Media

Bipartisanship is Dead in the Age of Nonsense

Trump has rocketed us past polarization into an alternate universe, making it impossible to see the other side’s point of view.

Bipartisanship is Dead in the Age of Nonsense

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs during a campaign rally at the Sharonville Convention July 6, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)

We’ve asked historian and author Eric Alterman to watch the national party conventions and share his reactions with us in a series of blog posts.

Pundits have long been bemoaning what has come to be called the “cocooning” or the “Facebook Effect,” whereby each side of the political divide see and hear only news that flatters the point of view he or she already holds. Pundits by and large don’t like this because, with few exceptions, they worship at the shrine of “bipartisanship” despite the fact that the far-right takeover of the Republican Party long ago made genuine bipartisanship — as opposed to Democratic surrender — impossible.

This is the problem facing not only bipartisanship-mad pundits but also the speakers at the DNC tasked with reaching out to potentially undecided voters and convincing them to vote for Clinton.

Donald Trump’s takeover of the party from the extremists who had already taken it over has made this problem visible to all. No bipartisan consensus could ever stretch itself to include his fantasy wall, his kicking out of 12 million undocumented workers, his singling out of Muslims for special discrimination, his exhortations to violence on the part of his supporters and his admiration for vicious dictators like Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin. And that’s just for starters.

Given the fact that not only are Trump’s views anathema to those of any thinking, fair-minded person, the solutions he proposes to address the problems he identifies are also patently ridiculous. It is actually inaccurate even to call them “solutions.” Trump’s M.O. is simply to label anything or anyone he doesn’t like a “disaster” and insist that as president he “alone” could fix it because “I AM YOUR VOICE.” (The caps are in the official document.)

Hearing this, I was reminded of the crazy statement made by Martin Heidegger in 1933 when he announced: “The Führer alone personifies German reality and German laws, now and in the future.” Keep in mind the fact that Heidegger is probably the consensus choice for the most influential philosopher of the 20th century. And yet somehow, his detachment from the reality that he was able to embrace the Nazi regime wholeheartedly because he thought “thinking” and “being” (or I would say in this case, “doing”) were two different things.

The problem for analysts of this election is that Trump has broken the system. It was near the breaking point with every rejectionist action and anti-intellectual argument made by Republican politicians and repeated ad nauseum on Fox News and talk radio for the past decade or more, but it’s no longer possible to pretend to be able to see the world from the other side’s point of view. The Trump point of view, pure and simple, is based on nonsense. (Remember his early successes in the polls among Republicans relied largely on this refusal to accept Obama’s birth certificate as legitimate.) Some conservatives accept this. Stephen Hayes, formerly a shill for Dick Cheney’s lies and crimes at The Weekly Standard — which naturally got him a gig as an analyst for CNN — headlined his coverage in that same magazine of Trump’s Cleveland remarks, “Donald Trump Is Crazy, and So Is the GOP for Embracing Him.” (Having Dick Cheney’s shill call you “crazy” is a bit like having Keith Richards do your drug intervention, which actually happened to the late Gram Parsons.)

This is the problem facing not only bipartisanship-mad pundits but also the speakers at the DNC tasked with reaching out to potentially undecided voters and convincing them to vote for Hillary. If they are Bernie Bros, then the “ask” is easy. It’s some form of Sarah Silverman’s request that they stop being “ridiculous.”

But ask yourself: How to you try to reason with people who are susceptible to a candidate whose entire appeal is unreason? And ditto their voices in the ditto-head right-wing media? Michelle Obama gave that beautiful speech, the highlight of which was the moment in which all Americans could justifiably share with pride: Black children playing in the White House when, in fact, it was built by slaves.

And what was the reaction of the right-wing punditocracy? Bill O’Reilly, I kid you not, argued that the slaves had a pretty good time of things.

How to you try to reason with people who are susceptible to a candidate whose entire appeal is unreason? And ditto their voices in the ditto-head right-wing media?

Last night, two posts crossed my screen as I watched Bill Clinton, Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham and those incredible moms of fallen children try to speak to an audience that it’s hard to imagine can even exist: the undecided, or even unmotivated voter. (The threat of fascism is not enough to motivate you to vote? Who the hell are you?) The first was this extremely funny and profoundly profane post written in the voice of Hillary Clinton if only she were allowed to speak truthfully (and profanely) to the American voter. Read it here if you have not already. (I can’t even print the title on this family-oriented website.) The second was called “Someone You Love Is Voting for Donald Trump — Now What?” The post professes to advise a person about how to reason with this hypothetical individual. My advice, rather, is: Forget it. You can continue to love that person if you like, but you should also pity him or her. And whenever possible, exclude them from any significant decisions that might affect themselves or their families or anyone else. They are beyond reason and beyond reach.

Bill Clinton gave a lovely speech last night that fundamentally showed a man who loved and admired his wife after half a century of trials and tribulations that the rest of us cannot (and would not) hope to experience. Did it move the needle on these nudniks who cannot choose between Donald “%#$%@*$” Trump to America’s most qualified presidential candidate since John Quincy Adams? Who can say? Pollsters cannot answer this question. If they could, Trump would be in the news today only for having to face students, investors and workers whom he has been bilking and lying to in recent years, rather than threatening to destroy 230 years toward progress of a more democratic and inclusive America.

Addendum: So now we know that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released the hacked DNC material purposely to hurt Clinton and help Trump and that “US intelligence agencies are said to have “high confidence” that the Kremlin was behind the hacking of the DNC’s emails.”

This means, almost by definition, with the consent of Trump BFF Vladimir Putin. I’m all for sending Debbie Wasserman Schultz packing, but how can members of the media justify using this material exactly its thieves intended? Right-wingers used to call naïve liberals “useful idiots.” But aren’t articles that simply repeat what was found in these hacks — hacks by an adversarial government and a wanted criminal — without providing any context about how the information became available and why it now being made public — far worse than that?

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of nine books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (2011) and Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One (2015). Follow him on Twitter: @Eric_Alterman.