Real news gets new anchor Kayleigh McEnany

I consider myself a strong speller, but my brain refuses to absorb the name “Kayleigh McEnany.” I blame the victim. “Kayleigh” is needlessly adorned—this is my son William, whom we call Billeigh—and “McEnany” is just a bunch of sounds, the Scots-Irish equivalent of “banana.” Maybe that’s the point. McEnany herself is a cipher, a pretty blonde template after the fashion of Fox News. She looks like the anchorwoman in a Paul Verhoeven movie. In this regard, she contrasts sharply with the previous anchor of the real news, Lara Trump, who looks like the realtor who tried to fuck your dad.

Thus we enter week two of the real news, “brought to you from Trump tower here in New York.” Like most Americans, I am sick of fake news such as the New York Times and long for news I can trust, ideally broadcast from a black tower owned by the person the news is about. Once again, the real news reports that Donald Trump is great. But it’s got a new, more professional face in McEnany, and it also seems to have better production values. There are wipes between cuts instead of momentum-killing fades to black, and there are inserts. Granted, the inserts play sound at low volume while McEnany talks, but we’re still looking at a leap forward in production values. Check it out:

McEnany’s appearance on the real news coincides with her appointment as spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. Previously, she was a contributor to CNN and a producer for Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News. Between the personnel change and the more professional look, it’s tempting to conclude that the RNC is producing the real news now, but it remains unclear who makes this show. It runs on Trump’s Facebook page, and it claims to shoot in Trump tower, so it makes sense that it would be a product of the Trump PR team. But this installment bears the RNC’s fingerprints, not just in staffing and production but in message.

“More great economic news on Friday,” McEnany says, following Walter Cronkite’s practice of telling viewers how wonderful world events have been. “Overall, since the president took office, President Trump has created more than one million jobs.” That sounds impressive, but we should not that there hasn’t been a six-month period since mid-2013 that didn’t see the creation of more than a million jobs. That factoid comes from this Washington Post analysis of recent messaging from the RNC, which described the million-jobs statistic as “unprecedented economic growth” in a tweet Sunday night. Two pro-Trump organizations could easily talk about the same recent economic data at the same time without working together. But McEnany’s new positions as RNC spokeswoman and real news anchor make it seem like more than coincidence.

If the RNC is involved in the production of these videos, it represents a pernicious shift in the party’s attitude. It was one thing to watch legions of Republicans change their tune on Trump after he won. It’s another to watch the GOP tacitly endorse the idea that actual news broadcasts are fake, and only propaganda is real. Say what you will about the disintegration of longstanding norms in American politics. Up until last week, both parties at least gave lip service to the distinction between journalism and politics. That’s over now for the GOP.

One presumes the Democrats will respond by producing their own, slightly less audacious “real news” program hosted by Mark Zuckerberg. I guess I should be numb by now, but it’s still unsettling to see naked propaganda from the president and his party billing itself as news. I feel as though we have violated some longstanding condition in the social contract, whereby we agreed to distinguish between fact and opinion. Probably we crossed that line long ago and have just gotten around to making videos about it. But this real news feels surreal, like a scene in a science fiction movie or some viral video from North Korean state television. It’s weird that making America great again involves making it awful in ways it never was before.

We can end alliteration in our lifetimes

Debut New York Times columnist Bari Weiss

There are two reasons to write: for approval and for satisfaction. Satisfaction is generally held to be the more noble motive, or at least the more sustainable one. But insofar as satisfaction is just another kind of approval, i.e. approval of oneself, there’s really only one reason to write. That’s why reading sucks. Most written works are series of bids for the reader’s approval, with small amounts of useful information inserted like the hook in a big, plastic lure. Look how yellow and glittery my lure is, dear reader! Don’t you want to swallow that fat worm and become my meal? Every writer thinks this, consciously, each time they sit down to write. The trick is to hide it. Here’s the first sentence of Bari Weiss’s debut column in the New York Times:

A mere half-year ago, before collusion and Comey, before Mika’s face and Muslim bans and the Mooch, there was a shining moment where millions of Americans flooded the streets in cities across the country to register their rage that an unapologetic misogynist had just been made leader of the free world.

I see what you did there, and I am displeased. “Collusion and Comey” is all right, even euphonious. That would be just enough spice to get me through this longish compound sentence. But then I get “Mika’s face and Muslim bans and the Mooch,” which is both conspicuous and unsatisfying. Alliteration doesn’t work with phrasal nouns. You could do “Mika and Muslims and the Mooch,” but that doesn’t make sense. Neither does  “Muslim bans,” though, since Donald Trump started talking about that early in the campaign, before the women’s march.  This sentence has to work to wedge in all this alliteration, and for what? It only distracts me while I’m trying to decode the meaning—something along the lines of “It seems like a long time ago, but before all this craziness, Trump’s election brought about something good: the women’s march.”

