The Arrogance of The Elite

Back in 2016, prior to the US elections, I listened to a US radio show where a truck driver had called in to share his confidence that Trump would win based on how many more Trump yard signs he saw across America compared to Clinton. I remember laughing at his ‘insights’ and conclusions – being pretty smug myself on all the probabilistic election forecasting & commentary that I was following on Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. At that time, I considered myself ‘well-informed’ and took pride in having some knowledge about the many issues being faced by Americans – mostly by reading the newspapers and watching cable news. Suffice to say, I had to re-examine my own standing in short order. 

Four years on, what we have seen is an unprecedented and shocking amount of negative reporting, criticism and hate – a lot of it justified, some not – on Trump the person, on the people in his administration, and maybe some on their policies. But, during the same time, what we have seen very little of commentary or reporting on, are the perspectives of everyday people from different backgrounds – emphasis on ‘different backgrounds’. 

The media’s dedication has always been to Trump (positive or negative) – never the people who voted him in. The only times they do cover the people who voted Trump in are while associating him with far-right extremists – usually of the white supremacists kind. 

Actually, we have to go one step further, so let’s try this again. 

The media’s dedication is to Trump – never the people who voted (or not). Period. 

The people who control the news and make editorial decisions are increasingly far removed from the everyday, regular people in the country – especially those they do not personally see or interact with regularly. These media elites are typically based in big cities, have an office in the downtown area, and work/hang out with other media elites. They discuss the issues in the country with other media elites and develop an opinion about it  – without ever actually having personally interacted with the people impacted. They decide that their own perspectives are the ones that the people of the country need to hear and proceed to publish or broadcast those news stories or opinion pieces. Other media elites read it and the cycle continues.

And somehow, amidst all this, no one seems to ask if the opinions of these elites are actually representative of the people on the ground. The answer to that is ‘very rarely’. But never underestimate the everyday person, because they DO see their problems not reflected – or worse, actively dismissed – in what the media elites have to say. And these people do vote – especially to a candidate who is giving voice to their problems, however rhetorical it may seem.

This ever-increasing gulf between what regular, everyday people ask for, and what is actually covered in the media is one of the reasons why Trump got elected in the first place. The media did do a brief introspection on that aspect – but never really acted on them. On the contrary, they doubled down and went on a rampage against one man – while completely ignoring the realities and issues of the people on the ground.

And that is why the media’s obsession with Trump is toxic. It is because what matters is not just what they choose to focus on – but also who they ignore, and who they (incorrectly) claim to speak for. The former is what we all SEE, the latter are only seen when their ABSENCE is highlighted. 

There are a thousand different reasons why Trump doesn’t deserve to be President, and almost none of them have to do with the media’s hit jobs on him. Joe Biden may well make an infinitely better President than Trump. But then, the elites in the media would still only be talking about Trump and Biden – and no one would be discussing the issues of the everyday American.

The arrogance of the elite and their categorical conviction of knowing what is right for the masses may well be what dooms America to 4 more years of someone clearly unfit to hold the office of the President of the US. This makes me almost – almost – WANT to see Trump being re-elected, just so I can witness the media elites implode and self-destruct once and for all. 

On Mark Levin’s ‘Unfreedom of the Press’

So I picked up Mark Levin’s “Unfreedom of the Press” from the Toronto Public Library with all the obvious qualifications about who the author was. (The image below should set the stage fairly well).

After finishing it, I now categorize this is a mostly bad book with very few bright spots (equivalent to a 2 star review). The book begins in a very promising manner with a very concise summary of the general nature of the today’s press. In it, he briefly discusses the ideas of uniformity of thought, social activism, narrative building, the opacity of the newsrooms, predictable (over)reactions to criticism, etc. So I was actually looking forward to a more detailed discussion of these topics in the coming chapters. But deep into the first chapter, I knew this was going to be a disappointment.

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First of all, this book reads like a massive literature review separated into different chapters based on themes. At least half the book is quotes from other books, articles, opinions, editorials, etc. that are included here to build the desired narrative and to make the necessary points. Sometimes it works, but mostly it just drags on and makes it hard to understand what point the author is trying to make.

Secondly, this book reads a lot like a documentation of all the anti-Trump media coverage over the past 3 years. The media’s anti-Trump bias obviously exists and I don’t need any convincing about it. I may personally have nothing good to ever say about that man, but that is independent of the liberal media’s relentless negative coverage of him. This book spends more than half its space ‘defending’ Trump while also documenting all the -ve coverage he has received.  The author obviously makes sure to include the most blatant episodes of hypocrisy that the media exhibited the past 3 years in this aspect.

