U.S .Elections

Fig leaves and champagne

Print edition : December 09, 2016

A man hands a newspaper to a customer in New York, on November 9. Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The author and film maker John Pilger speaks to mediapersons after visiting Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. A file picture. Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters

The American liberal media bemoan Hillary Clinton’s loss, but they do not, of course, bemoan the wanton death and destruction that she and her administration authored.

THERE is, post-election in the United States, a scramble for fig leaves by the big-league liberal news media establishment. These worthies putting another spin or construct on what they got so horribly wrong does not change the fact. A fig leaf calls attention to, as much as hides, the embarrassment, the shame. It does not really help to be indignant or exasperated that what they got wrong was what they hoped should have been; that Hillary Clinton should have defeated Donald Trump; that what they consider democratically decent should have trumped what is demagogical and abominable. It is bad enough that they took sides and lost. What complicates matters is that the side which lost was as much a lost cause from the point of view of democratic values as that which won is going to be a danger to them.

The side which lost has inflicted predatory wars on a host of weaker countries, forcibly dismantling nation states, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of civilians and bringing unending misery and blight into the lives of those who are fortuitously spared to just about survive. It has been a regime specialising in drone attacks which, again, have indiscriminately taken the lives of innocent men, women and children. It has invented and perfected a practice of wartime capitalism as its mode of neoimperialist self-perpetuation. The same big media have unabashedly served as the cheerleaders of all these execrable acts, justifying them by invoking the alarmist threat of terrorism, or on the enlightened pretext of civilising and democratising the world. When they bemoan Hillary Clinton losing the election, they do not, of course, bemoan any of this wanton death and destruction that she and her administration authored, because they have abetted these acts as willing messengers and spin doctors of this abrasive form of U.S. exceptionalism.

The side that won, going by Trump’s campaign rants, promises to be far worse for many ethnic minorities in the U.S. and at least as bad for the people in the rest of the world who are at the mercy of its economic and military might. So, it is really a Hobson’s choice between bad and worse, and that worse has bettered bad at the elections hardly extenuates what is, and what has been for so many years, real plain bad. But what is plainly bad thus becomes almost sanitised and redeemed in the media game of compare-and-contrast. That is what comes across when even the liberal-minded and long-standing doughty editor of the reputable The New Yorker, David Remnick, employs felicitous obloquy to vent his anger at Trump’s triumph. “An American Tragedy” is what he titles his piece because the election result is “a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism”. He finds it difficult to reconcile to what has happened, it being “impossible to revert to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety”.

Remnick does not mince words in characterising President-elect Trump as “a con” and “…a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York…”; as one whose “level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment”. He does not seem a whit deterred by the man who routinely threatens critics in the media with libel proceedings. “Trump,” he fulminates in full flow, “is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who… will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted.” Numerous Americans, including all those across the U.S. protesting against Trump as President, and indeed large sections of people across the world, will probably heartily agree with him about all this.

There would be far less agreement, though, even among Trump detractors, about his sympathetic casting of Hillary Clinton, by contrast, as a victim of, rather than as one deserving, the distrust of the people. She was, in what he seeks to make out in an even-handed estimation, “a flawed candidate, but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled”. He insinuates that she was the victim of “one bogus ‘scandal’ after another” so that “no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behaviour reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted”. This varnishing of Hillary Clinton’s egregious blunders and dubious corporate and international political connections, including with Arab potentates who liberally funded her foundation, this glossing over the bogeys she kept lobbing during the campaign, including of a Russian conspiracy to hack away her election chances, make Remnick’s vituperation skewed and invidious, compromising the ethical power and detracting from the emotional appeal of the case he was making against Trump.

Remnick, in this piece as well as in an interview on CNN, also seems to want to guard himself, and those like minded, against normalising what the election has thrown up, including perhaps by the media in reconciling to the obtaining reality; to guard against whitewashing Trump, now that he will be President. That would, again, be a rigorous and principled self-imposition of an uncompromising conviction, were it not for the fact that the regime Hillary Clinton represents, which has gone about sowing war and made the world a more conflicted and dangerous place, is, to his mind, implicitly part of normal American politics. He sees only the one as abnormal, not the other; and that can be an acutely insular view.