That sentence conveys the same ideas as the one Weiss wrote, but it does not demonstrate the felicity of the author. I submit that alliteration serves only that purpose in nine out of ten uses. It is a time-honored way to show that you are a good writer, despite the fact that anyone can do it. As a skill it is even less difficult than rhyming, yet generations of English teachers have taught it is a Literary Technique. It is not. Alliteration is a literary term, and as a demonstration of mastery it is only slightly more impressive than enjambment and about as difficult, i.e. easy to do but hard to do meaningfully.

Alliteration works well in epithets, such as “nattering nabobs of negativity.” This leads us to assume that it would constitute wit in prose. But while alliteration is good for coming up with catchy nicknames, it almost never makes a sentence more trenchant. Neither does it introduce double meanings or resolve ambiguities, except incidentally. It doesn’t engage the realm of meaning at all, operating on the level of diction by making it serve arbitrary similarities between words instead of connotation and nuance. It’s frosting. Alliteration is the kind of wit that isn’t funny or insightful, the kind of poetry that does not address the soul.

And yet we keep taking it up. I think alliteration is a step we take not because it gets us where we’re going, but because it’s sure. If I sit down to write the first sentence of something important, I am liable to think too much. I need to just start typing, and alliteration gives me a form I can follow almost automatically. That is a reason to avoid it. Sentences get hard to write when we are not sure what they say. To govern them by some other logic is to avoid the hard questions good writing seeks out.

Anyway, a lot of people are mad at Weiss for attacking the leaders of the women’s march on the basis of their past approval of problematic figures, such as Louis Farrakhan and Fidel Castro. She also seems to put “anti-Zionism” in the same category of bad ideas as anti-Semitism and killing cops. Those are valid grounds for criticism. I also think Weiss is right to be on the lookout for anti-Semitism in contemporary progressive movements, which seem to defend the rights of Jews less vigorously than those of other groups. Reasonable people can disagree about which ideas are “beyond the pale of the progressive feminist movement in America”—a truth that constitutes both a criticism of Weiss’s column and a defense of it. But the issue on which there can be no disagreement, where we must enforce consensus with an iron fist, is alliteration. That shit must stop immediately.

Almost half of Republicans polled say courts should shut down “biased” news

Alex Jones fans promote his “CNN is ISIS” meme.

If one phrase captures the willful irresponsibility of the alt-right, it’s “CNN is ISIS.” Back in June, Alex Jones and his Infowars show offered $1,000 to anyone who could get that slogan onto TV, either by holding up a sign or wearing it on a shirt. It’s a nonsense statement. No one actually thinks CNN is connected to the Islamic State, or that they are even comparably bad, but saying you think so expresses an attitude. That attitude is “I’m willing to say whatever, especially if it drives libs crazy.” “CNN is ISIS” is the gleeful refrain of a lifestyle that has freed itself from truth.

As stupid as it is, though, it also captures an animosity toward the press that is real among supporters of Donald Trump. The president himself has called the media an enemy of the American people and now refers to any bad press—including leaks—as “fake news.” He encouraged crowds at his rallies to boo reporters during the campaign, and he continues to do so at various public events. But all this mindless hatred wouldn’t affect the public’s support for a free and independent press, would it? That’s just too deeply ingrained in the American system.

Enter The Economist, who found in a joint poll with YouGov that 45% of respondents who identified as Republicans approved of “permitting the courts to shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate.” Seriously, look at this:

In the same poll, 71% of Republicans said they trusted Donald Trump more than the New York Times. That’s astonishing. Even if you think the Times is biased, the number of inaccuracies it prints in a year does not approach the number of falsehoods President Trump uttered in his first week. Even his supporters admonish us to take Trump seriously but not literally, which is a polite way of saying he does not speak with any regard for the truth. Calling this man more trustworthy than America’s paper of record is like saying your dog is smarter than the faculty of Yale.

Now is a good time to remember that polls don’t necessarily tell us what people think so much as what they want to think—the idea of themselves they take on, suddenly, when a pollster asks them to express their beliefs. Probably, 71% of Republicans don’t reach for the newspaper and then decide they’ll get a more reliable report from President Trump. When you ask them to choose between the two, though, they want to convey their support for him by saying Trump is better.

This phenomenon probably also accounts for the terrifying plurality of Republicans who said courts should restrict the free press. The overwhelming favorite among the general pool of respondents to that question is “haven’t heard enough to say.” It’s good they haven’t heard enough, since no one is really talking about it. I wouldn’t need much background on that one to feel confidently against it, but it’s not as though the 28% who said they favored the idea are out there trying to make it happen. It’s more likely they heard a pollster ask about it and said okay, whatever. But Christ merciful and lambent, that’s a scary question.

