July 25, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Nihilist Press Abets Fascist Politics
If nothing matters but power, Trump can do no wrong.
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Jonathan Bernstein said this morning that the worst part of Robert Mueller’s testimony was hearing Republican conspiracy theories. That’s not the worst part.
The worst part is a political press that can’t or won’t say that House Republicans did little but repeat conspiracy theories they had heard from the right-wing media.
The worst part is a press corps that can’t or won’t recognize the amazing fact that a former FBI director said amazing things about the president, for instance:
That Donald Trump welcomed Russian interference and lied about welcoming it.
That Trump hoped, as a candidate, to profit from a real estate deal in Moscow.
That Trump is not exonerated of obstruction of justice.
That Russia’s interference is not a hoax or “fake news.”
That the office of the president shields Trump from indictment (according to 40-year-old DOJ guideline) but he could be charged with crimes after leaving office.
That Russia interfered to help Trump win; that foreign interference as well as presidential candidates asking for foreign help may be the “new normal.”
Most of this isn’t news. There was important news, though: Mueller said all this before Congress under oath for the entire country to see. And what’s news depends on who you are. If you’re a normal person with normal worries and normal responsibilities, what Mueller had to say might be new, and for that reason alone, yesterday was news.
Welcome to moral relativist hell.
But the worst thing of all was the reaction of many in the political press, and by this, I mean the highest-profile reporters from the most influential outlets and publications, so-called professional truth-tellers who listened to Robert Mueller not with concern or worry or even fear, but with indifference. Everything is as good or bad as everything else in Washington, so nothing truly matters. Welcome to moral relativist hell.
The Post’s Aaron Blake said the star witness wasn’t much of a star.
Politico’s Kyle Cheney and others called his testimony a flop.
The Times’ Glenn Thrush called it “a yawn.”
The Times’ Maggie Haberman said it would be quickly forgotten.
NBC’s Chuck Todd misrepresented the goal of Mueller’s testimony. When he did not rise to that false standard, Todd called it “a disaster” for the Democrats.
Trump does not need a Soviet Politburo. He does not need a Nazi Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda. He does not need an army of Russian saboteurs. He doesn’t even need House Republicans repeating conspiracy theories. All this president needs to make war on the truth, break the law, profane the US Constitution and undermine the will of the people is a press corps as aggressively anti-moral as ours.
However much he doddered, make no mistake that Robert Mueller was saying to the Congress that the president committed crimes; that future presidential candidates might not be as loyal to this country as we want them to be; that future presidents, as a result of getting foreign help, might be vulnerable to blackmail; that Mueller can not, and should not, be the sole person holding a president accountable; that only Congress can perform that duty; and everything lawmakers need is in his impeachment referral.
And yet the political press saw more of the same. This is like saying hurricanes don’t matter. This is like saying you’ve seen one natural disaster, you’ve seen them all. Sure, people are killed and injured, property is destroyed, local economies are damaged, but who really cares? The story is always the same so why bother paying attention to it?
It’s a yawn, as Glenn Thrush might have said.
No reporter would ever say such a thing. Indeed, saying such a thing about disasters of any kind in any newsroom in any part of the country might be a firing offense, because saying such a thing would reveal a utter lack of professionalism, and it would reveal a utter lack of character and morality. No one would ever say “why bother?” to people in need of information to rebuild their lives. Yet elite reporters were looking yesterday at the political equivalent of a once-every-hundred-years flood and doing what?
They were shrugging.
I explained last week what’s wrong with fascist politics in a republic. Fascists sort society into in- and out-groups. Within this structure and hierarchy, nothing matters, not even morality, except who’s in and who’s out. So even when the out-group does the right thing, doing the right thing is the wrong thing because the out-group did it.
I do not suggest that the press corps sorts society into in- and out-groups, but it clearly sorts society into political parties. Within this structure and hierarchy, nothing matters, not even morality, except who’s in which of the parties. So even when the Republicans do the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing doesn’t matter, because it’s all politics. Conversely when the Democrats do the right thing, it’s all politics. Everything is as good or bad as everything else, so nothing matters. This nihilism is deadly.
Trump is wrong in calling the press the enemy of the people. But they aren’t his enemies either. Power is all that matters. Anti-moralists tend to find each other.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.