A shift in the media narrative?
December 5, 2023
Congress is struggling to find a pathway to provide military assistance to both Ukraine and Israel before the end of the month. The head of the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, warned that the US would “run out of money” to provide military aid to Ukraine by late December. Although the House calendar is a mess, the Senate is scheduled to hold a vote on Ukraine aid on Wednesday—but the fate of the bill is tied to (blocked by?) disagreements over reforms to immigration at the US southern border. To say the least, the negotiations over the border bill are going poorly. Indeed, the parties can’t even agree on whether Democrats and Republicans are still negotiating over the bill.
In a sign of the existential importance of the aid to Ukraine, President Zelensky is scheduled to meet with all US Senators via an encrypted videocall on Tuesday. But even if the Senate passes a foreign aid bill, that provides no guarantee of success in the House (in the near term). Ukraine will still receive aid from NATO countries, which provide about 50% of the foreign aid to Ukraine. But delay in US aid would be devastating.
[The Washington Post published an in-depth analysis of Ukraine’s problematic “counter-offensive” and the related logistical, supply, command, and battlefield setbacks. The article is lengthy, but if you haven’t been paying attention to Ukraine since October, the WaPo article will bring you up to date. A follow-up article will appear tomorrow. See WaPo, Miscalculations, divisions marked offensive planning by U.S., Ukraine. (Accessible to all).]
So, too, with any delay in funding for Israel. The US provides about 16% of the Israeli defense budget (according to the Congressional Research Service). The war on Hamas was likely not in the Israeli defense budget and funding from the US is critical.
Many Democrats (and some Republicans) are calling for imposing conditions on future funding for Israel’s military budget. If the House can’t bring a funding bill for Israel or Ukraine to the floor, there is no possibility of negotiating over conditions on aid to Israel.
In a functioning democracy, the people’s representatives express the will of their constituencies by voting on legislation. However, the Republican dysfunction in the House continues to undermine the ability of the US to conduct foreign policy in the way that allows Congress to exercise the “power of the purse” in shaping the foreign policy goals of the US.
It will be another eventful week in Congress that will shape world events—even if nothing happens.
A shift in the media narrative?
Over the last forty-eight hours, there has been a shift in the media narrative about the dangers posed by a second Trump presidency. That shift (explained below) is a positive sign—and may be in response to the heavy criticism of media outlets by their consumers. If you have been part of that effort, good for you! Your actions are making a difference! Keep up the good work!
So, what happened? And is the media’s coverage of Trump “news”? Yes. Like it or not, the media narrative can affect the views of some voters—and may provide “cover” for politicians to speak out against Trump's threatened extremist measures.
The shift was kicked off with Robert Kagan’s op-ed in WaPo, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending. Although I heavily criticized Kagan’s dismissal of Democrats as ineffective and disorganized, I acknowledged that “much of what Kagan says is factually true or based on reasonable inference.” Kagan was lambasted in the comments to his op-ed for his negative views of Democrats.
But on Monday, the New York Times published two important articles that set aside the “horse race” politics of 2024 and focused on the threat posed by Trump. See Why a Second Trump Presidency May Be More Radical Than His First (Accessible to all.)
The thesis of the article is that “Donald Trump has long exhibited authoritarian impulses, but his policy operation is now more sophisticated, and the buffers to check him are weaker.” The article is more factual than alarmist—but the facts are alarming. It was written by three journalists on the Donald Trump “beat”—so it may signal a shift in Times’ newsroom stance in reporting about Trump.
A second article (op-ed) in the Times discussed the need to reform the Insurrection Act—which Trump minions have told the media they plan to invoke in the first week of Trump's second term. See op-ed by David French, The Insurrection Act Has to Go.
And then, there is The Atlantic, which is devoting a dozen articles in the January / February edition to assessing what a Trump second term would look like. (I haven’t read the articles yet, and can’t share them, so I will address them over the next few weeks.) The editor-in-chief of The Atlantic explained in a note (The Danger Ahead) why the publication was devoting so much space to a possible second term:
It is not a sure thing that Trump will win the Republican nomination again, but as I write this, he’s the prohibitive front-runner. . . . Our team of brilliant writers makes a convincingly dispositive case that both Trump and Trumpism pose an existential threat to America and to the ideas that animate it. The country survived the first Trump term, though not without sustaining serious damage. A second term, if there is one, will be much worse.
When leading media outlets begin to set the narrative, others will follow. Good. Changing the focus from “Trump is leading in swing states” and “Biden is too old” to “Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy” is a positive development.
Republicans immediately took notice of the shift in tone and have begun to push back. See The Hill, Trump, allies fire back at media warnings of second-term dictatorship. Convincing Americans that Trump is not an aspiring dictator will be difficult as long as Trump continues to follow Hitler’s playbook. And as long as Republicans can’t quit their association with Nazis, the American people have no reason to believe their protestations. See, e.g., Judd Legum, Popular Information, Texas Republican Party rejects ban on associating with Nazi sympathizers.
If the media narrative shifts, we should amplify it in every way we can. We have suffered through a year of bad press and survived. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity—and urge media outlets to continue their narrative by praising articles that highlight the threat posed by Trump--without telling us that all is lost.
Identifying Trump as a threat to democracy is only half the story. The other half is the terrific job that President Biden has done in managing the post-pandemic economy. I urge you to read and share Simon Rosenberg’s Hopium Chronicles, The Economy Is Remarkably Strong. Period. Stop The Bullshit.
Rosenberg’s (partial) list of the positive economic news includes:
GDP growth was 5.2! last quarter.
US has had best recovery from COVID in the G7
Inflation was zero last month.
