[We haven’t heard from you in a while. Have you been overtaxing your dogged little mind, busily cogitating over the abstruse implications of Tuesday’s elections?]
Something like that, my exalted Editor-in-Chief. I didn’t want to write a response before the results were known to the public, or that portion of the public that isn’t completely comatose. As you may recall, I have a serious issue with this culture of the “quick hit” and the “immediate reaction”. One of the many reasons we are in this mess is because we spent such little time in thought. If this were a society based on some notion of functional intelligence, then almost everyone you see on cable news would be unemployed—and of those who would keep the jobs they currently have, none of them would speak until several days after the bloody midterms.
[You consumed some of the news media’s commentary, then?]
Yeah, mostly that of Fox. I believe very strongly in knowing thy enemy, which is one of the reasons I always read Pat Buchanan’s columns when I still a regular recipient of the Laconia Daily Sun. I still read him when I get the chance, but as of late, I’ve taken a greater interest in Jonah Goldberg and George Will—not that I consider either of the latter men my enemy, but just as an aside. Now, back to Fox: I made sure to watch Sean Hannity’s opening monologue on Wednesday, and I was a little uncomfortable with his attempt to depict the midterms as some kind of unmitigated success for the President.
[President Trump said the same thing. How, may I ask, have they come to that conclusion?]
At the height of the Kavanaugh hearings, Sam Harris said we have diminished “the quality of our lying” in the Trumpish age. Something I have noticed about Trump’s style of deceit is that he very rarely leaves himself vulnerable to accusations of outright mendacity. Usually, he gives himself just enough wiggle room to muddy the waters—or, barring that, to claim plausible deniability.
[I think I know where you’re going, here. Have we seen some of this in the current brouhaha over Jim Acosta? Sarah Huckabee Sanders shares a doctored video depicting the reporter grabbing the arm of a young woman, and when the video is proven to be fake, she can wash her hands of it by blaming the video’s producer.]
Precisely. It’s not the worst strategy in the world, but it’s surprisingly simple to break apart and overcome. Case in point: I’m sure you can see where Trump left himself some wiggle room when he declared victory after Tuesday’s contests.
[Yes, I think I can. Even though the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans picked up a few seats in the Senate. Obviously, it wasn’t an outright triumph for the president’s party, but nor can it be deemed a calamity, either—at least, not as of yet.]
Now you’re up to speed. Hannity followed the president’s cue, arguing that the Republicans’ gains in the Senate offset their losses in the House. A few minutes later, he claimed that Trump’s agenda had been validated by the American people in their votes on Tuesday.
[Did he really say that?]
Yes, he did. As much as I despise Pat Buchanan, at least he has the basic intellectual discipline to keep from contradicting himself in consecutive paragraphs. Hannity is just unbelievably sloppy. I would expect his slipshod craftsmanship from a high school student who is expressing himself for the first time, but a man in his position really ought to learn how to tie his own shoes.
[Was his argument echoed by the other evening stars, Laura Ingraham and the like?]
I usually don’t watch much of Ingraham’s TV show. I’m more familiar with her radio program, of which Pat Buchanan is a regular guest. On Wednesday morning, the two of them said that Trump “won overall”. Like Hannity, they focused on the expansion of Republican control in the Senate, but they also sought to minimize the damage that the Republicans endured by observing, just like everybody in the media had for months, that sitting presidents usually endure this kind of blowback in the midterms.
[Did any of them revel in the Democrats’ marquee losses in Texas and Georgia?]
Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. Hannity has been referring to Beto O’Rourke as “Bozo” for quite some time, which is really unbecoming, especially from a man of his not-so-lofty stature. I’m sure that O’Rourke would have supported any number of oppressive proposals, had he become a U.S. Senator, but in the meantime, there was nothing in his platform to justify that kind of crude characterization. I thought that the difference between him and Ted Cruz, who is not exactly a foil to the “Bozo” designation, was illustrated cleanly in O’Rourke’s thoughtful defense of the protest movement in the NFL, in contrast to Cruz’s shallow, jingoistic dismissal of the same.
[Anything on Georgia?]
