Hey, Pundits: Please Stop Analyzing Political Theater as Though We’re Not Living in a Horror Movie

Politics Features Donald Trump
Hey, Pundits: Please Stop Analyzing Political Theater as Though We’re Not Living in a Horror Movie

I call this Gloria Borger Syndrome, because she’s the most visible CNN poster-child for completely ignoring the grim reality of the world while offering her insipid analysis of some speech or debate. If an American politician went on TV to announce that he was instituting a massive canine extinction policy in the American suburbs, to be carried out by repeat felons and sex offenders wielding ball peen hammers, this is what Gloria Borger would say when the speech ended and they cut to the studio:

“Wolf, I have to tell you—the president seemed INCREDIBLY poised today. He was EXTREMELY passionate, but—and this important—without being TOO AGGRESSIVE. He looked healthy, confident, TALL, and, I have to say, VERY presidential! The American people watching at home are going to get a sense of YES, I can trust this man, he has my best interests in heart, he is a LEADER. Wolf, I think this was a VERY good day for President Dog-Killer.

Or, conversely:

You KNOW, I have to be honest, I just DON’T THINK that came off the way President Dog-Killer intended. He was rushing his lines, he seemed NERVOUS and FIDGETY, and you could see the SWEAT across his brow—sweat is NOT GOOD, Wolf! If I’m Joe Six-Pack on my sofa, do I think this man is trustworthy for me and my family? Wolf, I’M NOT SURE!

It’s not that Gloria Borger supports the systematic murder of dogs. It’s that she doesn’t even think of the dogs. She’s perfectly emblematic of the modern pundit class, who seem to completely ignore the context of the broader world, and treat every political spectacle as an independent piece of performance art that should be evaluated without even a passing reference to life outside the bubble.

So if Donald Trump said something like, “I am the best possible American president for Moooslims,” the Gloria Borgers of the world would immediately set out to discern whether he looked like he was telling the truth, and presenting their verdict—i.e., their dumb, ill-informed guess guess—as something akin to fact, rather than allowing for the possibility that, hmmm, maybe Trump is LYING. Maybe he’s a good actor! Maybe if we looked at his actual policies, they might say something different about his treatment of Muslims, even if he looks legit as hell in front of a TV camera!

Folks, maybe killing dogs for sport is bad, no matter how you sell it.

To be fair to Borger, she is absolutely not alone. There’s an entire pundit class, both on TV and in print, who subscribe to this incredibly myopic view of politics. It probably started the first time they put Kennedy and Nixon on TV, and spread like a virus as we entered the nightmarish image-is-reality phase of American life in which we are currently (and perhaps permanently?) enmired. Sure, these “people” reflect entertainment culture. Yes, you can argue that they’re not to blame for the wider corrosive dysfunction eating at us like a cancer. And yet, if so-called journalists can’t cut away the froth and hone in on what actually matters, what hope is there for the average citizen? What does it say when our most visible pundits are the least incisive, and the most superficial?

Enter Chris Cillizza, proprietor of “The Fix,” which is a uniquely useless political vertical housed at the Washington Post. Cillizza was watching Trump’s address to Congress last night, and he had some thoughts after the president said he loved Jewish people, or whatever. The same day that the same president made the implication that perhaps Jewish people were staging false flag vandalism operations to garner sympathy.

So, look at this fucking tweet:

Can you imagine a more vapid piece of political commentary?? THIS IS DONALD TRUMP WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! This is the guy who has singlehandedly amplified the viral voice of American prejudice in his rise to the presidency, and whose policies have already threatened the livelihood and safety of countless minorities. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, his actual record might be more pertinent than some bullshit about “shared humanity” written by one of his cretinous advisers? Do you think that his “the Jews are doing it for sympathy” line might matter more than some banal platitude prepared for him by a third party? Do you think that maybe it might be a bit irresponsible to praise some piece of meaningless rhetoric when it means absolutely nothing in the face of our ugly reality?

What world do these people live in? It’s like a bizarre fairy-tale universe, where only pageantry matters. It’s like they were educated on children’s books, but only the really frilly ones, and then dropped head-first into a 13-person cable news panel and told to apply everything they’d ever learned to what they saw before them. It’s like they are alien agents specially bred to fatten us up by lowering the level of political discourse to the point that we’re all basically vacuous bleating sheep more interested in the president’s demeanor than the heinous executive orders he signs. It’s like—and I’m going to get profound for a second here—it’s like they all suck, guys.

Fortunately, there’s still some justice in the world, because Cilizza was trashed for his tweet.

Plus, read this thread from Craig Calcaterra about how and why it all happens.

And yeah, I know what every single conservative reading this right now is dying to type into the comments section (if we still had a comments section): GUHHHH BUT WHAT ABOUT OBAMA?!

Yes, you’re right! Obama was the king of the theatrical speech, and yes, it was also bullshit. He waxed endlessly about the American dream, or whatever, then still drone-bombed the shit out of the middle east and got into a stupid war and pursued free trade policies to hammer the nail into the coffin of the American worker and refused to prosecute a single banker. You can have this equivalency, conservative reader! You earned it!

So what do we do? This is the part where I repeat all that stuff about how it reflects our culture and mention how ratings talk, and blah blah blah. Yeah, we suck. But you know what? Every individual still gets to make his or her own choice about how to behave in the media landscape, and there are many who opt for truth. So when the Borgers and Cillizzas of the world make the easy choice, and leap gleefully into the heavily chlorinated waters of superficial discourse, cultural excuses be damned: they should be despised as loudly as possible. Maybe next time—dream of dreams—they’ll make a different choice.

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