Thursday, June 21, 2018


New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker, writing with his colleague Katie Rogers, tells us it's distressing that people are so darn uncivil these days -- and while Baker and Rogers blame Trump for the problem, they say it's now the fault of (of course) both sides:
Mr. Trump’s coarse discourse increasingly seems to inspire opponents to respond with vituperative words of their own. Whether it be Robert De Niro’s four-letter condemnation at the Tony Awards or a congressional intern who shouted the same word at Mr. Trump when he visited the Capitol this week, the president has generated so much anger among his foes that some are crossing boundaries that he himself shattered long ago....

Mr. Trump’s presidency has driven some of those who oppose him to extremes of their own. Kathy Griffin, the comedian, was fired after posing for a picture in which she seemed to be holding Mr. Trump’s decapitated head. Samantha Bee, another comic, apologized for using a crude term to describe Ivanka Trump.
Yes, yes, and Peter Fonda posted nasty tweets. But here's the thing: None of these people have political power. Nor do the politicians they prefer have any power in Washington. The problem isn't the discourse -- it's the cruelty of the policies.

From his post at the media desk, James Poniewozik, Baker and Rogers's Times colleague, writes about harsh rhetoric -- but he focuses on talk meant to buttress what the people in power are doing.
We now know the sound it makes when human decency dies on live cable news:

“Womp womp.”

That was the sound that the former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski made Tuesday night during a Fox News segment on the Trump administration policy of separating immigrant parents from their children at the border. He made it when a Democratic strategist, Zac Petkanas, told the story of a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother in Texas.

Womp womp. You may know the noise by the name “sad trombone” — a horn sound you use to mock a sob story. It’s a kind of trolling. And trolling is what Mr. Lewandowski gets booked on TV to do, this time by Fox, in the past by CNN. He’s the guy you can count on to taunt and revile the president’s enemies or perceived enemies.

This time, the enemy was a disabled girl....

The kind of attack Mr. Lewandowski used — delegitimizing your opponents’ emotions — is a troll’s favorite tool, and it’s especially beloved on the Trumpian right. Opponents who feel badly about things are “snowflakes.” They’re “virtue signaling.” Their emotion is weak, you suggest, or it’s feigned, or it’s unhinged.
Poniewozik also quotes the rhetoric of Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter. His point is that these people want to discredit the real emotions engendered by family separation, and that this time they failed.

I'm sorry he doesn't make the point that all of these people have had the president's ear -- Lewandowski, the former campaign head, is now an outside adviser to Trump, and Coulter has been an adviser as well, while Ingraham was seriously considered for the job of White House press secretary. Their words reinforce what the people in power are doing -- and they also reach the president, who avidly watches his own cheerleaders on TV. If these people are uncivil, it matters more, because they're acting as force multipliers for the powerful, with the intent of afflicting the afflicted.

I'm not saying that Poniewozik's column is the best writing ever on this subject -- but he avoids bothsidesism and other pitfalls. Maybe the Times would be a better news source if he were moved out of the media slot. There's certainly a lot at the paper that needs improving.

No comments: