Saturday, September 10, 2016

You won't believe the list of pundits helping elect Donald Trump

Paul Krugman. Matthew Yglesias. Josh Marshall. Franklin Foer.

Now that we've gotten your attention: Yes, it's true. The current liberal pundit strategy to stop Trump is at best not going to hurt him, and perhaps even help him. Why?

Let's begin with one dimension of this genre of punditry, which is its fondness for meta-narratives. Thus on the day when Donald Trump went to Mexico and then gave an immigration speech in Arizona, you'd have thought that the effort of liberal pundits would be on the content of what he said in Mexico City and Phoenix.

You'd be wrong. It was on what a frequently updated New York Times website story about what Trump said. Maybe there's a swing voter out there who was really on the fence until the early versions of the NYT Trump immigration speech were out. But besides the marginalization of audience inherent in that focus, there's another problem. The pundits were so energized by what Patrick Healy had expected Trump to say that they missed two bigger stories: Trump surprised (1) the Republican National Committee and (2) the President of Mexico with his speech. But by the time the pundits were done with the media criticism, they'd moved on.

Then there's the Trump-Putin theme. The original version of this was that Trump's campaign adviser Paul Manafort worked for Viktor Yanukovich, who was taking orders from Putin, therefore Trump is Putin's puppet. Lost in that theory was any hint of potential non-linerarity or subtlety in Ukrainian politics. For example, who first hired Manafort? It wasn't Putin or Yanukovich, but Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, whose interests are not the same as Putin's. Then there's the awkward fact of the Ukraine-EU partnership deal. Manafort wanted then President Yanukovich to sign it. Putin didn't. Putin won that argument. The rest is history.

Of course there's also the issue of motive. With the Obama administration, Putin has a dead-end investigation of MH17, a successful annexation of Crimea, proxy wars that have bogged down his opponents in eastern Ukraine and Syria, and the ability to consume huge amounts of NATO time simply by conducting military exercises on his western front. [Incidentally, the latest version of the Lavrov-Kerry Pact on Syria this evening cynically ignores the name change of Al Nusra Front and its comparative popularity, in the interests of having a joint target to bomb]. And that earlier era of Obama-Putin cooperation which gave Putin the advantage of surprise with his actions was launched by ... Hillary Clinton!

Now back to those meta narratives. The latest one is the Clinton Foundation. A phalanx of pundits has used platforms such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, and tweetstorms to complain about "media" coverage of the foundation. Krugman in particular has expounded the theory that the "questions to answer" approach to investigative journalism is illegitimate -- even though that's the line of inquiry that opened up the question of Trump and Ukraine. Even more, the same pundits enraged at the idea that the proximity of Clinton Foundation to big money could affect policy views are sympathetic to the Obama diagnosis of Washington DC foreign policy thinking as excessively influenced by Arab cash infusions to DC think tanks.

Finally, there's just the casual inaccuracies. Trump went on Russian TV to criticize America! Er, he didn't. He did a Larry King podcast that was picked up by RT among other outlets [note: the TPM post mocking the "podcast" version of events in fact confirms that the Trump interview was not with RT, but an independent Larry King show licensed to RT, among others]. There's one of those drive-by hits every couple of days.

Maybe there's been a discussion among these pundits carefully conducted on ephemeral chat platforms rather than e-mail (journolist) that the awfulness of Trump justifies a certain level of hackery. Fine, maybe it does. But you should at least be sure that such a strategy will work! Perhaps there's evidence out there that an insular media-coverage based focus influences elections -- hence the War on Lauer. It's equally likely that typical voters just tune all this out, and decide based on their own assessments of what each candidate really thinks -- which won't necessarily correspond to their public statements. From that perspective, the susceptibiltity of the pundit class to trolling (by Trump, inter alia) -- by definition a statement intended to provoke rather than real -- is astonishing.

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