The bright spots come in bits and pieces but never last long enough. For instance, the chapter on media as a tool of propaganda starts off by articulating well the idea of propaganda and how the media can allow itself to be manipulated or choose to do so willfully. He gives the example of how Ben Rhodes helped sell the Iran nuclear deal to the American public during Obama’s tenure. That was actually a good insightful story. But right after that, he spends the next 10 pages castigating the media for being a propaganda machine for climate change and not providing a platform for the ‘skeptics’! The only other bright spots are the few articles that I was able to glean off of the references and the passages he quotes. I was very impressed with some of them that I bookmarked them all for future reference. Another definite highlight is the rather elaborate summary of the New York Times’s general anti-Semitic coverage from the time of the Holocaust to current day Israel.

What I was hoping for was a discussion on the reasons, consequences, principles & techniques for and of media bias – supported by examples. That these examples would be largely in the ‘liberal bias’ category was something to be expected given who the author was. But in the end, I found very little of any of that, and just a lot of Trump defense and a documentation of media’s hate towards him.

The Perils of a Trump Impeachment

Everybody seems to be talking about it, all the media outlets are covering it, social media has it trending 24/7, and everyone has their own opinion on the legitimacy of all of it. And I honestly have no interest or stake in what happens to the man at the top of it all – President Trump. But what I do have an interest in is in the maintenance of civility and unity in any society – especially one that is already as divided as the United States.

Most Presidential elections in the US are truly just an exercise in the demonstration of the division within that country. It is Us vs Them, Left vs Right, Democrat vs Republican, Liberal vs Conservative – name your labels. But nobody seems to point it out for what the division really stands for today – Americans vs fellow Americans. Now how about that label, eh?

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I am not an expert historian to tell you when exactly this division started to take its present shape. Was America truly ready for a Black President in 2008? How did Obamacare’s passing impact the legislative process? What about MitcConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s judiciary appointees? How much did Obama’s executive orders piss off Republicans? How angry did the ‘Liberals’ in America get when Mitch McConnell refused to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court – only to later confirm Gorsuch and Kavanaugh? How confused were people when Donald Trump became the President? What about that Republican bill giving tax breaks that was passed behind closed doors? What did the relentless criticism of Trump tell those who voted for him?

And how do you think society reacts when every one of the above events were amplified by a biased and loud mainstream media – print and cable – along with a significant dose of extreme opinions accompanying it from all the different parts of the internet?

I am not even going to repeat the talking points that are propagated in the media for and against this process. To me, they are rhetorical at best, and political at worst. Nowhere do I see the actual interest of the people being represented in any capacity. But I will quote a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from back in March this year (emphasis mine):

Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

The media, of course, just focused on the last line of “he’s just not worth it” because it was a great soundbite – nothing else. That statement about how an impeachment process can divide the country unless it is based on something compelling and has bipartisan support is the absolute truth. Which is why it is rather unfortunate that Pelosi herself is the one championing the impeachment process now.

For the sake of discussion, let us say the President has just been impeached along party lines in the House. What do you think will happen? You think the nation will rejoice? Is this some sort of a victory? If so, can you tell me who won? What constructive things do you see happening after this? Oh you don’t say it will help elect a Democrat President in 2020? Because clearly that is NOT what this impeachment is about right? Oh I hear you say he just deserved to get impeached? Well, in the immortal words of Snoop Pearson from The Wire, I think what you really meant was:

Deserve got nothing to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.

I will tell you what WILL happen. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, WaPo, NYT, and the likes will rejoice – openly, and with an in-your-face attitude. Half the nation will rejoice too. Operative word being ‘half’ – because the other half will be pissed off. All Dem politicians will claim victory and try to sell that to their base – you know the half that rejoiced. Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge Report, WSJ, and the likes will continue questioning the legitimacy of the process. All the Republicans will cry unfair, play victim and sell that fear of ‘Dem takeover’ to THEIR base – you know the other half that did not rejoice. There will be some superficial pressure created on Mitch McConnell and he will hold a hearing and eventually Trump will not be convicted. The media will get all the coverage and pageviews and get rich with all the divisive and biased rhetoric.

And the poor American people will come out of it more divided and entrenched than ever before. There will be even lesser room for civil debates and discussions. It will be harder to change people’s minds on any damn thing. The ideas of subtlety and nuance will cease to exist in any conversation even remotely political. Friends are chosen based on their political leanings. Extreme positions will become even more common. More politicians will begin to endorse extreme positions. As the Left goes more woke, the Right will double down on rejecting any change at all. Supreme court justices will be confirmed depending only on which party holds the Senate. No significant legislation will ever get passed in the House and Senate. And yes, impeachment of a sitting President will become more common. Everyone will have an opinion, but the American people will ultimately bear the brunt of it all.

Fact is divisive events have a cumulative effect on society over time. And division breeds further division, thereby cementing a dangerous spiraling loop. In the USA, I strongly believe that these events have led the society close to the point of no return. There is a tipping point approaching and this impeachment will make the American people see what lies beyond. Just remember, there is no way back from that.

