich the Republican donor class. This of course has always been more or less true. But the extent to which it has well and truly taken over all of the functions of our federal government under Donald Trump is something to behold.
If this is not the lens through which our nation’s media views what is happening in Washington, they are missing the story. And they are missing the story. The actual story does not fit in the neat “Red versus Blue” dynamic that conveniently frames mainstream political discourse in newspapers and on cable news. The actual story—pure, naked powermongering on behalf of the rich, and fuck everyone else—is considered too raw to be presented in its most accurate form. To the ears of a cable news booker, the actual story sounds biased against Republicans. The reality-denying refusal of the media to call things what they are warps all political coverage up and down the line. Take “the memo,” for example. Everyone in D.C., from Devin Nunes to Donald Trump to Chuck Schumer to Jeff Sessions, knows that this “memo” is just the latest and clumsiest part of the ongoing campaign of the Trump administration to undermine the credibility of law enforcement agencies that threaten the power of the Trump administration. The Republican party at large goes along with this charade because their interests—the interests of gangster capitalism—are aligned with the Trump administration’s. But everyone understands this is all bullshit. No smart, connected, well-informed political power broker actually thinks that any of this is about anything other than trying to throw enough bullshit on the television screen that the public can’t quite tell who to trust. Republicans and Democrats alike understand this. The media should understand it too. It is how gangsters operate. If this story, one of unalloyed greed and lust for power, is being shoved into the good old standard Red versus Blue box, the public is being misled in a way far worse than the most bitter cynic could ever convince them to be.
The Republican Party in Washington in 2018 is a gangster capitalist enterprise operating for the financial benefit of its patrons. The Democratic Party, weak and riven with disagreements over philosophy, is not yet up to the task of successfully shutting down this plunder. To shut it down means to adopt an equally raw and power-driven brand of politics. Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be see. What we can say for sure is that we hold in our hands the ability to, at the very least, accurately describe what is happening, so the discussion around these things can take place in the realm of reality. To continue to report on issues like the “disagreements” over the conduct of the Russia investigation and kneeling at NFL games and the mainstreaming of white nationalism as if they are genuine points of philosophical disagreement rather than smokescreens that serve the explicit purpose of obscuring what is really happening is to enable everything bad that happens in our government. It’s a waste. If people want to defend what is happening, let them defend reality rather than fantasy.
Calling things what they are is the media’s most basic job. We should be able to do that. Don’t worry about offending the people in power. They are the architects of this. They understand the truth of what they are doing better than anyone.