Jeet Heer on Chapo Trap House and “dominance politics”

The dirtbag right

To clarify the heading of today’s post: Jeet Heer did not appear on the Chapo Trap House podcast. Although he seems like a natural fit for the show, he has criticized it, most recently in an essay in the New Republic this morning. My experience reading Heer is that he is a scrupulous thinker even when he’s wrong, and this essay upholds that rule. He pushes back early against the dirty argument that Chapo host Will Menaker meant something sexist when he said centrist Democrats would have to “bend the knee” to form a coalition with leftists. Such a reading seems opportunistic, and Heer dismisses it. But he also cites Chapo as an instance of the left using the same bullying tactics as Donald Trump—a practice he calls “dominance politics.” Quote:

This gendered analysis seems unwarranted because Menaker’s remarks weren’t aimed at women as a class, but at the centrist wing of the Democratic Party; Clinton wasn’t mentioned, and the phrase may even be an allusion to a common refrain in Game of Thrones. Yet if the remark wasn’t sexist in intent, it still suggests a troubling vision of politics as a contest in domination.

Heer argues that dominance politics is a dead end. Demanding that centrists bend the knee won’t work, because “you can’t really build a coalition of egalitarian politics by browbeating a key segment of that coalition.” That’s true. I think his central point is correct: the Clinton wing is not going to cede control of the party to democratic socialists, and demanding they do might thwart a winning coalition. I’m not sure that’s what Menaker meant, though, when he said bend the knee. It seems like he was talking less about submission and more about some kind of acknowledgement that the moderates were wrong, and their mistakes blew a winnable election.

Regardless, I like that Heer envisions a coalition of Democrats who are not actively vituperating one another. For the same reason I don’t think liberals should hold Trump voters in contempt, I don’t think leftists should ask liberals to confess. My main concern with Heer’s argument, though, is that it focuses on one form of dominance without acknowledging others that are more significant.

When Heer says that Trump or the hosts of Chapo Trap House are exercising dominance by mocking their political opponents, he means they’re exercising rhetorical dominance. Agreed the left is good at that—especially compared to the Clinton campaign, which pretty much ate sand in the area of messaging. But moderate Democrats and the Clinton network dominate the party in every other meaningful sense of the word. They control the DNC, as we saw last spring. They control fundraising. They set strategy in the last election. They drive the policy agenda, although Sanders et al have tickled the wheel lately. Still, in most important areas, centrists dominate the Democratic Party. The only area in which they don’t is rhetoric. The rhetoric of young, left-leaning Democrats is much more lively and contagious than anything moderates have come up with since Obama 2008.

That’s not to say Heer is mistaken to argue Chapo should be nice to them. On the contrary, it probably means that going easy on neoliberal complacency will be an important part of the left’s strategy moving forward. But that’s a claim about tactics. Heer also seems to be making a claim about the philosophy, or even ethics, of the Democratic party. Are Democrats too good for insult comedy? It’s a question worth considering, but only in the context of larger power dynamics. Civility is a luxury of the winning team.

Okay, now choose which of these is funny

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been loving today’s wall-to-wall coverage of a Twitter exchange between Donald Trump, a real estate magnate and reality TV celebrity who recently became President of the United States, and Chelsea Clinton. You may remember her as the daughter of that world-famous symbol of feminine power, Kim Kardashian. Anyway, here’s the leader of the free world this morning:

The amazing thing here is that Trump has access to professional speechwriters, yet he continues to address millions in the same voice your uncle uses on your Facebook wall. The other amazing thing is that he is referring to the recent G20 summit, where Ivanka filled in for him at a general meeting as he met with the president of Indonesia.

No biggie—it’s just the president’s daughter representing the United States to foreign nations, like when Barack Obama sent Malia to the Sochi Olympics. Too bad the Fake News, continues to apply a double standard to him and Hillary Clinton even now, in the second year of their campaign. That’s why he mentioned Chelsea in his tweet, since she is the logical parallel to the sitting president’s daughter.

Anyway, the whole thing is garbage. You have to read the sentence three times to even understand what he’s trying to say. He wants to imagine Clinton in a parallel situation to his own, but he also can’t resist saying that she would “give our country away,” whatever that means. These two concepts are incompatible, but Trump is too bad at sentences to realize that, so he crams them in together and leaves the reader to unpack. It’s bad. To get a sense of how bad it is, look how good Chelsea’s rejoinder seems by comparison, even though it, too, is terribly bad:

Look what you can accomplish when you have multiple people writing the tweet instead of just one! Chelsea also crams in too many ideas, including that A) her father was president, and he never had her sit in for him,  B) he slipped up with that giving-the-country-away thing, C) she respects the office more than he does, as her salutation will indicate, and D) she hopes he does a better job in the future. It’s banter from the least funny and spontaneous person ever to inherit fame. But at least the writing doesn’t sound like she’s yelling over a dragster engine. It’s committee-quality copy from a brand that knows it will be applauded for any gesture of defiance.

Anyway, which one of these people totally inspires you? Is it the sub-literate plutocrat who insists the news is fake? Or do you prefer the anodyne nepotism case whose mother’s obstinance put the plutocrat in charge? I’m siding with Chelsea, because she seems less likely to put people in camps. But does she seem 100% certain not to do that? Not really, and therein lies the problem.