Actually, yes. In full disclosure, I didn’t follow Georgia’s gubernatorial race as closely as I did the Senate battle in Texas or the multilayered drama in Florida. Evidently, neither did Hannity, for he was noticeably, even unmistakably, desperate to move on from that race as soon as possible. All he said was, because Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by a certain margin, “there will be no recount”, and then he moved on to one of the other contests—another contest which, predictably, he saw as another decisive victory for Republicans.
[How fitting, then, that the Georgian race remains officially undecided, almost a week removed from the closing of the polls.]
Well, to be fair, it does appear unlikely that Abrams will ever come out on top. However, that isn’t why Hannity wanted to move on; it’s because that race was treacherous territory for conservative mouthpieces. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Brian Kemp was doing everything he could to halt the flow of votes for Abrams, and his melodramatic language in the subsequent days—he described Abrams’s call for a recount as “a disgrace to democracy”—is pretty convincing, at least to me, that he has something to hide.
[Do you suppose that the racial element had anything to do with Hannity’s discomfort?]
Probably. The racist pandering in the southeast was just a little too shameless, this time around. It was hard to overlook it after the attacks on Andrew Gillum, attacks that were totally unnecessary, since he already had a number of legal controversies to serve as the basis of a legitimate question. Alas, Abrams lacked that cause for concern, and so, the racist robocalls had to stand on their own. That factor, combined with Kemp’s tyrannical tendencies, made for one of the ugliest contests I’ve seen in a while.
[Ugliness appears to be the order of the day in the Trumpish Age.]
Indeed. What did Edmund Burke say? “For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
[And lovely, it is not. Let’s return to Hannity’s suggestion, one that has been voiced by many other conservatives, besides, that the Republicans’ Senate pickups counterbalance, and possibly surpass, the Democrats’ ascendance in the other chamber.]
I couldn’t disagree with conservatives more. Bill Maher called the midterms a “split decision”, but how can that be, when Republicans lost control of the House? It’s not like the Republicans gained control of the Senate; they already had a majority therein before Tuesday’s contests. Yes, they did expand their control of the Senate, but that hardly offsets their loss in the House.
[Pat Buchanan said that, with the tighter grip on the Senate, Trump will still be able to make all of his appointments, etc.]
The keyword being, “still”. He already had that power on Tuesday afternoon. What changed during the hours of Tuesday night?
[I see your point. However, are you suggesting that this expansion of power in the Senate is merely a mirage?]
No, it is relevant. In the present, it should go a long way towards reassuring the President that we won’t see any more of the jockeying we witnessed in the Kavanaugh hearings. There was never a realistic opportunity for bipartisanship in the Senate, at least not of the form involving Republicans moving away from their camp, but now, such a scenario is even less likely. And in a future context, it proves that the President’s appeal is still very much alive, and that the President himself is much less vulnerable politically than zealous liberals would like to believe.
[However, none of this does anything to offset the Republicans’ loss of the House.]
Exactly. It is a mathematical fact that the Republicans have less power congressionally today than they did last week. Furthermore, if we’re going to examine the three or four pickups in the Senate, then we have to make time to talk about the recoloring of the gubernatorial map.
[Yes, that has received incredibly limited coverage in the press. You would think that there would have been more liberal gloating over the fall of Kris Kobach in Kansas.]
Well, as I said, most of my attention has been on Fox News. But, from what I gathered on Friday’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, as well as an interview with Rashida Tlaib on Democracy Now, it looks like most of the “liberal gloating” has been over Scott Walker’s demise. Later in the day, I would like to watch Michael Moore’s interview with Lawrence O’Donnell, just to see if he is celebrating Gretchen Whitmer’s victory in Michigan, which had to have been at least a symbolic rejection of Rick Snyder, whom Moore took to task, quite convincingly, in Fahrenheit 11/9.
[Do you think the Left’s attention has been placed, to excess, on the well-publicized losses in states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas?]
I wouldn’t say that this attention is excessive, as the Democrats should note that Trump remains a very popular figure in much of the country, and his influence was obviously sufficient to handicap each of his critics in the aforementioned races. However, I do think several victories were reduced to minor consolation prizes in the media, probably because Republicans still control the narrative, at least to a large extent.
