Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Major media finally turned against Trump — but keeps on normalizing the culture of hatred that made him possible
Leaders of our elite newsrooms had a full year to figure out how they were going to frame Rush Limbaugh’s life.
He announced he was dying of lung cancer last February, right before Donald Trump gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. It was a striking moment, symbolic of how thoroughly Limbaugh’s moral rot had infected the body politic, all the way to the presidency and its most hallowed traditions.
In the ensuing months, even the most stubbornly aloof mainstream news organizations began to publicly acknowledge Trump as a liar, a failure, a loser and an inciter of division and violence.
But calling out the hatred and bigotry that Trump established as the central tenets of the modern Republican Party remains a step too far. Our newsroom leaders still cannot bring themselves to declare that the hysteria and conspiracy theories that once only inhabited the lunatic fringes of our political discourse — until Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, came along — don’t merit respect, but should be banished, rejected and denied.
And that is why, even with a year to pre-write and edit them, major media outlets on Wednesday published obituaries celebrating Limbaugh’s extraordinary success as a “conservative provocateur.” They whitewashed his once-unimaginably vile and divisive demagoguery as “comic bombast.” They hailed him as “the voice of American conservatism,” when what really matters about Rush Limbaugh is that he spread hatred more effectively and lucratively than any American before him. He didn’t hide his bigotry and, eventually, neither did the Republican Party.
Limbaugh co-opted rock-and-roll to sell authoritarianism
To explain the rise of Rush Limbaugh, who died on Wednesday at age 70, in the early 90s, it helps to understand that, in large parts of America at least, he read as a not your grandfather’s buttoned-up Republicanism. He wasn’t cool, exactly, but he appealed to middle-aged Boomers who were still coasting on their image as the generation of Woodstock and “Animal House.” His bumper music was a song by the Pretenders, a bona fide punk band. He often did comedy skits and spoke in the mellifluous tones of an FM radio DJ. He used rock music and humor to package vicious racism, homophobia and misogyny as a rollicking good time.
It was total bullshit, but it was effective bullshit. [..]
This habit of authoritarians to appropriate music from people they hate was a regular source of interest for journalists covering Trump rallies, which regularly featured rock and disco blasted at decibels more appropriate for a rock concert than a political event. Many of the songs regularly played at Trump rallies were either explicitly opposed to everything he stands for or were made by the kind of people he and his administration were eager to oppress. His crowds would swoon to music by gay icon Elton John. Trump himself would dance in an idiotic way to “Macho Man” and “YMCA,” classic disco tracks about gay life in the 70s by the Village People. He played “Fortunate Son,” a Creedence Clearwater Revival song that literally mocks men like Trump, who used family money and connections to avoid the draft in Vietnam. The list of musicians who publicly demanded that Trump stop playing their music was long, and included progressive-minded artists like Neil Young, REM, Adele, Queen, and Rihanna.
It was common for both journalists and liberal commentators to wonder out loud if Trump and his campaign were just too dumb to understand that the music he chose cut against his authoritarian message. And while I’m not one to overlook the “he’s just dumb” explanation for Trump’s behavior, the relentless drumbeat of cease-and-desist letters make it impossible to imagine he was unaware, any more than Limbaugh was unaware his bumper music was written by a woman he’d probably write off as a “feminazi.”
Gail Collins: Trump’s Dreaded Nickname
Watching the Senate is better than watching reruns.
I’ve got to say I loved it when Joe Biden described Donald Trump as “the former guy.”
This was at a CNN town hall, and Biden was pursuing his goal of changing the subject from … his predecessor. Part of the strategy seems to be avoiding his actual name.
Excellent agenda. Sitting in disgraced, double-impeached political purgatory, Trump has been trying to retrain the world to refer to him as “the 45th president” during his unwelcome retirement. (If you are lucky enough to get a mass email from him, the return address will be “45 office.”) How cool would it be if he had to sit in front of the TV listening to people talk about “the former guy?”
D.J.T. = T.F.G.
Biden’s current mission is to make the world focus on his $1.9 trillion plan for a coronavirus comeback. It’s currently in the House, where the Democratic majority is expected to pass it readily, once the poor bill makes its way through all the subcommittee chairs who want a little poke at it. But sometime in March it’ll be in the hands of Senator Chuck Schumer, whose majority consists entirely of Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. [..]
The bottom line here, people, is that Biden’s plan to attach a $15 minimum wage to the coronavirus bill is probably doomed. (Spiked by the senator from West Virginia!) And then most of the package will pass, probably before we get halfway down the vaccine line. Movie’s over.
But we’ve still got Trump, desperate for our attention. The Former Guy says he’s going to devote himself to permanently remaking the Republican Party in his own image. Unless, of course, he gets hauled off to debtors’ prison first.
Jennifer Rubin: The party that does not give a darn
Recklessness and indifference have become standard.
We are on the verge of seeing half a million Americans die from covid-19 thanks to the horrendous mismanagement of the former president. About half a million Texans are still without power due to their state’s failure to weatherize and protect its electric grid. Meanwhile, Texas’s junior Republican senator, Ted Cruz, jets off to Cancun, Mexico. Yes, that’s the same Ted Cruz who helped incite the Jan. 6 riot with his baseless challenges to the electoral vote count.
Speaking of which, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) declared that the assault on the Capitol — which left five dead, injured scores of others and included placement of explosive devices — “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.” (This would be the same Ron Johnson who fanned Russian propaganda during the Ukraine scandal.) [..]
And all that brings me to ask: How in the world do Republicans get elected? It is a serious question. Cruz, Johnson and a host of other Republicans clearly see their posts as platforms for right-wing political theater. If they were not in office, they would never get the right-wing media hits or the large social media followings. They would not be greeted as rock stars at CPAC and other right-wing gatherings.
Faced with a massive public problem, Republicans retreat into their alternate information universe.
Texas is showing us the future Republicans want.
This isn’t intended to mean that Republicans want a future beset by the sort of power shortages that have crippled Texas, which have left millions without power in frigid temperatures and are being exacerbated by other dire conditions, such as water shortages.
No doubt many Republicans expressing outrage at the failures producing this disaster — and calling for accountability and reform — are sincere in their intentions, though we’ll see how long those demands persist.
But it’s painfully obvious that in an important larger sense, many aspects of their reaction to the Texas calamity do indeed demonstrate the future they want.
It’s a future in which the default response to large public problems will be to increasingly retreat from real policy debates into an alternate information universe, while doubling down on scorched-earth distraction politics and counter-majoritarian tactics to insulate themselves from accountability.