I confess to having used the word “polarization” to describe the current state of our national politics. I’ll try to be more careful from now on. That word masks more than it reveals. It conceals one party sabotaging democracy while the other defends it.
You could say “polarization” is amoral.
You could also say it’s just another lie.
“Polarized” is the word being used on the cable-news morning shows Monday to describe what happened at the World Series last night. Donald Trump arrived at Nationals Park for Game 5 between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. What were cheers turned to jeers, boos, then a long glorious chant to “lock him up!”
This, of course, is the same chant the president has enjoyed and still enjoys at his rallies, only instead of “him,” it’s “her,” and instead of the subject being Trump, it’s his former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to have earned such ridicule for using a private email server while she was secretary of state. Trump’s critics are right to say calling for Clinton to be jailed was an authoritarian gambit. So naturally the cable-news morning shows are asking if it’s the liberals’ turn at fascism.
To be sure, Democratic Senator Chris Coons told CNN’s John Berman on Monday that, “I’m enough of a sort of traditionalist about our institutions that even at a time when there is a lot that our president does that I find disturbing, offensive, unconventional, I have a hard time with the idea of a crowd on a globally televised sporting event chanting ‘lock him up’ about our president. I frankly think the office of the president deserves respect, even when the actions of our president don’t.”
But if I were to give Coons the benefit of the doubt, I’d say he’s responding to the signals he’s hearing, and those signals are coming from a media establishment that cannot, and will not, break the habit of drawing moral equivalence between morally unequal things. In setting up the question, Berman is signaling there’s a right answer and there’s a wrong answer, and Coons is smart enough to know the difference.
I’m less charitable to media figures like Joe Scarborough. His performance this morning was pure sanctimony, which, alas, it’s a widespread trait in the Washington press corps. He said: “I speak to the ‘lock him up’ chants. It’s un-American. It started with Donald Trump—in fact he’s made it a centerpiece of his campaign rallies.”
Of course it’s sickening. We are Americans and we do not do that. We do not want the world hearing us chant: “lock him up” to this president or to any president.
Actually, as we say on Twitter, it’s the most American thing of all to shout insults at leaders. Indeed, we should shout insults even if we approve of our leaders just to keep them honest. And we should definitely should shout insults like “lock him up!” at our leaders when they are in fact unindicted co-conspirators in the committing of felonies for which one co-conspirator is now serving time in a federal penitentiary. In general, it’s good to ridicule presidents who behave as if they are above the rule of law.
Clinton, on the other hand, did not break any laws when using a private email server while secretary of state. Indeed, after an exhaustive three-year investigation, State Department investigators found “there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information.” She’s been exonerated of the accusations against her.
To chant “lock her up!” is one thing. To chant “lock him up!” is another. One person committed no crime. The other did, and is getting away with it. These are not equal. Pretending they are is to mislead the public, and to contribute to the systemic poisoning of the minds that constitute the republic. What the press corps ought to do is pay deference to the people. The people are not demanding punishment without due process. The people are demanding due process in the name of justice. They are demanding it by using the authoritarian’s own polarizing rhetoric against him.
Which brings me back to “polarization.”
What is polarization when a Republican president won’t protect our sovereignty against foreign interference? What is it when the Republican Party benefits from Trump’s treachery? What is polarization when a third of the electorate believes lies? What is it when the political fighting isn’t over policy but whether a fact is a fact?
What is polarization when, according to the Post Monday, “Republican senators are lost and adrift as the impeachment inquiry enters its second month, navigating the grave threat to President Trump largely in the dark, frustrated by the absence of a credible case to defend his conduct”? What is it when the House speaker quote-tweets this, adding, “Look to your oath”? It’s not an accurate reflection of political reality.
It isn’t the truth either.
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