“And instead of saying, “Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave It To Beaver trip back to the Fifties…!”, we cowered in the corner, and said, “Please. Don’t. Hurt. Me.”
— Aaron Sorkin
— The West Wing (Gone Quiet)
“The newspaper that obstructs the law on a trivial pretext, for money’s sake, is a dangerous enemy to the public weal. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
— Mark Twain
The moral dilemma at the center of Trump’s demagoguery and his neo-fascism, is not that he’s wrong but rather in certain respects, that he isn’t.
That he is insane, and a bigot, that he hates women, and is a gangster who perfectly fits the late Christopher Hitchens’ notion of a dictator without an ideology, in an age without ideologies, are all true. And being true no one but a sociopath or a fascist or a cold blooded professional cynic would say none of it matters.
It all matters and claiming that those who voted for Trump, as arch liberal Jon Stewart did, soon after the “election” that one could vote for Trump and not be a bigot, is at best a distinction without a difference and at worst just a flimsy attempt to avoid responsibility and the need to take action. Because even if one grants Stewart’s premise, the fact remains that if you voted for Trump and you’re not a bigot, then you were comfortable voting for a man who is without a doubt, a bigot. And if you did it, as Stewart claims, because you were fearful of being unable to pay your rising insurance premiums, than you are a moral hermaphrodite and a coward.
But then there’s the issue of fake news.
In Trump’s’ damaged soul, any criticism of him is false because, as a psychopath he can’t accept that he’s wrong about anything. A malignant troll has one gear – attack. Spreading his moral mange is his reason to exist. He’s not responsible for any failures and if there are failures it’s because someone or some kabal thwarted him.
There is no honesty to the pathology though it is honest in the sense that it’s obvious – at least to anyone who doesn’t collaborate. Trump wears his insanity on his sleeve – he hides nothing.
Even then one can imagine that many collaborators know they are agreeing to lies; to repeating them and creating others in the service of the regime.
As Hemingway put it in For Whom The Bell Tolls – there are many who do not know they are fascists but will discover it when the time comes.
Mitch McConnell knows Trump is insane. But he doesn’t care because he’s a Quisling and an aristocratic bigot. One can go through the list and separate the true believers – the Bannons and Millers – from the opportunists but in the end it is not any different from any other fascist clique.
But in the morally necessary drive to protect the Bill of Rights, and specifically to protect the idea of a free press and the First Amendment, there is a heated and growing national amnesia that erases a long unpleasant and inconvenient truth: the news media in America (true also in most places but we’re going to be American-centric here) has been mostly, not just awful, distorted, shallow, pedestrian, parochial and sensationalist, but it has over the decades been a festering pile of moldy shit, operating in the service of decadent aristocratic warlords, the thugs of the intelligence agencies, goons running cities as if they were their personal fiefdoms, and assorted national and imperial adventures that have resulted in not just one, or even a few, but in a tidal wave of catastrophes that have in turn, left a mountain of skulls on every continent.
In other words: They sold, Fake News.
While Trump is a textbook example of a dictator with his cult of personality and his violence and his psychotic thrusts; his delusional disregard for facts, norms, decency, and the future, when he points out that the news media is a collection of tabloid whores he’s not completely wrong.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Dick Cheney is a fascist and a mass murdering war criminal.
George W. Bush was the public face of a private corporate junta put into power by a judicial putsch.
Vietnam was a lost cause from day one.
J.Edgar Hoover was a fascist who turned the FBI into his praetorian guard.
You get the pictures and I’ll supply the war may or may not be apocryphal but what matters is that the yellow press has been so consistently awful for so long that even if it weren’t true and Hearst never said it, it would be necessary to agree to believe that he had said it because the press, if not guilty in that instance, surely has been guilty in so many other cases that you could blindfold yourself and throw darts at a board knowing eventually, inevitably you’ll hit a target marked – The Press Lies.
Conversely, Watergate and the Pentagon Papers and a million other examples all speak to the glory of the First Amendment. They also speak to singular examples of integrity and honor – but let’s be honest, it is honor among thieves.
Sometimes the press gets it right but god help you when they get it wrong.
More than one thing at a time can be true even if those things are mutually exclusive.
Nixon was a monster and the press helped bring him down and that is cause for celebration.
And the press helped get him elected and that is cause for fear.
The press spread lies about crack cocaine, crack babies, and “Super Predators” and it lied about opium dens and the Yellow Peril and the Japanese and the Irish and Jews and about what was in your food and your water and the air you breath.
