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Pressing Issues

Is the Media Ready for the Next GOP Gaslighting?

If the Senate votes to impeach, prepare for Republicans to unrelentingly scrutinize and block every Democratic lawmaker and policy in an attempt to win back their party. Will the press wise up?

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Beginning on January 20, 2021, precisely at noon, the Republican Party and its pet pundits are going to become very concerned about the Way Things Are Done Around Here.

They’re going to worry about the deficit, and how programs designed to help people struggling financially will cost a great deal. They’re going to worry that withdrawing troops from any of our several unwinnable wars represents insufficient support for the military. They’re going to greet any changes to public education, any investment in science, with concerns cloaked in the trappings of Christianity.

They’re going to fret about norms and traditions, about civility and bipartisanship and compromise. Language, too, most likely; should a government official use a naughty word or a particularly apt metaphor, expect loud demands for abject apology.

They’ll even question Democrats’ patriotism, scouring photographs for evidence that President Biden forgot his flag pin one day, or fueling online rumors that the new First Lady wants to edit the Pledge of Allegiance.

And the only possible response from anyone to whom they voice such concerns should be ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY FUCKING KIDDING ME?

After four years of letting Donald J. Trump run roughshod over every facet of federal government, cutting taxes for the rich to justify slashing programs for the poor, attacking military families and disabled POWs and noping out of every aspect of the job up to and including unveiling the Christmas decor, the GOP should be granted zero room to criticize literally anything Joe Biden does.

In the aftermath of last week’s violent attempt to overthrow the government—during which thugs shot at police officers, smeared their own feces on the wall, and tore down American flags in order to hoist Confederate banners in their place—any Republican should be assumed to be operating in bad faith.

After all, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump had gone “too far” with his encouragement of the riot and, Graham added, “If this is not a wake-up call, I do not know what is.” By yesterday, Graham was back to sleep, riding with Trump on Air Force One to Texas.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, during the crisis at the Capitol, told his followers to “stop this bullshit right now” and blasted fellow lawmakers for lying to their constituents about their ability to overturn the election. Not two days later he was calling President-elect Joe Biden “disgusting and divisive” for criticizing the response to the mob.

The ultimate weathercock of the Trump presidency, Sen. Marco Rubio, said there was “nothing patriotic” about what was occurring at the Capitol during the violence. Less than 24 hours later he was back to tweeting Bible verses and denouncing Trump’s ban from Twitter as an abuse of “unelected” power.

The journalistic conventions that failed so profoundly in 2016 aren’t prepared for that kind of assault, of course, any more than they were prepared to confront Trump’s willingness to lie from the Rose Garden with a smile. We’re used to dispassionate accounts that offer a quote from a Democrat, a quote from a Republican, and the smug assertion that the truth cannot be distinguished between them. It’s a formula that’s almost muscle memory at this point, and habit is more powerful than any facts.

New York University Professor Jay Rosen, who has been criticizing this “view from nowhere” for years, summed up the mainstream press’s likely return to the status quo shortly after the election: “Powerful forces favor a restoration. It is by far the most likely outcome. After coping with an avalanche of news, an excess of controversy, and a hate campaign against them for five years, journalists would no doubt welcome a return to regular order and a more human pace.”

Witness the recent comparison of Trump’s nonstop lying and dissembling about everything from national security to domestic policy to … Obama aides claiming Obama had quit smoking.

While that “scandal” was being rehashed to dunk on liberal media watchdog organizations, Donald Trump was laying the groundwork for the violent assault on the Capitol in protest of his election loss.

Also noted prominently during the run-up to the coup attempt was incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s temerity to make money giving speeches, something literally every public figure in every administration has done following their tenures.

Politico’s Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer sanctimoniously opined that Yellen’s earnings “could become politically problematic with the left-wing of the Democratic Party,” though they quoted no such critics, nor anyone else to explain how Yellen’s actions “raised questions.”

And the DAY AFTER a mob of angry Trump supporters erected a gallows on the National Mall, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat attributed Americans’ dissatisfaction with the state of things to “the decline of Christianity,” presumably because if we all went to church more, the virus would disappear, Trump would have conceded gracefully and the economy would have risen from the dead.

On Fox News, Ainsley Earhardt tried to excuse the violence by sympathizing with Trump voters who are “heartbroken” and “don’t want to be forgotten,” which is pretty rich coming from a network whose slogan might as well be “being racially subjugated for four centuries isn’t a good enough reason to yell at someone in Target.”

Taking these people seriously after this display requires a credulousness that should be anathema to any reporter. Knowing the onslaught of double standards is about to begin ought to give journalists enough information to have a response on hand when Rep. Dan Crenshaw shows up to talk about honor and dignity in government, or Sen. Ted Cruz wants to rebrand as some kind of deficit hawk.

Anyone who stood with soon-to-be-former President Trump as he whipped up a crowd to lay siege to Congress shouldn’t be called on to give opinions in politics as if they’re just some normal think-tank shmo who showed up to the office on a bad day. From now on the only thing they should be able to criticize is the length of one another’s apologies.

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