Thursday, May 9, 2019

BTRTN: Crazy Like FOX... Dems Should Follow Bernie Across the Cable DMZ

Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler declared that we are officially in a Constitutional crisis. Indeed, Donald Trump may be stonewalling Congressional subpoenas precisely to goad Democrats into impeachment proceedings that he believes will help him politically by even further exacerbating the polarization in our politics. What's to be done about the polarization that insulates and emboldens Trump? Steve thinks Bernie Sanders has the right idea.

Attention, passengers! We have an Attorney General who generally thinks that he is the personal attorney for the President of the United States, who thinks that Congressional oversight comes with an “opt-out” provision for the Executive branch, and who actually believes that the President can terminate any investigation into his own conduct if he thinks the charges are, uh, trumped up. William Barr, bloated hand puppet of Donald Trump, is the pilot guiding our Republic's adherence to the rule of law. He appears to be flying Aeroflot.

Barr should really be impeached... but until then, let's diss Barr!

Start with his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was one part rope-a-dope, one part dope, but mostly just big stupid dope

The rope-a-dope was the Attorney General’s cruel and unusual torturing of the English language as he clumsily executed evasive maneuvers, oafishly oozing contempt as he parried and filibustered question after question, at one point suggesting that he did not know how to interpret the word “suggesting.” Committee member Ted Cruz stared in shock and awe, realizing that in front of his very eyes someone was taking away his title as the sleeziest blowhard in Washington. 

What was dope was watching Kamala Harris dishing roasted Barr nuts, coolly forcing him to reveal that he had issued his get-out-of-jail free card to Donald Trump without even bothering to glance at a single item in the reams of actual evidence addended to the Mueller report. Harris stood head and shoulders above her Presidential rivals on the committee, and demonstrated her steady competence and intimidating sang froid in confronting and rattling one of Trump’s most shameless deceivers. 

But in the end, it was a show about the latest big, stupid, aging white dope to prostitute himself for Donald Trump. At one point, William Barr actually advanced the theory that if a President felt that a lawfully predicated investigation into his conduct was based on false charges, that he was completely within his rights to terminate said investigation. Mr. Barr, the entire reason we decided to have our own country was to get rid of kings. When the guy who is entrusted to enforce the law of the land doesn’t think he needs to worry himself with nuisances like congressional oversight, committee testimony and subpoenas, or the separation of powers, he’s not just playing games with thrones.

Most telling: there are probably actual weasels who look more comfortable under oath than William Barr. Eyes darting, brow furrowed, Barr looked tentative, suspicious, and desperate to avoid any unqualified assertions. Hey, Bill, not everybody can lie as fluidly and easily as your boss! That kind of unalloyed projectile deceit requires decades of practice and often a surgical removal of the soul. Most human beings can spot the telltale signs of a liar, and William Barr sported every one of them.

Indeed, the appointment of this Attorney General is just the latest lowering of the Barr. One of the most alarming developments of Donald Trump’s presidency is that all the unctuous sycophants who have been hired in the last six months actually cause one to yearn for the marginally competent toadies they replaced. Where have you gone, Rex Tillerson? John Kelly, we thought you were the most egregious, disingenuous, misguided enabler ever, but then we met Mick Mulvaney! We can only imagine the sewer rodent they will have to find who can slink below Kirstjen Nielsen in order to preserve their record of replacing scum with scummier. 

And yet, for all the evidence of a national flush into the septic tank of lawlessness, the immutable endures: Donald Trump’s approval rating remains preternaturally unmovable, etched into marble at somewhere around 42%.

It is the riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma for all who lean left: how is it possible that Donald Trump’s sins, deceits, criminal acts, vile behaviors, racist bloviation, misogynist bile, xenophobic rants, impeachable offenses, and now broadside volleys against the Constitution have had, in aggregate, no discernible impact on his approval rating?

Theories abound. Some involve arrogant estimates about the IQs and education of Trump supporters, but a modest amount of googling can shoot these theories to pieces. There is the theory that many Trump supporters care only about the strong state of the economy and stock market. Other theories hold that Trump gives voice to the anger of Americans who feel that their government has failed them. 

But there is of course another factor, and it is profound. And that is the fact that millions of perfectly intelligent Americans choose to get their news from Fox News, and each and every day they are provided an aggressively curated version of the day’s events. If you want to know a big reason why Donald Trump’s approval rating is immutable, the answer lies there.

Whenever a discussion of Fox News comes up, check-your-privilege liberals often bend over backwards, self-assuredly oozing media savvy in acknowledging that MSNBC does that exact same type of cherry-picking, fact-bending, video-editing news manipulation as their counterparts at Fox.

They are wrong.  

Lefties would be well-served to occasionally watch Fox News.We’re not talking about the daytime news people like Shephard Smith, a pretty decent news guy who is perfectly willing to break ranks with his mates on points of principle, or Chris Wallace,  who is actually a first rate journalist. We are talking about the prime time line up of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who spew a five inch, double-jacket fire hose of bullshit on unsuspecting sexagenarians all over America on a nightly basis.

