This shit is as exhausting as Trump...
Watching this election cycle as a millennial has tapped a well of anger and confusion over the state of our national press. I am aware that it is reductive to lump “the media” into a single category, but as I watch the results of the election roll in, I wonder who that critique is really from. Yes, there are great reporters doing great work. Of course there are. But when it comes to our national politics, particularly our elections, the resounding message is no different than the coverage of sports championships or the tabloid obsessions with Jennifer Anniston’s uterus and ring finger. When Hillary lost, there were calls from all areas of the press to abolish the Electoral College. Or to question its validity, at least.
We all know it’s an inherently unequal system that is biased against the majority. We also know that the Republicans know it. We all know that’s why they defend it. Democrats have won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 Presidential elections. Democrats won more votes for the Presidency and both houses of Congress in 2016. They lost them all. These things are unfair to any objective observer and it is infuriating that politics that keeps us from saying them out loud, lest Democrats turn off the handful of voters they need to win. We seemed clear that this structure was worth questioning.
At the start of this election season, I watched the forgetting begin. From the supposedly progressive Pod Save America bros to the bitter Democrats who lost their seats in 2018, they were all doing the same dances as before. The muscle memory of election coverage took over. “You know, if you’re not moving to Iowa right now, you don’t have a shot at the nomination”, they all told us. They weren’t trying to emphasize the ridiculousness of the statement, though. They were gleeful about a new championship starting and making their brackets and chuckling gleefully over their nostalgia about when they moved to Iowa. They love the game of it all. They love “the race tightening” and discussing “the voters who will decide this election.”
Those voters are so few of us. So few. So overwhelmingly white and conservative. So overwhelmingly old. Yet, the national media insists on showing us national polls constantly. The same polls they know have nothing to do with the winner of the election. The nation doesn’t decide. A handful of people in a smaller handful of states do. Those same people decide who is on our Supreme Court and federal judiciary. Those same people decide my future as a gay New Yorker with an immigrant husband still waiting on his Green Card.
Watching the election through his eyes has been illuminating. The sheer length of it seems absurd to him. He rolls his eyes at amount of bizarre performative exercises we demand from candidates while campaigning. He is baffled at the very idea of caucuses. The stupidity of “Super Tuesday” and delegate counts. But especially, at the absurdity of how we react to the President openly admitting he will try to use the Supreme Court to invalidate votes if they could swing it away from him. When legally cast votes are allowed to be counted, the press reports on it as “a win for Democrats,” as if it’s a policy achievement.
What is it that keeps the political media class so enamored with these systems? Is it the fun of the campaign trail? Does it feel like a reunion every 4 years when they get to meet up again and talk about Americans as if we were all numbers and/or lemmings waiting to accept the flashiest pitch? The conventions decide nothing. Nor do the debates. They are so the media and the insiders can throw a party and suck each other off for how well they’re messaging.
Both of the presidential debates were focused on nonsense and platitudes, even though only one of them was intelligible to people watching. After the second debate, filled with conspiracies about Biden’s dirtbag son and Trump telling American that he has prepaid millions of dollars in taxes, but there’s no documentation, the press announced that it was a return to normalcy. “Wasn’t it refreshing to see an actual debate?”, they said. They really lost their minds over Biden’s strategy of...talking to the viewers directly?
After watching Trump perform equally ridiculously in 2016, it was beyond me why we were even talking about these exercises in theater anymore. He roamed around the stage like a shark. He brought women who accused his opponents husband of sexual assault as his guests. It didn’t move the needle.
This time around, he simply refused to let the first debate proceed. The next day, the press told us that the candidates had “sparred” and “traded barbs,” merely because Biden told him to shut up. The second debate didn’t happen because the president was infected with the virus he mismanaged. To see the press extol the decorum of the final shit show was an out of body experience. Apparently, as long as talking happens at a relatively normal decibel level, we should be relieved that America is working.
As I write this, I’m listening to talking heads on television discuss “our democratic process”. Our democratic process of hours-long lines, of parties suing to invalidate votes, of the president refusing to concede, of poll taxes for former felons who have already been given the right to vote. Of 1 or 2 states deciding everything, regardless of what the majority wants. Of one party needing to win by millions to actually win and one party openly acknowledging it will never get majority support when it wins.
What democratic process? Why are we pretending this isn’t a failed state?
I was recently listening to Virginia Heffernan on Slate’s Trumpcast podcast. She was talking to New York Times reporters Kathleen Kingsbury and Farah Stockman about the Times’ series The Verdict on Trump. I was struck by two things in their conversation. Firstly, the effusive praise heaped on the Times for simply chronicling why Trump is awful made my stomach turn. There is something to the right’s taunts of “oh, you got him THIS time, libs!” The way the media reports on press “bombshell” reports is completely delusional at this point; Trump voters don’t care. They will never care about any of it. The chattering class’ glee at exposing him is equally embarrassing as the inability of 40% of the country to care.
The second thing that shocked me, though, was the clarity of Kingsbury and Stockman on the ways Democrats have failed the coalitions that secured them victories before. They were clear that the Democrats have accepted that the third of us with college degrees are the ones who make the decisions. That our understanding of the country is the only understanding. That the intricacies of populations who don’t vote blue can be smoothed over with platitudes about “coming together.” They were also very clear that this is about workers’ dignity, about the loss of good union jobs, and about a party that completely stopped talking about those issues despite actually being the party that favors them more. Republicans are awful for workers, but they say the word ‘jobs’ over and over and over. It sticks eventually.
Democrats also want the young vote, but did they ever say the word “rent” during the campaign? Jobs training for young people who don’t want to go to college? Student loan debt is absolutely an issue facing many young people, but to use it as a catch-all for youth issues betrays a deep misunderstanding of the lives of the majority of young people in the country.
Without a doubt, there have been exponentially more words written by members of the press about “how we got it wrong”, “how we’re still getting it wrong”, and “how we’re absolutely not getting it wrong this time (unless we are)” than there have been about rent or housing policy. Or about unions. Or about public transportation.
In the event of a Biden win, we can expect similar stories followed by stories about the elation Washington reporters are feeling now that they’re respected again and how government workers are so happy to be back to business as usual. These stories will run alongside articles about McConnell’s senate blocking everything Biden wishes to accomplish. They will savor every wonky intricacy of how the Democrats might pull off a win for a watered down version of what they originally wanted. Nate Silver will still be a God. And then Democrats will probably blow it again, and the media will tell us the Republicans got another “win.” The Electoral College will stay in place. And in 4 more years, we’ll be watching more out of touch rich people in Iowa chewing on giant chunks of meet and fried shit on sticks. Talking about the importance of democracy.