Weekend essay: For America’s elites, normal politics is no longer enough

We have heard the refrain repeatedly from the mainstream media’s many-headed hydra that Donald Trump represents an unprecedented tidal wave breaching every well-established and deeply rooted norm of politics and political discourse. But while Trump undoubtedly marches to his own drummer — one with a penchant for heart-stopping cymbal crashes — what these pundits and crusading journalists miss is the manner in which they themselves have done the very thing of which they accuse him. They have jettisoned well-worn conventions because of this elite class’s animal rage at Trump and the unapologetically unrefined, fine-china-shattering, working-class consciousness to which he gives voice.

There is no escaping the conclusion that for America’s elites, traditional politics — fundraising and campaigning to convince a majority of voters you’re the best candidate for the job — is no longer enough. For all their farcical talk of “going high” when the other side goes low, they are hard at work shooting holes in our collective hull, turning our nation into a tragic Titanic sinking lower day by day.

It began in the 2016 election cycle, when journalists violated the long-standing norm against calling politicians out-and-out liars. With the once-reputable New York Times leading the way, calling Trump a liar on its front page on September 16, 2016, the ever-tenuous guardrail of journalistic objectivity came crashing down. Those of us who recall George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips” vow, “Slick Willie” Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, or George W. Bush’s concoction of “weapons of mass destruction” to justify trillions of dollars and many lives wasted on our misadventure in Iraq know that politicians have never been models of honesty and integrity.

But even if a case could be made that Trump broke the mold, the problem when media start engaging in active name-calling, taking it upon themselves to decide who is or isn’t a liar, is that journalists, with their well-documented left leanings — Democrat journalists went from near parity with Republican journalists in the 1970s to outnumbering Republican journalists by a 4-1 margin today — cannot be trusted to apply any standard evenhandedly.

Many no longer even aspire to evenhandedness. While 76% of the general public believes that the media should always give both sides equal coverage, that view is shared by only 44% of journalists, with 55% — including a still more disturbing 63% of journalists ages 18-29 — having the opposite view.

It should surprise no one, then, that although Joe Biden tells lies practically every time he has a microphone in hand, often involving thoroughly outlandish claims such as his son Beau dying in Iraq, or how he got student loan forgiveness passed through Congress, or that he never discussed his son Hunter’s business dealings, or that gas prices went down after he took office, or that he’d been arrested for taking part in civil rights demonstrations, the media, nonetheless, never brand Biden a “liar,” the way they do on a dime when it comes to Trump.

Shortly after Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the media turned up the dial farther still. They concocted the Russian collusion hoax to question the legitimacy of his election, while casting a long shadow over his presidency and miring Trump and his staff in years of debilitating, relentless coverage, including the notorious Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. The New York Times’ obsessive coverage of these doings won the paper a Pulitzer Prize.

But the Times’ prize-winning journalism did not extend to uncovering anything even remotely approaching the truth behind these events, which was revealed to us by independent journalists, such as Matt Taibbi. What really happened, in a nutshell, is that the Clinton campaign, with Hillary Clinton’s personal knowledge and consent, fed fake “research” about Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia to the FBI, which used such research as a pretext to initiate surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page and anyone connected with him. That, in turn, set off a chain of events that led to years of breathless “breaking news” pushed by Clinton and her operatives and perpetuated by their gullible or dishonest media lapdogs.

Years later, at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars and an untold number of American minds plunged into the depths of Trump derangement syndrome, the Trump-Russia connection fizzled out completely, the infamous Chistopher Steele “pee tape” proved a total hoax, and the allegedly Russia-connected, Trump-promoting fake Twitter accounts that were alleged to have helped Trump steal the 2016 election turned out to belong, for the most part, to actual, Trump-supporting Americans. For the press, the allegations were simply too good to check.

But no one was punished for partaking in this truly incredible disinformation and election delegitimization campaign. The media proved less than eager to hold their own feet to the fire for their dereliction of duty, which is why the New York Timesdidn’t relinquish its unearned Pulitzer Prize and why most Americans remain in the dark about what really occurred.

