Sunday’s New York Times ran a piece by Michael D. Shear headed: "Political Guardrails Gone, a President’s Somber Duty Skids Into Spectacle." It was a typical Times hit piece against President Trump of the kind the paper now runs multiple times every day, but for a brief moment it tried to raise its eyes above the gutter to take in a larger view of our political culture.
In this acid political climate, "argument turns too easily into animosity," former President George W. Bush observed on Thursday, in a speech that seemed tailor- made for the week in which he delivered it. "Disagreement escalates into dehumanization."
In other words, both the former President and Mr Shear see the difference between argument and animosity and disagreement and dehumanization as one of degree, as if the latter were simply an exaggerated version of the former. But this is not true. Both are different kinds of things: disagreement is regarded as hopeless and so is replaced by dehumanization; argument is pointless and so is rejected in favor of animosity — which itself seems far too mild a word to describe the white-hot hatred we see on both sides and, frequently, in the Times itself.
The Shear article is a good example, offering no shred of reasoned argument but only a dreary rehearsal (as if we hadn’t heard this stuff every day for the previous week) of what it sees as Mr Trump’s manifold sins and wickednesses with barely a slap on the wrist for his various antagonists. He even notes about one of them, Congresswoman Frederica S. "Wacky" Wilson, that "for more than 24 hours, Ms. Wilson was seemingly everywhere, even joking at one point that ‘I’ll have to tell my kids that I’m a rock star now’" — without so much as a hint of recognition that her new media celebrity might have had something to do with her continuing attacks on Mr Trump.
All the "animosity," in other words, is automatically assumed to come from the President’s uncontrollable malevolence and to proceed from his constant and repeated failure to live up to those gentlemanly standards that the media in general and the Times in particular are accustomed to setting for presidential behavior. Somehow it seems, almost a year after he was elected, the Times still has failed to grasp that neither he nor most of the millions who voted for him have any interest or belief in what the Times and other media elites continue to regard as appropriate in a president.
Why do you suppose they cling so hard to this out-dated assumption of gentlemanliness in our politicians, and especially the President? I think it must be because, without it, they would be unable to make a scandal out of every deviation from it, not reflecting as they do so that scandal-mongering is hardly what you could call gentlemanly either. But of course the scandal output equally depends on their turning a blind eye to their own faults and especially their own hyper-partisanship, which is at least as rabid as the President’s own. Mr Trump, we are beginning to see, is only the mirror in which the media see themselves — and they really don’t like what they see.
There remains at least one reporter at the Times who remembers what it was like when the paper expected its reporters to abide by the same gentlemanly standards as those they report on. In the same day’s paper, David Gelles writes about the philanthropic efforts of the new tech billionaires, reminding us along the way that
this isn’t the first time philanthropy has been politicized. A century ago, Julius Rosenwald, a part owner of Sears Roebuck & Company, emerged as a champion of African Americans. Mr. Rosenwald, a Jewish businessman from Chicago, befriended the black educator Booker T. Washington and began funding the construction of schools for African Americans across the Jim Crow South. When the Ku Klux Klan burned down his schools, he simply rebuilt them. In doing so, Mr. Rosenwald made enemies. "Julius Rosenwald was the first social justice philanthropist," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. "He upset all of the powers in the South." That, in Mr. Walker’s estimation, was a good thing.
I wonder for whose benefit the parenthesis in that last sentence is intended. "In Mr Walker’s estimation"? In just about everybody else’s estimation as well — very much including (I’m just guessing here) David Gelles. Yet he still has the old-fashioned reporter’s tic of putting himself at arm’s length from even the most unexceptionable opinion, lest the suspicious reader should be inclined to suspect the slightest falling away from perfect objectivity. And he does this still, even though the rest of the paper, virtually without exception, has thrown the pretence of impartiality, objectivity, non-partisanship and even basic fairness to the four winds out of sheer exasperation with Donald J. Trump. Now there’s a journalistic hero for you!