When Donald Trump or Kevin McCarthy or Lauren Boebert seek to dismiss or deflect a criticism as partisan, they are cloaking themselves in the most powerful privilege Washington grants people in power, one granted thanks to the laziness and moral cowardice of journalists.
They trust that journalists will feel unqualified to characterize even egregiously bad, even illegal, behavior for what it is because they themselves will then be open to accusations that they are “playing politics.” The reality, of course, is that they are being played by politics.
We have watched as everything from betraying the country to an attempted coup to death threats are not condemned or scrutinized as they should be because to speak the truth would be appearing to “take sides.”
This phenomenon is now being tested as never before as one of America’s two political parties has so abused the role a party plays, provided haven and harbor for the corrupt and morally bankrupt, so failed to live up to even the minimum expectations of public service, that it is no longer a legitimate party. The question for the media has become, how do you cover a criminal organization bent on the destruction of American democracy if it dresses itself up in the brand and accoutrements and lays claim to the history of one of our two major political parties?
The answer of course, should be to seek and write the truth regardless of the traditions and norms of the capital. But all too often that is not what is happening. On the contrary, following every abuse, many in the media play a role in helping to grant a degree of legitimacy to what is clearly illegitimate, to provide “balanced” coverage between two entities that no longer play similar or even comparable roles in our system.
Sponsoring and then defending a coup is not politics as usual, advocating the death of an opposition congressperson or accusing another of being a terrorist is not politics as usual, perverting the course is not politics as usual. Having no political agenda other than the gathering power may seem merely cynical but it is worse if they seek to gather power in ways that disenfranchise others, rig our system, promote corruption.
How do they get away with it? They know that their supporters will back them no matter what they do. This was the deeply disturbing, sometimes shocking lesson of Trump. But their transformation from political party to something much more nefarious and ugly has been enabled by the unwillingness of the press to acknowledge that is what is happening.
McConnell and McCarthy and Boebert and Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene sit in the office once occupied by legitimate legislators. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Mo Brooks and Louis Gohmert walk the halls once walked by giants of American history. They dress like Congresspeople. Their business cards carry weighty job titles. And the media are buying into appearances and tradition, even though it is clear how these crooks and thugs and imbeciles in legislators’ clothing have disqualified themselves.
When Lauren Boebert made outrageous anti-Muslim statements about Ilhan Omar, Axios described it in one piece as a potential “trap” for Democrats. In so doing, it inadvertently reduced her offense from one that would get her expelled in any other organization in the world, to “politics as usual.” It should sound familiar because Paul Gosar’s murder fantasy about AOC was treated similarly. Even the battles over GOP efforts to rig state voting rules, promote the Big Lie, and ignore Congressional subpoenas are viewed through a strictly political zero-sum, everything is about which side gains advantage, both sides are equivalent lens. And the problem is that is not really a lens but a filter. It strips away what is most heinous about what is being done and distorts many actions until they appear normal…or at least allow GOP lawmakers to assert that Dem calls for enforcing the law, for accountable or even for decency are themselves just “politics as usual.”
What’s the cure? Something as simple as recognizing the reality of the precarious situation in which we find ourselves for what it is. Call a crime a crime, an outrage an outrage. And recognize that for the first time in our modern history, we don’t really have a two party system. One have one party focused on governing, the needs of the people and their Constitutional responsibilities. And we have the results of the Trumpist, right-wing, evangelical hostile buy-out of the GOP. They bought the intellectual property that once belonged to a political party and are dressing themselves up in it even though beneath that sheep’s clothing they remain a pack of wolves or something much worse.