Instead, the role allegedly played by the “Russians” on Twitter in swaying the election to Trump prompted waves of congressional and media pressure for social networks to rein in “right-wing” “disinformation.”

This, in turn, played into the next round of flagrant norm-flouting by the anti-Trump left when, in 2020, not only was free (and, in many cases, accurate) speech questioning COVID’s origins or the safety and efficacy of experimental vaccines shut down by social media working in direct coordination with government actors, but also, social media directly enabled Joe Biden’s electoral victory. First, in May 2020, Twitter, for the first time ever, flagged a presidential tweet with a “fact-check” warning. In a May 26, 2020, tweet, Trump had questioned the reliability of mail-in voting, to which Twitter had appended its then-shocking alert:

Those clicking on the warning would be directed to Twitter’s own “what you need to know” page, in which Twitter’s internal Ministry of Truth had taken it upon itself to proclaim that Trump had “falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election’” and, further, that “fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”

The extraordinary thing about Twitter’s warning was that, strictly speaking, there was no fact to check. Trump had not stated a fact but rather had made a prediction about what the likely outcome of mail-in voting would be. His contention that there is “no way” mail-in ballots won’t be “substantially fraudulent” is, in that respect, akin to a tweet stating there is “no way the Bears beat the Packers on Sunday” or, for that matter, “no way” Trump loses the next election.

In any event, Trump’s prediction was not quite as baseless and unsupported as the powers that be on Twitter would have had their users believe. Although the 2020 version of the New York Timespublished a series of stories touting the reliability of mail-in voting, the very same newspaper in October 2012 ran a story headlined “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises.”

“Votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show,” the Times reported. “Election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail, double the rate for in-person voting.”

After Twitter had crossed the Rubicon, flagging speech by a sitting president and giving itself the role of arbiter of truth instead of letting the electorate sort it out, the social media mullahs grew still more emboldened, flagging Trump’s tweets repeatedly. In an especially egregious instance, when Trump, in the context of the Black Lives Matter riots of June 2020, warned in a June 23 tweet that if the rioters tried to turn D.C. into an “autonomous zone” (the way they had been allowed to do with impunity in Seattle), they “will be met with serious force,” Twitter flagged the tweet as “abusive behavior”:

The idea that a president using a nonspecific threat of force as a deterrent to potential chaos and violence could be flagged for “abusive behavior” is, naturally, unprecedented and outrageous. Yet it is also, just as naturally, only a small speed bump on the slippery slope down which the left’s corporate and media elites were allowing our nation to careen.

The absolute nadir of Twitter’s election interference efforts came in October 2020, on the eve of the 2020 election, when the New York Post published its exposé, based on the contents of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, of what has now become the ever-growing influence-peddling scandal involving Joe Biden.

Defying every convention of free speech and the free press, Twitter and Facebook baselessly censored the story as “misinformation,” resulting in its being similarly labeled or else ignored by sources in the mainstream media. Nearly four in five survey respondents believe that the story, had it not been censored, could have swung the outcome of the closely contested 2020 election to President Trump. For reasons like this, one does not even have to buy into Trump’s claims of voter fraud in order to conclude that the 2020 presidential election was, indeed, stolen.

But not content with their unprecedented role in potentially swaying the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, the emboldened organs of the leftist media and commentariat have taken their norm-flouting campaign up several more notches in anticipation of what is, as of now, likely to be a Trump-Biden rematch in 2024.

First, of course, while continuing to do their best to downplay the increasingly credible allegations of Biden’s corrupt dealings on behalf of his ne’er-do-well son Hunter, these forces have done their best to validate and normalize the four separate indictments brought by leftist prosecutors against Donald Trump. These have been the subject of endless press coverage in recent months and weeks, so no need to discuss them at length here. Let it suffice to say, regardless of how one personally feels about the strength of each of the individual cases, it is hard to dispute that the indictments have further divided an already polarized nation. It would be a gross error in judgment and an extremely dangerous precedent to charge the most prominent representative of one of the nation’s two major political parties with marginal crimes that are the subject of widespread political disagreement.

