Feeding the Wrong Wolf
Tuesday night, as the results from the primaries were crystallizing, the media declined to cover a speech by Bernie Sanders so they could "stand-by" on the chance that Trump might speak.
But there’s nothing new about that. The press has been ignoring or discounting Sanders all along, and covering Trump as if he were the second coming.
One of the ironies of this campaign has been how pundits in the mainstream media have been wringing their hands, gnashing their teeth and furrowing their brows at the prospect of a Trump presidency while the MSM has given him just shy of $2 billion in free coverage—more than twice as much as his nearest rival for free coverage, Hillary Clinton, and six times what Sanders has gotten so far. And a big chunk of Sanders' share was dismissive, condescending, or outright negative.
Now about that handwringing.
They’re right to be worried. Trumpism is dangerous. It’s tantamount to unleashing our national id, unchecked. It gives license to those who want easy answers and someone to blame for their misfortunes, rather than hard truths and solutions. And perhaps worst of all, it sanctions the basest of human emotions, and it replaces our reasonable frontal cortex with our primitive lizard limbic system, thereby eliminating even the remotest prospect of actually solving our problems.
One after another of these overwrought pundits have blamed the Republican Party for the rise of Trump. They note that the dog-whistling inferences on race, immigrants, and any other brand of "other" has been with us since Goldwater, and it played a central role in both Nixon’s and Reagan’s victories. A few even note that the Republican’s routine vilification of government—"government is the problem"—has fed the irrational strain of paranoia that is increasingly feeding a very uncivil union.
True enough. Republicans have "troubled their own house" and in Trump they are now inheriting the wind.
But the fact of the matter is they’ve had a lot of help, and much of it has come from the MSM itself. The hand-wringers are also inheriting their own wind.
When, for decades, the MSM treated trickle down economics (a thinly veiled justification for screwing the middle class and transferring trillions in wealth to the 1%) and austerity budgets (a thinly disguised way of shrinking government down to the size where it can be "drowned in a bathtub") as serious ideas with portfolio, well, how can they now point fingers at the Republicans and feign innocence?
And when the MSM accepted the mantra of deregulation and "free trade" (as in trade agreements) as a means of unleashing the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and rewarding small businesses and everyday Americans—even though those agreements overwhelmingly rewarded big business and the financial sector—can the MSM really wonder where the anger is coming from? After all, there has been very little change in wages for the 90% since the 1980s.
Every time Paul Ryan introduced a budget that increased deficits by trillions of dollars while being portrayed as a "serious" guy who is committed to cutting the deficit, the MSM contributed to the madness that is now overtaking us.
Every time some frenzied, fear-inducing champion of the military industrial complex invoked terrorism as an "existential" threat and the MSM simply reported it as if they were blind and mute stenographers, they fed the insanity that is now upon us.
But the MSM isn’t the only ally in this reality-bending spree we’ve been on for decades now. Democrats have been more than complicit. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama championed job-killing trade agreements, deregulation, an all-of-the-above energy strategy, the glory of unconstrained free markets, and a neocon foreign policy that has made the world a far more dangerous place. Obama contemplated a "grand bargain" that would have weakened Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. On and on it goes.
And of course, our entire political process has been hijacked by special interests. In the words of Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page—scholars who have done the most comprehensive study on the influence of money on the political process:
When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy (emphasis added).
Is it any wonder that people are angry? This is the fruit of simplistic thinking that says government is bad, business is good. This is the harvest of seeds of hate and fear and greed, cynically sewn. This is the source water for the foul swamp that is Trump. And Republicans, Democrats, and the mainstream media have been standing on its banks and pissing into this antediluvian flood of ignorance for decades.
There is an old story that originated with Native Americans. Here is the version told by the Cherokees:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and wisdom."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one that you feed."
But here is the real tragedy: not only has the establishment given time and weight to fools, nincompoops, and cynical shape-shifting politicos, it routinely ignores those who tell the truth. That’s why Sanders doesn’t get any play in the media. That’s why, when the Congressional Progressive Caucus issues a sensible budget (as it does year after year) which is fair, tracks what the people say they want, and cuts deficits, it is completely ignored.
Sanders isn’t out of the running. In fact, demographics in the remaining states favor him. But it’s hard to see how he can capture the nomination when the entire establishment keeps feeding the wrong wolf.