How politics became Page Six
Read anything good lately? This morning I saw that a politician responded to something another politician said about disavowing something that someone else had said as a rejoinder to this or that other person who had previously called on so and so to apologize for what such and such argued after performatively disagreeing with — well, something. I don't think anyone remembers or cares.
I am describing what we call "news," specifically political news. Is this tweet racist and how many members of this particular faction will use this adjective to refer to it? Is this comment a "bad look"? How will this person reply to that person? Did this politician "blast" another politician? How is whatever going to "play out"? Did X "normalize" Y? What does — insert vague premise here — "reveal" to some implied audience? What does it "tell us," whoever we might be, about the "state of" whatever the writer feels he has to comment on today? Look how "the internet," presumably an undifferentiated mass of persons with identical views and feelings, "responded" to this?
The "news" has become an endless, largely unedifying meta-commentary on non-events. It is certainly not keeping democracy out of the darkness. It is darkness: a Miltonic "darkness visible" of pandemonic noise.
No one in particular seems to be bothered by this state of affairs, least of all politicians in both parties. "Resisting" or "calling out" Republicans and "owning the libs" are empty, self-aggrandizing, and totally cost-free gestures that their respective constituencies are happy to mistake for meaningful political action. One tweet or throwaway line from a television appearance can, by a kind of journalistic multiplier effect, become the only thing a congressman or senator has to talk about for days or even weeks on end. When all you have to do is generate headlines about how one side is bigoted and the other side is a bunch of delusional commies, you don't have to defend or even think through the implications of your actual political positions — assuming they even exist except as fuel for take machines in the first place.
Take the example of immigration. By the definition implicitly accepted by Democrats, 90 percent of the population of a country like El Salvador should be eligible for asylum. Does that mean we should welcome every single person who chooses to apply for it, or who ends up being detained, having entered the country illegally? Every individual or family is, at the margin anyway, deserving; what about an entire nation? Are there any limiting principles? And why does it seem to be the case that the only consistent defenders of totally open borders are people who welcome the idea of an immigrant servant caste to clean their apartments and mind their children?
This is not a rhetorical question. (It is one I have wrestled with myself.) Its answer, whatever that might be, should serve as the underlying premise of our national conversation about the most significant post-Cold War political development in the Western Hemisphere. But it is a question that, so far as I am aware, no progressive politician has ever answered or even been asked. Instead woke journalists on Twitter and late-night television hosts applaud them for being appalled about the other side's non-handling of a crisis for which they themselves have no serious answers.
Even those of us who drone on about how it would be better if we could "just stick to the real issues" are posturing. Our whining serves the agenda of both parties, who respond by saying that they agree wholeheartedly and that if only their opponents would stop all this mindless partisan back-and-forth they would love to roll up their sleeves and get to work on behalf of the American people.
What am I suggesting here? That you should read less news, even though it would put me out of a job. It's all Page Six anyway. Not knowing what four-letter word the president used to make fun of his opponents or the exact woke slogans Democrats responded to him with will not make you a less informed or less credible voter. All of this activity will go on whether you are aware of it or not, and none of it will probably affect your life in any tangible sense. More important still, not clicking eagerly to find out what some desperate take merchant thinks one or two decontexualized and largely content-free sentences tell us about the state of the American republic is not going to make you a less critical observer of public affairs — it will probably make you a keener one. Don't turn on or tune in. Just drop out.
What do you have to lose? While all of the above is going on the rich will continue to get richer, communities will continue to decay, injustices will continue to be visited upon the poor, the weak and the marginalized, the Earth will continue to be despoiled. Our political system is not organized to redress any of these wrongs but to perpetuate them while politicians call each other names. Various websites will tell you which names and explain to you in 500 words "Why it matters."
Let me give you the even shorter version: It doesn't.