Every now and again – and particularly as an aide in preparing for a colonoscopy – I force myself to sit for an evening of Fox News. It is hard duty. Those who would compare Fox News to Pravda do a disservice to the  journalistic vision of Nikita Khrushchev’s state news operation. When Soviet rockets exploded, Pravda just shut up... they didn't fake a picture of ground control engineers giving the thumbs up of "all systems go."

Late last week, feeling mildly constipated and seeking relief, I decided to use the occasion of the Barr Senate Hearings as an opportunity to execute a classic side-by-side test: how would MSNBC and Fox News cover the exact same news story?

And as an aide to irritable bowel syndrome, Fox never disappoints. I clicked away from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes just as Fox was executing the handoff from Tucker Carlson to Sean Hannity. I instantly felt dizzying motion sickness as the earth’s magnetic poles reversed. Planet Hannity was unrecognizable. It was as if I had grown gills and was now able to experience the alternative version of Planet Earth that exists beneath the waves.

Reflecting on Barr’s handling of his testimony, Hannity frantically began by stating that Democrats were in a “psychotic state of denial,” and with a “psychotic rage spinning in their little liberal brains.” It is hard to use the word “psychotic” twice within the first thirty seconds of a broadcast without sounding a little, uh, psychotic

Frothing by 2:15 into his opening monologue, Hannity recounted the “liberal tears, panic, mayhem, and downright unhinged nature of everybody,” which he felt compelled to categorize as now “officially a mass mental disturbance.” Perhaps the party that denies science deserves the network that is ignorant of science.

After three minutes of character assassination of “psychotic liberals,” Hannity moved very briefly through the substance of the day’s events. He reported to his listeners that “Mueller later admitted that Barr’s summary was in no way inaccurate or misleading.” Uh, that’s a lie. Barr, in testimony, alleged that Mueller had said as much. Barr claimed that in a phone call Mueller had said that he did not have a problem with Barr’s summary, but only with how the media was interpreting it. This is no way squares with Mueller’s actual letter, which noted that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”

Sean Hannity wailed on. He said that Mueller’s investigative team was made up of “biased Democratic donors,” and that he "had hired zero Republicans,” a charming weasel around the fact that Robert Mueller is a Republican, but of course had not hired himself. Mueller was hired by Rod Rosenstein... yep, a registered Republican.

This, in turn, led to “the pivot,” in which Hannity hastily dropped the topic of Barr's hearings and went back to red meat and potatoes of Republican victimization. Hannity questioned why Mueller had not used the broad mandate of his investigative mission to examine Hillary Clinton’s emails. Hannity piggy-backed on William Barr’s inflammatory statement that Trump’s campaign had been “spied upon,” never acknowledging the legitimate predication that had to have been established before any investigation into the connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia could commence. 

Thereafter, it segued into the highlight reel of Hannity’s greatest rants, a stream of consciousness about the “deep state,” the misdeeds of FBI agent Peter Strzck, the legitimacy of FISA warrants, “deep state lying” committed under “Obama’s watch,” and, of course, Hillary Hillary Hillary.

Hannity climaxed with the following clarion call to now turn the tables and focus the attention of all governmental investigative agencies on the people who perpetrated the "Russian hoax." “Night after night on this program we told you we are not stopping. We are going to continue to demand truth and justice because the rule of law, the equal application of the law, and frankly with no hyperbole, our constitutional republic is at stake here.”

Only in this, Hannity’s crescendo, did I find any whiff of superficial commonality with MSNBC. Hannity rested his case by asserting the vital importance of the “rule of law” and the “Constitution," just as so many MSNBC and CNN journalists do every evening. This was clearly a case of too many ironies in the fire. Sean Hannity was zealously defending this President and this administration by warning that their opponents were a threat to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself, just as their Attorney General was delivering a stiff arm to Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight. That, as Bill Clinton once famously said, that takes brass

Throughout Hannity's broadcast, the screen behind him was filled with screaming graphics which invoked the term “hysteria” three times in ten minutes: “Mueller hysteria: Exposing the Democrats’ endless witch hunts.” “Hate and hysteria.” “Dems’ Barr hysteria.”

No, people, MSNBC and CNN are not Fox News. Chris Hayes is not playing the same game as Sean Hannity. Hayes maintains the demeanor of a journalist, and is governed by the urgent requirement to speak truth. Hannity seems to find his inspiration in the world of televangelists, with its high-testosterone preening and screeching, all while preaching a gospel of fealty not to the United States, but to Donald Trump.