In that light, the fantastically overbroad Georgia indictment, complete with mug shot, promises to be a televised show trial, and the New York indictment for paying hush money to a porn star, elevated into a strained felony by the febrile imagination of a far-left prosecutor, is pure absurdity. But most obviously appalling are the two separate banana republic-style federal indictments in which a sitting president’s Justice Department is actively persecuting his foremost political rival — the one case concerning retention of classified government documents, a victimless crime for which hardly anyone ever gets prosecuted, and the other one stemming from the events of January 6, 2021.

The January 6 affair is especially concerning, because what has been histrionically and repeatedly framed by Democratic politicians and the mainstream media as an armed “insurrection” against democracy is, in reality, little more than a political protest that turned violent, the sort of thing that happened on a far greater scale during the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, largely without consequences. There is, moreover, very strong evidence — largely ignored and/or knowingly concealed by the same press that has been serving as the current government’s de facto propaganda arm — that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in coordination with others, deliberately acted to delay any substantial enforcement response to the riots. She opted instead to allow the rioters to breach the Capitol in order to manufacture a cause célèbre against Trump, despite the fact that he had expressly called for peace, telling his supporters to march to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.” After the violence began, Trump implored them, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” and “We have to have peace. So go home.”

Because these transparently political indictments have predictably failed to convince many voters that Trump is a criminal, as opposed to the target of political persecution, and may even be bolstering his support among Republican voters, the Trump-hating elites have trotted out their most outrageous and unprecedented gambit to date. Despite the fact that Trump has been convicted of no crime and, more than that, has been acquitted of the charge of inciting an insurrection by the U.S. Senate, an unhinged plot has begun to take shape among the leftist elites and like-minded elites on the #NeverTrump right to disqualify Trump under section three of the 14th Amendment. That section disqualifies from public office those who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States” and was intended to prevent Confederate rebels from holding office in the reconstituted postwar nation.

The wacky suggestion has been made — with the Atlanticgraciously playing host to a widely circulated article normalizing this call to banditry — that officials in each of the 50 states could invoke this mechanism on their own and thereby bounce Trump off their official ballots, notwithstanding the will of actual voters. It would then be up to the judiciary to deal with the fallout of what is certain to be a constitutional crisis that will ultimately find its way to the Supreme Court.

At its essence, the 14th Amendment gambit amounts to nothing less than a frontal assault on the democratic process, a brazen attempt to strip voters of the power to choose their own leaders. And these — invoking and misusing an obscure, Civil War-era legalism to try to throw a popular leader off the ballot — are the ironic lengths to which our elites are willing to go to defend our democracy against itself.

Abandoning all pretense to journalistic objectivity to brand Trump a liar; pushing a fake Russia conspiracy to question the legitimacy of his election and his presidency; flagging his speech on social media; censoring true stories reporting on his opponent’s corruption on the eve of the 2020 election; indicting him four times (and counting?) in the midst of a new election cycle on highly questionable charges; and now, hatching, as a fail-safe, a wacky scheme to kick him off state ballots using legalistic chicanery: There are no lengths to which Trump’s enemies will not go, no depths to which they will not sink.

In the name of defending “norms,” the norm of journalistic diligence and evenhandedness has been abandoned, the norm of free speech and the free press trampled, the norm of the media and social media playing purely neutral roles in the midst of an election mocked, the norm of judicious use of prosecutorial discretion shredded, and the norm of free and fair elections decided by the people without interference from elites grasping the reins of power utterly demolished.

This much is certain: In a nation already on the brink, their reckless scramble is going to wreak political havoc for years to come, bringing on waves of tit-for-tat retaliation as we come to understand that the battle for political supremacy is a bare-knuckle brawl, where nothing is off the table, the courts and the media are merely pawns to be played in a winner-take-all game, and no blow is too low, no trick too dirty to be tried, when absolutely everything is at stake.

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney in New York specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and polemics.

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