[How do you mean?]
Trump is still the president, and that would have been the case even if every Democrat in the nation had won on Tuesday night. Trump’s enduring power paralyzes thought. Everything must first be shaped by his existence. It has to be defined on his terms. As the barometer, he commands control in a way that the Democrats cannot, and will continue to be unable to do, until he is no longer in office. Take the New Hampshire governor’s race, for instance: even though Chris Sununu is seen as a moderate Republican, his inevitable re-election will probably be seen by many people of both major political stripes as an affirmation of Trump’s agenda.
[But that isn’t why Sununu won. It’s because, as you say, he is a moderate Republican, and there was no pressing reason to change the state’s leadership at this time.]
Right, but because we’re living in the Trumpish Age, the first question everybody asks is: “What does this say about Trump?” This omnipresent obsession with Trump is making it very difficult to contemplate politics, because everything has to be reduced to the lowest common denominator—no pun intended.
I got a laugh out of you!
[You did. And what about Arizona Democrats? Are they going to be laughing all the way to the Senate?]
The numbers don’t look bad for Krysten Sinema, and I’m fine with that: Martha McSally deserves to lose after deliberately misconstruing her opponent’s comments about terrorism. That kind of underhanded tactic is a nauseating example of the media working in conjunction with politicians to achieve a certain end. It’s unfortunate that McSally’s dissembling received very little coverage, especially relative to Hannity’s appearance onstage at Trump’s rally.
[I wanted to ask you about that: did you have your own reaction to Hannity’s appearance?]
I was unimpressed. Anyone who thought that Hannity was some kind of objective observer didn’t know the first thing about the man. I’m not even thinking about his comments on Trump; go back to his earlier years on Fox News, to his disrespectful interviews with Christopher Hitchens. There was never any journalistic integrity to this man’s life of work, and the idea that the stage at Trump’s rally was marked by some kind of red line is a product of an ignorance of history.
[Does a comparable ignorance of history convince one, mistakenly, that the Democrats will make good on their promises in the next Congressional term?]
Well, if we can go back to Rashida Tlaib’s interview with Democracy Now . . . actually, it might not be a bad idea to offer the link, for those interested.
The interview is a pretty mixed bag, offering plenty of promise, but also ample cause for concern. As a Michigander, she was bound to comment on the impoverishment in her home state, a culture of indigency that could very well be a living preview of what the rest of us have to look forward to. I must applaud her for her criticizing the allocation of taxpayer funds to the Detroit Red Wings’ arena, a facility which she rather charmingly refers to as an “adult playground”, when dozens of schools in the same city have been shuttered. I’m not sure how, as a United States Congresswoman, she will tackle this issue, or if she will have any success in her efforts, but all the same, it is high time that a national representative addressed the issue of sports subsidization head-on.
[I understand that she is Palestinian. Did she have anything interesting to say about the war with Israel?]
It’s a little tricky. In this interview, she supports a one-state solution, which I suppose I would be in favor of, as well. However, I have read elsewhere that she was once a supporter of a two-state solution, which raises several serious and obvious questions. It’s all kind-of muddled, and indeed, this ostensible distortion is becoming all too common in the present political climate, probably due to the high accessibility of information, as well as the great rapidity with which politicians can speak on these very issues. Nevertheless, it was pretty righteous to hear her compare Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel to Donald Trump’s America.
[Was that your only issue with her, then? Her apparent inconsistency on the question of the one- or two-state solution?]
No, I was concerned with her stated desire to impeach the president. Clearly, the president has any number of ethical concerns, but at this point, I think the Democrats would be better off pushing for universal healthcare, and for solutions to the kinds of educational problems that Tlaib described in her interview, than they would be pressing for impeachment and similar things. Pat Buchanan, in his most recent discussion with Laura Ingraham, compared the Democrats of today to the Democrats of Lyndon B. Johnson’s day, noting that, where the latter pushed for Medicare and Medicaid, the former are pushing to release the president’s tax returns. The public interest is certain in one case, but tentative in another.
[And that will have to be our tentative end.]