The fact is, Citizen Kane is never going to not be relevant. Network and Broadcast News, Night Crawler, and even the White jazz liberalism of Aaron Sorkin all coexist alongside each of those moments when the news media exposed some crime or conspiracy or calamity from which the national soul escaped disaster by inches and escaped precisely because some reporter somewhere had the spine to do the job of telling the truth.
But that just means we’re rolling the dice.
And it means that the free press hangs by a thread and that decades of malfeasance, of sloth, incompetence, corruption, self-censorhip corporate beastiliaity and plain jackass stupidity have created a toxic environment in which even a malignant troll can be not completely wrong when he says – Fake News.
That Trump is using it as a tactic to destabilize the rule of law, that he is using it to create and cement a cult of dictatorial personality, and to destroy the thin remains of the republic are all true. But that doesn’t mean the news media is a round table of virtuous knights.
We were thinking about this because we had stumbled upon a spectacular example of gross journalistic negligence that left us both amused and depressed.
We were amused because once again our favorite punching bag, The New Yorker, coughed up a hairball all over its penny loafers and few things are as amusing as watching preppy liberal snobs make fools of themselves.
The depression of course has exactly the same source. It is a calamity that what passes for a bastion of refined elegant liberal discourse is in fact such a consistent putrid display of journalistic malfeasance.
In this case it’s our favorite journalistic cad, Adam Gopnik reviewing a biography of Albert Camus.
Gopnik offers up the b-list version masquerading as the haute list version of one of the great episodes of 20th century intellectual rivalry and effort – the alliance and ultimately the rivalry and falling out between Camus and Jean Paul Sartre.
Gopnik follows the well worn path and arrives at the moment when after the publication of Man in Revolt, Sartre, dispatched one of his hounds to write a scathing review of Camus’ work which was itself a rejection of the messier and more cold blooded aspects of revolution as an abstraction versus the actual stench of headless corpses. The book was also, as a result, an attack on Sartre and his dogged attachment to the last vapour trail of the left after the Midnight of the Century (per Victor Serge) in which it was revealed that neither the left (or at least the left as defined by Stalinism) or the right (as defined by both fascism and liberal collaboration with fascism) held the moral high ground.
For Sartre there was still, however faint, the hope that revolution would triumph against both tyrannies and that it was more likely to come from the Soviet camp than the West.
Gopnik gets all of that more or less right but then sticks the landing and scores a series of tens from the revisionist judges with this whopper (emphasis added):
“In “The Rebel,” Camus writes (in Philip Mairet’s translation):
“He who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seed and sustains the world again and again. Finally, it is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests.”
In English, this can come across as merely sonorous. In France in 1951, the real meaning was barbed and apparent: only a moral idiot would give his allegiance to the Communist Party in the name of the coming revolution. Camus spotted the catch in Sartre’s account of fellow-travelling as a leap of faith. The only practical way to unlock the next guy’s chains, on Sartre’s premise, is to kill the guy next to that guy first, since he’s the one chaining him up; kill all the jailers and everyone will be free. This sounds great, Camus saw, until you’ve killed all the jailers and all you have is other jailers. There is no difference between dying in a Soviet camp and dying in a Nazi camp. We should be neither executioners nor victims; it is madness to sacrifice human lives today in the pursuit of a utopian future.
This position was rightly praised for its truth and oddly praised for its courage. After all, opposition to both Fascism and Stalinism was exactly the position of every democratic government in North America and Western Europe. It was Harry Truman’s position and it was Clement Atlee’s position; it was Winston Churchill’s position and Pierre Mendès-France’s. It was the doctrine of the liberal version of the Cold War: the true inheritors of “totalitarianism” were the Communists, and had to be resisted.”
Except of course, that last paragraph is not just wrong, and not just spectacularly wrong, it is a kind of gross insult to the truth; a kick in the balls to journalistic integrity and, worse still, it helps Trump.
First, this position was indeed praised, but by the apparatus that was using “ex” Nazis to help fight the Stalinists. The Media, controlled by the CIA via The Congress of Cultural Freedom, was happy to parrot the establishment line, and did just – that heaping on the “praise” while ignoring the truth.
Opposition to fascism went far – or right up to the point where the US and Britain and the “Western Democracies” supported fascists like Francisco Franco, and Juan Peron, and Ngo Dinh Diem, and the Shah, and the Greek fascists who we armed and supported in their revenge match against the Greek leftists who had fought against the Fascists during the war and were then, our allies.
This was the era of Operation Gladio in which the “democracies” were funding “former” Nazis to establish stay behind cells in the event of a Soviet invasion – and who later helped run The Red Brigade and Baader Meinhof gangs and who reached their apogee by setting off a bomb in the Bologna rail station that killed 49 people – all in the name of fighting Stalinism.
