What to Do About GOP Bad Faith After Trump
Category: Op/EdVia: john-russell • 2 weeks ago • 14 comments
This is a long article, with much of it devoted to how the Democrats should deal with the Republicans in Congress should the Democrats take power in January. I left all that out to concentrate on the section in the article about the media, and Republicans in general.
Decades of right-wing smears have driven the vast majority of conservative Americans away from mainstream news outlets into a cocoon of right-wing propaganda. Mainstream outlets have responded largely by capitulating to the refs: larding up panels and contributor mastheads with Republican operatives or committed movement conservatives; chasing baseless stories to avoid accusations of bias; adhering stubbornly to indefensible assumptions of false balance; subverting the truth to lazy he-said/she-said dichotomies. None of it can or will appease their right-wing critics, who don’t mean to influence the media, but to delegitimize it. None of it has drawn Fox News viewers and Breitbart readers back into the market for real news.
Still, legacy media outlets won’t stop doing these things on their own, or without another viable model of journalism to replace it. So one concrete demand their consumers can make of them is to stop giving bad-faith actors platforms to spread disinformation to their audiences. The people responsible for the sorry state of American discourse—the conspiracy theories, and lies, and whataboutism—should be scorned, not rewarded with publicity. The Republican elite has been so in thrall to Trump that ostracizing bad-faith actors would make it difficult for news channels and op-ed pages to represent Republican points of view, or so their hosts and producers and editors would say. But that isn’t really the case: Inviting a Republican on to a reputable news show to claim Republicans support pre-existing conditions protections doesn’t offer viewers the Republican position, it offers them a lie.
News outlets should feel obligated to offer their consumers truth, rather than balance and equal partisan representation. The idea isn’t that journalists should take sides in grand fights between liberals and conservatives, but should accurately portray the conflicting worldviews that drive those battles . Studiously neutral political journalists can still alert viewers to the fact that the Democratic Party is a descendent of a liberal tradition, while the Republican Party has evolved into something that more closely resembles the authoritarian parties of European democracies. That isn’t the same thing as making a choice for viewers, it just accurately describes their options.
Paragovernmental organizations like think tanks and law firms and advocacy shops would face similar conundrums. They tend to vacuum up retired and defeated politicians robotically to help fundraise and steer their public policy shops. This rotten ritual that has larded the conventional wisdom in Washington with nonsense and corruption for a long time. But after Trump, returning to business-as-usual would be catastrophic. Offering sinecures to people who participated in Trump’s abuses is worse than revolving-door corruption—it provides an ongoing channel of support to malicious actors who conspired against the rule of law and the integrity of the American institutions. It may be inconvenient for these groups that so few Republican officeholders have kept their hands relatively clean through these past four years. But post-Trump Republicans should have to face consequences for their decisions, and shouldn’t benefit from an amnesty because it allows the capital’s machinery to keep chugging along like normal.
Reckoning fully with Republicans as they truly are narrows the party’s options to compete with dirty tricks and bad faith. If Democrats and media institutions refuse to give unearned credence to bad-faith Republican positions, it forces Republicans to win arguments the old-fashioned way: by making the most compelling case. Leveraging elected majorities to overturn veto points like the filibuster or McConnell’s packed courts forces Republicans to fight back by winning elections themselves. If journalists refuse to take Republican lies seriously, it rewards the party for telling the truth. Over time, faced with collapsed credibility and no majoritarian path to power, conservative Americans may recognize that the only way to rebuild political power is to seek out new leaders, and build new, better, uncorrupted institutions.
Of course, it’s also possible that nothing of the sort happens. In California, Democrats managed over the course of many years to fully marginalize the state Republican Party after it descended into a similar state of nihilism. Instead of competing, the California GOP has contented itself with the margins. If anything, it has grown crazier.
National Republicans may go the same way. They view the prospect of offering the rights of statehood to the citizens of Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico not as an opportunity to compete for more power, but as a plot to dilute the power they have. The prospect of gaining legitimate power in a modern, humane world strikes them as impossible, because they can’t imagine coming to terms with such a world and the desires of its free people. Confronted with fair House maps, automatic voter registration, a representative judiciary, and an adversarial press, they may recede further into the fringes.
But the choice should be theirs. Their recalcitrance brought the country to the brink of destruction and it should not now compel the rest of us to let bygones be bygones. If in the name of unearned and unreciprocated comity we grant Republicans a seat at the table and a voice in governing, they’ll learn only one thing: that cheaters prosper. If we do nothing but elect Joe Biden and close the book on the past, things will only get better until the pendulum inevitably swings back again, and Republicans come roaring back to power unchastened.