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The death of outrage?
May 23, 2022
[No audio version for this newsletter; see Concluding Thoughts]
The apparent death of outrage is one factor driving many Americans to distraction, if not despair. Stories that would have shaken the foundations of democracy a decade ago barely reverberate for a single news cycle today. Quick! Answer this question: What was the biggest story of last Friday (as in two days ago)? It is that the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice actively encouraged Arizona legislators to overthrow the Constitution by appointing fraudulent electors. The January 6th Committee previously discovered that Ginni Thomas forwarded emails from other election deniers to members of the Trump administration, but the most recent revelation clarifies that Ginni Thomas was a direct participant in the plot to subvert democracy. But by Sunday evening, the story has dropped from the pages of every major newspaper in America.
And, of course, Justice Clarence Thomas reviewed Mark Meadows’ request to block the disclosure of emails and texts from Ginni Thomas about the attempted coup. Before the endless stream of Trump scandals killed outrage, those facts would have prompted Justice Thomas to submit his resignation and spend the remainder of his life in solitude and shame. Instead, Thomas is on a revenge tour at the Antonin Scalia School of Law, where he is scolding women for protesting an impending decision that will grant state governments control over their reproductive choices.
Over the weekend, Senator Rick Scott couldn’t find the decency to say that leaders of the GOP should condemn white supremacy. Talking Points Memo, Scott Deflects On Whether GOPers Should Condemn White Nationalism. Scott agreed that racism was bad and that “all Americans” should condemn “any hate” and “any white supremacy,” but repeatedly dodged the question of whether Republican leaders had a responsibility to do so. Instead, he volunteered that “We have to stop asking people on government forms for their skin color” and “every Senate candidate on both sides is going to decide what is important to them”—evasions that leave room for his Republican colleagues to wink-and-nod to white supremacists on the campaign trail.
Also over the weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held its annual meeting in Hungary so that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could lecture aspiring American autocrats on how to subvert “illiberal democracy.” The panel of speakers included Trump, Tucker Carlson, and a Hungarian journalist infamous for writing that Jews are “stinking excrement,” that Roma are “animals,” and that Black people are [unprintable]. See Times of Israel, Hungarian journalist who called Jews’ stinking excrement’ addresses CPAC conference. Do either Trump or Carlson feel any need to distance themselves from the reprehensible views of their co-presenter? Ha! It was not worth the electrons to type that rhetorical question on my laptop.
On Friday of last week, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy attempted to explain away the high maternal mortality rates in his state. Cassidy made the following repugnant statement:
About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear.
See Business Insider, Maternal death rate isn’t as bad if you don’t count Black women, GOP senator says. Cassidy’s statements were so offensive it is difficult to know where to begin. To be clear, Louisiana’s maternal death rate among Black women is worse than the maternal death rate for Black women in other states, so Cassidy’s racist statistics are wrong. But what does Cassidy mean, “if you correct our population for race?” By “correcting” for race, Cassidy clearly implies that the “correct” race in Louisiana is white. But Cassidy’s comments have been largely ignored by the mainstream media.
And then there is Dr. Oz, who went out of his way on election night thank Fox News personality Sean Hannity for helping his campaign. That would be the same Sean Hannity who was busy trashing one of Dr. Oz’s opponents in the primary (the late-surging Kathy Barnette) as Hannity acting as a a “behind the scenes advisor” to Oz. See Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner in Steady, Crossing the Line. Rather and Kirschner write that Fox News “is a functional arm of the Party of Trump.” Does anyone care? As Rather astutely observes,
Needless to say, if a reporter at a news organization other than Fox supported a candidate with half as much complicity as Hannity did Dr. Oz, it would be grounds for immediate termination. Not surprisingly, at Fox News, Hannity’s actions don’t even earn a slap on the wrist.