While accepting the election verdict, he thinks a reality check on the so-called collective wisdom of the people is pertinent and recalls George Orwell’s cautionary insight “that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually.” He alludes, not surprisingly, to the Brexit voters as another example of a people voting against the larger public interest. It may well be that the Trump vote was largely a lumpenised, disaffected and jobless white Amercian affair. It seems, nevertheless, to have been an anti-establishment vote in which not just Washington and Wall Street, but the mainstream and dominant news media were also seen as a culpable part of the establishment. That Remnick and others seize on the Brexit example to rubbish this vote as self-destructive is telling because it kind of discountenances the other side of the coin. There is, after all, a Brexit narrative which captures its essentially anti-London and anti- globalisation-on-EU-terms character. When the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn saw the merit of this resentment he was roundly excoriated, including by many of his party leaders and MPs, but re-elected by the larger party mass base with an increased margin.

Brexit comparison

In an interview to RT News (the English language global channel launched by the Russian government in 2005), the author and film-maker John Pilger too compares the shock and awe produced by the U.S. election result to that of the Brexit vote. The refrain in both cases, he says, was on the lines of “how dare these people…”. Of course, the fact that he says this on RT makes it susceptible to being seen as one of a piece of the conspiracy charge, getting a lot of media traction, of Russia interfering in the U.S. election to defeat Hillary Clinton. For Pilger, the writing was on the wall—a Trump was bound to come along and dislodge the liberal class and its “corrupt warmongering status quo”. “This class created Trump,” he says, because there already was a “monstrous” situation in the U.S. and “journalists enabled it”. He sums up the reporting of this political year in the U.S. as “a black satire” and castigates those responsible for it as being “not journalists” but “anti journalists”: “They are not independent. They are echo chambers. They amplify and echo that which is handed down to them” (of course the irony of this being stated on RT is not to be missed).

Pilger points to the big media (and that includes ABC, CNN, BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian) being stacked, along with Hillary Clinton, the Pentagon, the CIA and even the Republican party itself, against Trump, so much so that “no one really listened to Trump’s narrative as it were. They only saw Trump’s salacious side…”. There may be too much benefit of doubt bestowed on Trump here, but the real point Pilger is labouring is that Hillary Clinton and her government, which “represented great rapacious power”, got away lightly in the process of the demonisation of Trump, and startling facts like her being backed by all but one of the 10 leading arms manufacturers in the world were lost, or conveniently overlooked, in the dreaded fixation on Trump.

There really was, in Pilger’s view, “no one to vote for”; perhaps Bernie Sanders early on, but he was “a minority populist candidate with a large following”. The predetermined media standpoint on Sanders’ slim prospects emerges from a dogged little piece of investigation by Thomas Frank in the November 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine, into the short shrift the “democratic socialist” candidate got from the leading press, including The New York Times and particularly The Washington Post. “I have never before,” says Frank by way of setting the framework and rationale for his study, “seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.” The Washington Post, for all its track record of path-breaking journalism, set out to systematically chip away at Sanders’ campaign in its edit and opinion pages. The reason, Frank thinks, was because “for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views”. And the sort of people he is talking about are the “comfortable bunch” at The Post, the “well educated and well connected”, who, “when they look around at the comfortable, well-educated folks who work in government, academia, Wall Street, medicine, and Silicon Valley,… see their peers”.

Berating Bernie Sanders

The paper, inter alia, berated Sanders for his “lack of political realism”, for not pursuing “deficit reduction”, for not cracking down on social security spending, and for suggesting that there was an anti-progressive “billionaire class”, mockingly observing that “billionaires have done more to advance progressive causes than Bernie Sanders has”. Among its telling headlines was “Nominating Sanders would be insane”, and a commonsensical advice to readers was that “socialists don’t win national elections in the United States”. Frank sums up The Post offensive thus: “The paper hit every possible anti-Sanders note, from the driest kind of math-based policy reproach to the lowest sort of nerd-shaming—from his inexcusable failure to embrace taxes on soda pop to his awkward gesticulating during a debate with Hillary Clinton (‘an unrelenting hand jive’, wrote Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman, ‘that was missing only an upright bass and a plunky piano’).” Bloggers and columnists buttressed the paper’s anti-Sanders campaign. A columnist set out to dispute a photograph of his from a 1962 protest action and even after the person who took the picture said that it was Sanders preferred to continue to cast doubt on it saying: “This is a story where memory and historical certitude clash.”

The Post and other news media in that league must have been discomfited by the unprecedented standing and showing of a near-socialist candidate in this election process. Imagine their occupational shock and predicament if, or when, what the Marxist Hungarian philosopher Istvan Meszaros forecast even in 1992 comes to pass: “The future of socialism will be decided in the United States, however pessimistic this may sound.” That may be when a Trump becomes the darling of the press in the U.S.

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