In other words, state sponsored terrorism.
Which Gopnik and The New Yorker equate with “Western Democracies” fighting Stalinism and fascism even though they manage to avoid mentioning any of them.
And while Gopnik and the New Yorker can claim Churchill supported an anti fascist position, the truth is he supported the fascists after the war, just as he had done before the war when he rallied support for Mussolini (then on the payroll of Britain’s MI6) for what Churchill called, his principled stand against godless bolshevism.
This was the era when the West supported massacres in Madagascar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and culminated in Operation Condor and Pinochet and the dirty war in Argentina.
And of course the America of that era was the America of Apartheid and Jim Crow; of Emmett Till who, 60 years later is just now the subject of a reopened investigation into his lynching.
Thus, Fake News.
But then Gopnik goes further.
“Well, it was courageous, we say, because, though common people and politicians were wiser, intellectuals in France believed the opposite. This is not false, but there is a subtler point at play. It is in the nature of intellectual life—and part of its value—to gravitate toward the extreme alternative position, since that is usually the one most in need of articulation. Harvard and Yale pay some of their professors to tell the students that everything they believe is a bourgeois illusion, as the Koch brothers pay their foundation staff to say that all bourgeois illusions are real, and the fact that neither is entirely true does not alter the need to pay people to say it. The ideas we pay for, as Ayn Rand grasped when she looked at her royalty statements, are those which define the outer edge. We want big minds to voice extreme ideas, since our smaller minds already voice the saner ones.”
Notice the distinction between the intellectuals and the common people and the pols who, were wiser than Camus & Co.
Ah yes, the common people. Who by virtue of being common have an innate superior wisdom about – well, about everything.
This is then followed by the classic binary limp dick view of the classic contemporary liberal that the elitists at Harvard and Yale and the Koch Brothers are really just different sides of the same coin. And both camps pay and profit from paying apparatchiks to spout dogma. And without saying it directly, Gopnik and The New Yorker are saying that there is a moral equivalency between the reactionary warlords, the Koch Brothers, and intellectuals at Ivy League Universities.
Which is a position then betrayed by Gopnik’s assertion not that they are wrong but that both are not entirely true. In other words, Gopnik arrives through the front door of being sanguine about the moral vagaries and inherent similarities of intellectuals and neo-fascists, and leaves through the back door of moral failure and betrayal.
Which is a position then betrayed yet again by the ploy of invoking the spirit animal guide of reactionary American pseudo-intellectual, and reactionary neo-fascists, Ayn Rand, which is in truth, an attempt by Gopnik to camouflage his high church liberalism as a kind of bespoke post-ideological mantra of the commons, that picks and chooses from both camps in order to establish what passes for street cred in the People’s Republic of the Upper East Side.
Gopnik, is hip to the jive and he’s cool.
Just ask him.
But then, he reverses course again having put forward the thesis that the common man knows better, he then retreats completely and declares that the common man, overwhelmed by complexity, suffering from having a smaller mind, needs big minds like Camus and Sartre to speak on their behalf.
And then Gopnik concludes with a wistful suggestion that in the end what really lingers is the sense that Camus and Sartre really were having fun – that the post war battles were really just excuses for shagging and hanging out in cafes and then shagging and writing books and then hanging out until it was time again to shag.
Cause ya know, it’s not like the lingering stench of the abyss and the whistle of trains rattling in the distance reminded any sane person of the fact that they had just endured The Occupation and being fucked by the devil.
It is, enough to make you want to throw up.
And of course, one must ask, where the fuck was the editor?
Or, all three?
This then is not just crap journalism, and not just crap editorial policy, but it is a symptom of a systemic failure in American journalism to police itself and worse still, it is a symptom of how and why a malignant neo-fascist troll can end up being closer to the truth than one would want when he screams – fake news.
But, the failure of the liberals, their consistent commitment to betraying the left, are not new.
This is what liberals always do.
There goal when confronted by the rising tide of fascism is to bargain, to appease, and when that fails, as it inevitably must, they do what comes naturally to them – they throw the leftists to the wolves and pray that it will keep them safe.
As Victor Serge put it over 75 years ago in, The Midnight of The Century, in which he juxtaposed the moral bankruptcies of Stalin with those of the “Western Democracies”:
“Have you forgotten the other bankruptcies? What was Christianity doing in the various catastrophes of society? What became of Liberalism? What has Conservatism produced, in either its enlightened or its reactionary form? … If we are indeed honestly to weigh out the bankruptcies of ideology, we shall have a long task ahead of us.”
A long task indeed – especially if we have to wade through the fake news of The New Yorker.
See Gopnik’s piece here: