Not A Morality Play, An Amorality Play

Let’s be clear about something.

Republicans now have as their presumptive nominee for the presidency of the United States a man who was called a “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and “amoral” by the guy who came in second in last night’s Indiana primary. And that guy, Ted Cruz, had every reason to attack Drumpf in that way on Tuesday. After all, Drumpf had embraced earlier that morning the latest crazy conspiracy theory going around: Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in the killing of Johncruz goes ballistic F. Kennedy. “This is nuts,” said Cruz, who is sort of an expert himself on nuttiness, “This is just kooky.”

Of course it is. But for God’s sake, people, what the hell is going on? Have Republicans really lost their collective minds?

Let’s start by looking at what “amoral” means:

a :  being neither moral nor immoral; specifically :  lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply <science as such is completely amoral — W. S. Thompson>

   b :  lacking moral sensibility <infants are amoral>

2:  being outside or beyond the moral order or a particular code of morals <amoral customs>

Think about that. Is calling someone amoral worse than calling them immoral? There is a certain predictability in immorality. But amorality is totally unpredictable. And when you think about it, unpredictable amorality is actually the Drumpf brand. Just look at what Drumpf said this morning:

“Lyin’ Ted” is now — we will now put that aside.

After months of saying he had never “met a person that lies more than Ted Cruz,” or saying how “unstable” Cruz was, it’s all over now. Last night Drumpf said that Cruz was “a tough, smart guy. And he has got an amazing future.” Now that is amoral. That is Drumpf.

As I mentioned, Cruz also called Drumpf a pathological liar and a narcissist. Here’s how he put it:

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.

He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.

I’ll leave the clinical diagnosis to others. Is Drumpf a narcissist? He sounds like one. Is he a pathological liar? He sounds like one. But pathological or not, Drumpf is most definitely a liar. He does lie all the time, as Cruz said. But do Republican voters think he is a liar? We will look at that in a minute, but first:

Exit polling in this country is done by a firm called Edison Research. On its website, the research and surveying company says:

When you hear election projections, results or analysis about who voted for whom, that information comes from Edison Research.

Something called the National Election Pool, which is essentially a collection of all the big news organizations in America—NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox “News,” and the AP—contracts with Edison Research to provide the exit polling data upon which analysis is done and projections are made.

If we wanted to know whether Republicans who cast votes think Drumpf is truthful, it would be Edison Research who would find out for us. So, what did the company find out when it conducted exit polling and asked Republican voters in Indiana yesterday whether Drumpf is “honest and trustworthy”?

We’ll never know.

Edison Research never asked that question. Didn’t bother. Didn’t think it was relevant, I guess. And apparently the big news organizations didn’t either, since they didn’t demand such a question. Maybe it’s because they believe everyone already knows Drumpf is a liar or maybe it’s because they don’t want to know. Beats me.

But what about the other side? What about Democrats? Was the question of honesty brought up by pollsters?

Yep. You guessed it. Edison Research did ask Democrats that question about their candidates. They were asked if they thought Hillary and Bernie are “honest and trustworthy.” Why do you suppose Edison Research would ask that question of Democrats and not of Republicans? Could it have something to do with an institutional bias against Hillary Clinton? Of course it does. It’s painfully obvious. There is never any talk about Bhillary and bernie trustworthy poll in indianaernie being dishonest or untrustworthy. But pollsters had to ask voters about him to cover up the real reason they were asking, which was to find out how deep was the belief that Hillary is not to be trusted, an idea pushed by television pundits and journalists. Talk about dishonesty. (By the way, exit pollsters have asked that question of Democrats since the New Hampshire primary on February 9 but have not asked it of Republicans even though both Drumpf and Cruz have poor ratings with fact-checkers.)

If you watch a lot of TV news, like I do, there are two things you notice right away about the general coverage of the primaries. One is obvious: TV news is wild about Drumpf. He is a boost to the corporate bottom line. The more stupid and nasty and offensive things he says out loud, the better for ratings. That’s pretty easy to see and, unfortunately, easy to understand. The TV news business is in fact a business. Ratings come first, journalism awaiting drumpf rally.jpgsecond, often a distant second. Drumpf can phone in interviews from Trump Tower and many of his rallies are broadcast on cable news television for large chunks of time. They preempt other programming to bring them to us. Why? Because you never know what controversy might erupt right there on “our” network! I’ve even seen, numerous times, a little box on the side of the screen featuring a Drumpf-less podium, indicating that soon, very soon, Drumpf will be speaking! Stay tuned!

The second thing you notice about general TV news coverage of the primaries is that it is quite slanted against Hillary Clinton in an important way. That’s where the “honest and trustworthy” question comes in. Pundits and reporters mention it all the time—but only in connection with Hillary Clinton. Most of what Bernie Sanders says about health care or college tuition or wage inequality is ignored. But when he attacks Clinton’s honesty, it’s all over the place.

But the honest and trustworthy question never comes up in the context of Drumpf. Why? Because there is no ratings price to be paid for questioning Hillary Clinton’s integrity. There is a price to be paid for being too rough with Drumpf. He’ll bully and boycott you. He’ll attack you. He’ll embarrass you. And reporters and pundits do not want to displease their bosses, so they tiptoe around all the lies and amorality. They really do. It’s sort of like when you are around a volatile person who you know is just waiting to go off on someone and you don’t want to be that someone. It’s that bad.

It’s not that journalists on television, at least some of them, don’t point out Drumpf’s lies—well, they don’t use that word; it’s usually put much more delicately—but his lies are never put in a larger context of his “honesty” or “trustworthiness.” It’s more of a “well, that’s just Donald being Donald” critique. It’s almost like Drumpf’s propensity to lie is part of his charm. I remind you of what I posted the other day about pundit Elise Jordan’s remark on MSNBC: “there’s something kinda likable about the guy even as he’s being kind of terrible.” She essentially explained why we see the kind of coverage we see of Drumpf on cable television.

Is it even possible to imagine something similar being said about Hillary Clinton? That she is “kinda likable” despite being allegedly dishonest? Of course it’s not. Hillary Clinton not only has to pay a heavy price for all of her past mistakes and misstatements and policy flips, she is held accountable for Bill’s too. Part of Drumpf’s general election strategy will be to tie her to her husband’s philandering. Another part will be to tie her to her husband’s trade and Wall Street policies. And another part will be to attack her for being dishonest and untrustworthy. That’s pretty much how it will go.

And how will cable news handle all that? All the outlets will be there to cover every insult, every attack, every lie, as if it wasn’t coming from a man who could call Ted Cruz a liar every day for three months and then one night wipe it all away with an “Attaboy, Ted!” As if it weren’t coming from a man who pretends to be a friend of the working class but who thinks their wages are too high. As if it weren’t coming from a man who claims he was against the war in Iraq but was for it before he was against it. As if it weren’t coming from a man who claims to love Hispanics but got the idea for his infamous Mexican rapist rant from a hater named Ann Coulter.

And as if it weren’t coming from a man who wants to change libel laws so journalists can be subject to more lawsuits from politicians, a man who said:

The press is amazingly dishonest. The press is a real problem in this country. I’m dealing with some real sleazebags up here…[but] they’re worse than the politicians.

Thankfully, not all of the press is “amazingly dishonest.” Print and online journalism is doing a pretty good job of covering Drumpf. But, outside of three glorious hours on MSNBC every weeknight, cable television journalism, at least as I have witnessed it for months now, is not. There is a lot of dishonesty involved, but it is not hurting Drumpf, it is helping him. I have already heard talk of how Hillary-Drumpf will be a cage fight, of how the ratings will soar when the two finally debate. It will be a circus, a freak show, made for TV. Well, we shall see. But my fear is that if it is—if it is allowed to be—the amoral Two-Headed Man will steal the show.

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2 Comments

  1. Primal motivations are what drive political decisions. Always have. Power, greed, bigotry, altruism even. People decide first what and whom they like and only then do they reason, postulate, and publicly espouse leaders. it’s called confirmation bias. What is different now, though, is the medium of discourse.

    In Lincoln’s time it was newspapers and stump speeches. In Nixon’s time it was b&w television on 3 channels, competing with Leave It To Beaver and Ed Sullivan. In Trump’s time, it’s cable TV, social media and the internet.

    Society is drowning in information and invective, most of which is biased and a lot just plain false. Clearly, Trump has touched a vein of bigotry, frustration and xenophobia that overwhelms traditional political discourse. He is saying stuff that a lot of people actually think, up close and personal on HD TV. There are more Archie Bunkers out here than anybody ever thought. This is scary. The amoral dog has (almost) caught the car. What will he do with it?

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    • I agree it is scary, Jim. As you mentioned, the way folks communicate these days is perfect for transmitting invective, not to mention ignorance and bigotry. Using mostly Twitter and free media, Drumpf has managed to stumble his way to the top of the Republican Party, as I am convinced he got into the thing never believing he could or would win. 

      There may be an upside to his rise, though. The Republican Party is being gutted, right before our eyes, of any semblance of political sanity. Its intellectuals and paid thinkers are at a loss to explain why it is that they have zero influence over Drumpf’s voters, most of them pissed-off Republicans who, like Drumpf, wouldn’t know Tanzania from TanZANEia. Its political leaders are quickly trying to figure out how to navigate through the turbulent dismantling of their party’s most precious policy positions. Some evangelical leaders are wondering what has happened to “their” party, too. They can’t believe how many of their members fell for a Cretan.

      What we may end up with, if Drumpf goes down—not even close to a sure bet—is a new and better Republican Party, one that actually pays attention to the interests of the working class and the plight of minorities, as well as the problems of income inequality and climate change. Am I trying to polish a turd? Yep. But something good has to come out of this nightmare, right?

      Duane

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