Watching Hannity’s show is painful and discouraging. If you want to know why Trump's approval rating never moves, it is possible that it is because Trump's base doesn't care about his misdeeds. However, it may also be that they only hear versions of his deeds that are packaged through the Fox prism of deception, profit motive, proximity to power, and victimhood. For my part, the hard duty of watching Hannity was over, and my alimentary issues had passed by spending time in Hannity's world of rapidly flowing B.S.

All of which brings me to a recent flash of brilliance from contrarian Bernie Sanders.

Sure, we can worry that Bernie's ideological rigidity and uncompromising rhetoric could lead to damaging rifts in the Democratic Party. But it is fair to argue that he has been the pre-eminent thought leader for the Party over the past four years... creative, perceptive, original, and way out in front of the party's sharp shift to the left.

A few weeks ago Bernie participated in a town hall-style television event broadcast on Fox News. Bernie’s town hall in the other team’s town was particularly notable as the Democratic Party had recently announced that it would refuse to allow Fox News to host any of the televised debates in the Democratic primary season.

This time, it’s sure not crazy Bernie. Bernie is right and the Democratic Party leadership is crazy.
When Bernie Sanders went on Fox, he ventured across the 38th parallel of cable news and spoke to the isolated and programmed North Hannity-ites on the other side, who finally may have discovered that Democrats were not the “hate and hysteria” people that Dear Leader claims them to be. 

Bernie did well. He deftly used humor to defuse tension, and his Fox hosts were stunned by positive reactions among the town hall participants to Bernie’s ideas about government-sponsored healthcare. 

Most important, Bernie Sanders's gamble on Fox helps illuminate an essential truth. The ferocious loyalty of Donald Trump's base is the fuel for his assault on our democracy. As long as he exerts his mind-control over these people, cowardly Republican Senators are terrified of taking Trump on. As long as the base controls those Senators, Trump knows he can't be impeached. If he can't be impeached, he feels emboldened to trample our Constitution and our institutions of government to preserve his power and further cloak his history of illegal activity. By eroding, weakening, and crushing those institutional checks on executive power, Trump is ever more able to limit oversight, obstructing justice in an entirely new way.

All, of course, with Sean Hannity's generous help.

So Bernie Sanders decided to go behind enemy lines and speak directly to Trump's base. He realized that allowing the base to listen exclusively to Sean Hannity was to acquiesce to the polarization that fuels Trump's power. 

If you don't shake the faith of Trump's base, he keeps his Senators, he keeps his job, and he keeps crushing the checks and balances that make our nation a democracy governed by the rule of law. 

We must try to get to Trump's base.

Sure, you can say that you will never change their minds. And I will say that you can never do it if you don't even try. You sure as hell will never do it if you leave the megaphone uncontested in Sean Hannity's hands.

How are the Democrats ever going to have the slightest chance of making a dent in Trump’s base if they are unwilling to appear on the most effective medium to reach them? Sure, it may be hard to change a single mind… but do you concede the battle without engaging? 

At a minimum, the Dems could put Trump on the defensive in front of this own people. Why not challenge him on his home turf? Why concede? Open up a second front!

The Democrats should be offering to do ten debates on Fox. Can you imagine what might happen if Democrats had three hours on Fox Prime time once a week? How much they could discuss the realities of what has happened under Donald Trump’s leadership? To point out the lies, the deceits, and the many ways in which Donald Trump’s policies are actually hurting the people who are voting for him?

Bernie Sanders has demonstrated that his strategy of “Radio Free Trump Base” could be extremely effective in getting an unfiltered message to the Fox audience.

Every Democratic candidate should be signing up for interviews on Fox shows. Fox could probably set up one of those pay-per-view bonanzas staged for title fights if they featured an hour of one-on-one between Sean Hannity and Pete Buttigieg. 

Let’s go, Dems! Game of Thrones is almost over. Crazy Like Fox is going to be the next mega-hit! There are 18 of you and you all can’t be on Rachel every night. Fan out. Flood the zone. Want to get back some of your sizzle, Beto? Go toe-to-toe with Tucker Carlson. Amy, show us that midwestern get-along stuff by showing up on Fox and Friends. Kirsten Gillibrand, you may score more air time on Fox than you’ve been getting on Blue TV. 

Bernie’s right, folks: there is a huge audience of blindly loyal Trump supporters tuning on the television every night, and they are only hearing one side of the story. That audience is yours for the taking. 

And believe me, Cory, if you go up against Sean Hannity and crush it, the video will be all over MSNBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS for days.

One last thought… it’s not like Donald Trump is about to show up on MSNBC. This is a one-way street, and open opportunity to reach Trump’s base, weaken Trump, and sow doubt. 

The worst that could happen? You don’t change anybody’s mind. But even that is fine. Because your real target -- Democratic voters -- will get to see how good you are going up against Trump surrogates. Before we nominate you, we want to know that you will be ready to take on the real thing.

Thanks, Bernie. Keep up the contrarian thinking. 

And as for the rest of you candidates, if you all think Bernie is crazy, then go get that crazy.

Crazy like a Fox. 

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