And therein lies the problem: The capacity for outrage is becoming a one-way street. Hannity can break all rules of journalistic independence, and no one cares. Senator Cassidy can suggest that Blacks are not part of Louisiana’s “correct” race, and no major mainstream sources bother to report on the comments. The wife of a Supreme Court justice can encourage insurrection, and the justice goes on the attack against “liberals.” But . . . If any of those situations were reversed such that a liberal journalist, Democratic Senator, or liberal justice was involved, the outrage from the right would be unending, unforgiving, and shrill.
We must not lose our capacity for outrage. We cannot allow insurrection to be normalized. We cannot allow the sheer volume and velocity of GOP scandals to overwhelm and exhaust us. Indeed, we must recognize that conservatives try to turn outrage to their benefit by making more of it—to provoke “outrage fatigue.”
The wife of a supreme court justice participated in an attempted coup. That fact is outrageous and should matter to every American and should remain on the front pages of every newspaper in America until the justice resigns or recuses himself from all election-related cases.
More one-sided reporting in WaPo.
The Washington Post is running a story in its Monday edition, Democrats See Headwinds in Georgia, and Everywhere Else. The subheader says that Democratic candidates will “be running against President Biden’s low ratings as well as their G.O.P. rivals.” The article accurately reports on the challenges facing Democrats but does not acknowledge that Republicans are led by a twice-impeached failed coup-plotter who insists on absolute allegiance to a disproven conspiracy theory and has led the effort to deny women the right to control their reproductive choices.
About two-thirds of the way through the story, the author makes a nod to the difficulties faced by the GOP—but only by describing comments from a Republican voter:
[Democrats] need to do more to communicate clearly with voters that they are a steady hand at the wheel of getting the economy back on track for people.” Ms. Bourdeaux said. But she, too, saw a chance to draw a sharp contrast with what she described as ascendant far-right Republicans. “The other side, candidly, has lost its mind,” she said, pointing to efforts to restrict voting rights and abortion rights.
Hmm . . . if a Democratic voter had said that the Democratic Party “has lost its mind,” that would be the headline in the article. Oh, and here is the clincher: The author concedes near the end of the article that “Most polling shows a close race for [Georgia] governor and Senate, with a slight Republican advantage.”
Got that? The races for Governor and Senator in Georgia are “close,” but the story focuses on “headwinds” faced by Democrats because of the economy and Biden, with almost no mention of the challenges for the GOP created by an out-of-control Trump, reversal of Roe v. Wade, and unrestrained concealed carry of handguns by June.
More accurate headlines for the article could include, “One reporter’s attempt to trash the Democrats by rehashing the economy and Biden’s favorability ratings” or “According to one Republican voter, ‘The GOP has lost its mind.’” I will let you choose your favorite headline or suggest alternatives in the Comments section or by reply email to me.
There is an old joke that goes like this: “I just flew into Las Vegas and, boy, are my arms tired.” My wife and I just spent forty-eight hours taking care of one granddaughter while simultaneously pinch-hitting with a second granddaughter for eight hours on Saturday, and boy, are my arms tired! It was tough writing the newsletter tonight because I could not get the words of the literary classic Good Dog Carl Visits the Zoo out of my mind. (Reading a book out-loud dozens of times over the course of forty-eight hours will do that to you.) A sign of my desperation is that I was delighted to take a mental break by watching The Little Mermaid after failed multiple failed attempts to get our granddaughter to take a nap. Let me say that The Little Mermaid is an underappreciated classic that deserves a place alongside The Godfather and Citizen Kane (at least that’s how I feel tonight).
In lieu of my own closing thoughts (which are often the most challenging part of the newsletter to write), I include a list of Democratic candidates to support, supplied by Ellie Kona. Many of you may know Ellie as a frequent commenter on Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter on Substack, Letters from an American. Per Ellie, “Here is a handy-dandy list of Dems to support, along with their Twitter handles (courtesy of Nick Knudsen):
PA Gov: @JoshShapiroPA
PA Sen: @JohnFetterman
PA Lt Gov: @AustinDavisPA
NC Sen: @CheriBeasleyNC
OR Gov: @TinaKotek
Provided by NickKnudsen at DemCast
More to come! There are other important races to talk about (Beto O’Rourke and Val Demings, etc.)
Talk to you tomorrow!