Wage growth remains robust, 5% via Atlanta Fed; wages have been beating inflation for many months now.
Median wealth up 37% from 2020-2022; median wealth for 18-34 year olds in this period more than doubled.
Jobs are more plentiful than anytime since the 1960s
US has lowest uninsured rate in history
There is more. Read it! So, the full(er) narrative is “Trump is a threat to democracy and Biden has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans.”
UN Meeting finally provides a forum for discussion of Hamas’s use of rape as a weapon of war.
Hamas committed unspeakable atrocities on Israeli women and girls on October 7. For more than a month, the world human rights community has remained silent. When the UN finally spoke—under pressure—its statements were half-measures that minimized the sexual violence and failed to name Hamas terrorists as the perpetrators. On Monday, the UN held a session on sexual violence. See Times of Israel, Israel-led UN special session condemns world silence on Hamas using rape as weapon of war.
The performance of an agency known as UN Women has been shameful. Per the Times of Israel,
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, came under intense fire for an October 13 statement that equated Hamas’s terror onslaught with Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip, while failing to mention the terror group by name or address its sexual assaults.
Then, the organization late last month posted on Instagram a condemnation of “the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7” — only to delete it shortly after.
On December 1, UN Women released another statement that began by expressing “deep regret” that Israeli operations had resumed in Gaza, and reiterated that “women, Israeli women, Palestinian women, as all others, are entitled to a life lived in safety and free from violence.”
The statement proceeded to “unequivocally condemn the brutal attacks by Hamas” and expressed alarm at “the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks.”
A careful reader will note that UN Women said it was alarmed at the “numerous accounts” of gender-based atrocities—not the atrocities themselves.
Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton both spoke at the special UN session on sexual violence. The testimony and evidence presented are shocking and difficult to comprehend. The details are included in this NYTimes article—which is very difficult reading: Accounts of Sexual Violence by Hamas Are Aired Amid Criticism of U.N. (Accessible to all.)
Hamas representatives deny the allegations, claiming that sexual violence against women violates the tenets of Islam. But US and Israeli negotiators believe that the reluctance of Hamas to release all the women hostages is because the release of the remaining women and girls held hostage will provide evidence of rape and sexual torture.
In other words, the inability to extend the pause in fighting may be due to the fact that Hamas—like human rights organizations across the world—does not want to acknowledge the sexual atrocities committed against women and girls perpetrated on October 7. See Michal Herzog's op-ed in Newsweek, The Silence From International Bodies Over Hamas' Mass Rapes Is a Betrayal of All Women.
A glimmer of hope that Trump will be tried before November 2024.
Federal district court Judge Tanya Chutkan is determined to start the federal criminal trial in DC against Trump in March 2024. Trump is determined to delay the trial until after the election. One of his strategies is to claim presidential immunity for all acts he undertook as president. Judge Chutkan issued a strong opinion denying Trump's motion to dismiss on that ground late last week.
Although denials of motions to dismiss are not usually appealable, denial of a motion based on a claim of immunity may be. So, has the case against Trump been relegated to a slow track to oblivion?
Maybe not. Dennis Aftergut addresses that question in his essay in Slate, Trump trial delay: Tanya Chutkan ruling makes March trial more likely. Aftergut analyzes Judge Chutkan’s excellent opinion denying the motion to dismiss. But he also notes that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court have acted expeditiously in ruling on matters emerging from the attempted coup and insurrection.
After reviewing the occasions on which the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court have acted quickly, Aftergut writes,
The pattern reflects appellate jurists’ impatience with Trump’s attempts to exploit the time courts take to act so he can run out the clock on congressional or judicial processes for discovering the truth.
While the only way to finally be rid of Trump is to beat him at the ballot box, having him stand trial before the election will focus the attention of the American people on his unlawful and anti-democratic behavior during the run-up to the Republican convention—unfortunate timing for Trump and favorable timing for those seeking full transparency before the election.
Opportunity for Reader Engagement.
Tuesday, December 5 at 7:30 Eastern / 4:30 p.m. Pacific.
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Reader Philip G. posted this note in the Comment section yesterday:
I have another reason for a certain level of confidence. From June through October, my wife and I traveled around the country on an art project. We ranged about, driving through 28 states, blue and red (and 183 towns and cities) clocking in a little over 10,000 miles. And in all our travels, we saw less than a dozen examples of right-wing regalia: whether an Insurrectionist flag or a pro-Trump poster or billboard. One DeSantis 2024 poster. One Let's Go Brandon poster. And let me be clear, the 28 states we drove through included 9 red states: West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
By contrast, wherever we drove, red or blue states, we saw thousands and thousands of Pride Flags or Pride-colored posters, No Hate Here posters, We Believe in Science and BLM posters.
I'm not saying those right-wing voters aren't out there. But they're simply not pounding their chests publicly on their front lawns (even in red states). They seem to have lost their mojo. By contrast, the Left and other sane people around the country, are clearly proud and unafraid.
We should guard against falling victim to the “tyranny of the anecdote.” However, the experience of Philip and his wife provides information worth considering. Their experiences traveling across the US are at least as meaningful as the dozens of articles that feature interviews with “three truckers eating breakfast in Elk Horn, Iowa” or “two fair-goers eating deep-fried Mac-n-Cheese with Ron DeSantis at the Iowa State Fair.” Indeed, the cumulative experiences of Philip and his wife are more meaningful.
So, let’s close this newsletter with a view of America from the field in which voters who are tolerant, inclusive, and informed are “proud and loud.” If that’s the case, we have every reason to be hopeful but no reason to be complacent!
Talk to you tomorrow!!