What I would like to see is a new leader emerge who works not to ‘energize their own base’, but instead seeks to unite the country – and wins the next elections. There are very few in the Democratic primary field who can be fit into that category. I will not take names but just know this – the more to the left the Dems go, the more to the right the Republicans go. So by that metric, figure out for yourself who is likely to unite and who is likely to further divide. But really all that is a redundant exercise because Trump is going to win in 2020 regardless – the impeachment would make sure of that.

So, yeah, have fun.

The Rewards of Reading/Watching a Full Speech or Interview

In this age where information comes from media stories featuring selective quotes and needless commentary, it is very easy to miss out on the beauty, elegance, significance, and sometimes the necessity, of reading or listening to a full speech or an interview AS IS. It helps us get the proper context for the words, compels us to decide for ourselves what the highlights of the speech/interview are, and most importantly, it allows us to frame our own opinion about the content and the person.

Whenever there is an interview or a speech given by some personality I am interested in, I typically just google the full transcript of it. Yes, it takes a little more time to get through it, but it is always very rewarding. The flow of the content is very important to me, as is the overall tone and content.

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I am specifically reminded of an interview Kanye West gave to Surface Mag. It is one of the best interviews I have ever read, and after reading it, I have to grudgingly accept that this man is one of the most fascinating human beings on this planet. At the risk of going against the very point I am trying to make here, I am going to pull out a couple of quotes from what Kanye says in the interview (You will see why this is justified!):

This is turning into a 12-minute freestyle. Which is good. When I talk it’s like a painting.

I think you should just run this interview clean. You gotta let the painting be open with this let-me-just-zone-out-with-Ye-for-a-second thing.

Just gotta admire the man! He knows exactly what he is saying and how people should hear what he is saying!

In all honesty, I am sure all powerful people who have ever given an interview or a speech – only to have the media cherry pick the most controversial statements and reduce the whole interview to just that one soundbite – will agree with Kanye on this one!

But there is another side to this story. It is the part where we, as common people, MISS OUT on something beautiful, elegant and sometimes absolutely necessary information or advice simply because we do not have the patience or the desire to read through a whole interview or speech. Let us face it. Today, we get our perspectives from Memes, our opinions from Facebook updates, and our news from a headline. We also watch videos only when the information or situation to be conveyed is done so in a compressed manner and is under 30 seconds.

Amidst all this cacophony of piece-meal consumption of information, it is easy to spot and observe what we do see. But it is hard to realize what it is that we do not see, especially when we do not know what to expect.

In essence, what we are missing out on is a deeper insight into some idea, a better appreciation (good or bad) of the person who is making the speech, or simply some crucial facts about an issue. When we finish reading a full speech without interruption (such as commentary/ads, etc), we even have the opportunity to pause for a second and just meditate on the words of the person. Anyone who has actually done that – say after reading a book or watching a full movie – will be acutely aware of its rewards. And the more people do that, the better the debate will be on any given topic.

John McCain has been dominating the news cycles for his No vote to repeal Obamacare and defeating the Republicans’ attempt to dismantle the law. Media outlets have also been showing clips of his speech prior to the No vote where he urged bipartisan attempts to rework the healthcare law and all bills in general. But what most folks missed out on is the full speech he gave. I read the full speech yesterday, and I was extremely moved by every word that he said. There was such an important message with so many details in what he said. The flow of the speech and the ultimate plea it makes resonated with me long after I had finished reading it. It was a speech that showed there is still some hope left for this Congress to work the way it was intended to. And for all the problems plaguing this administration and the Republican party, this speech showed there may still be some sane men left who know their duties and responsibilities. It is a speech every single American – liberal or conservative – should read/watch in its entirety. There is so much truth in what McCain says that one really needs to spend a few minutes just contemplating after reading it. Ultimately, it is what every American NEEDS to hear in this day of partisanship and great divide.

 

It is easily one of the best political speeches I have ever read. In fact, if this man was running for President, and gave this speech, I would tell all my friends to vote for him. (And that is a big deal coming from a guy like me).

So yes, please go ahead and read his full speech or watch it below in full.

I started writing this post as just a small Facebook update when it began to take a life of its own. But this is something I feel very strongly about in general and so I had to do justice to it, and hence this longer post.

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Reporting of selective quotes or providing needless commentary or background in a media story frustrates me to no end. And so, I offer the following general approach to bypass such unnecessary and/or incomplete articles:

If you read a headline you find interesting, first observe if the headline itself is a quote or a statement. If it is, and you already know the background of that story, then simply skip all the ‘reporting’ in the article and go straight to the quotes. Read the quotes and be done with it.

If you are not familiar with the story, then read the full article.

If the article quotes what Trump said on Twitter, close the news article, open Trump’s Twitter account and read all his tweets from the previous day or two up until his latest tweet. Then be done with it. There is really nothing more to know.

The above approach most commonly applies to all developing stories where there has been some incremental development. True journalism instead can be found in articles that are NOT developing stories and where there has actually been some investigation involved.

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