Politics & Policy

Blood Sport or Good Government?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a Capitol Hill news conference in March 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
We can’t have both at the same time.

The squalid events of the last week have subtly but unequivocally demonstrated the multifaceted breakdown of American politics.

President Donald Trump and House speaker Nancy Pelosi traded snide jabs at each other — she canceling the State of the Union Address, he canceling her trip overseas — rather than come together to restart the government. The largely symbolic battle between the two sides has now grown so vindictive that it has shuttered 20 percent of the government and furloughed 800,000 federal workers. And neither side seems to care, except insofar as they can gain leverage over the opposition.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media — the self-proclaimed protectors of democracy— embarrassed themselves by obsessing over a report from BuzzFeed that claimed Robert Mueller has evidence that the president instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Huge, if true, the (self-)esteemed members of the D.C. journalism claque dutifully noted, before spending the rest of the segment ignoring the “if” altogether. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t true. Indeed, so wide of the mark was the BuzzFeed story that Mueller’s office publicly disputed the report, an unprecedented move. News outlets are prone to errors, of course, but it is interesting that the errors all seem to go in the same direction: against Trump.

Next, the Right to Life March produced a bit of drama, as Catholic-school students from Kentucky seemed to get into a nonphysical conflict with a Native American activist at the National Mall. In a normal era, an otherwise unknown teenager would not make national news for being a teenager. But this is not a normal era. The outrage mob, including many Trump critics on the right, gathered in full force on social media, and they drove news coverage into the weekend, denouncing the teen, even calling for his expulsion from school and, in the case of Reza Aslan, tweeting that his face looked “punchable.”

The only problem was that a nearly two-hour video of the event shows the adult man as the instigator, deliberately approaching the Kentucky students and banging a drum near the boy’s face. The teenager does not retreat or make any gesture but stands silently facing the Native American and his companions. From this footage, it’s clear that the initial story was at best incomplete.

Quite a lot of “news”!

Oh, and by the way, a high-profile Republican donor quite possibly managed to rewrite the law governing his business:

The legal reasoning behind the Justice Department’s unusual reversal this week of an opinion that paved the way for online gambling hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.

In April 2017, one of the lobbyists sent a memo to top officials in the Justice Department, arguing that a 2011 opinion that benefited online gambling was wrong.

Officials in the department’s Criminal Division, in turn, forwarded it to the Office of Legal Counsel, which had issued the opinion, and asked attorneys there to re-examine their stance that a law on the books for decades didn’t prohibit online gambling, according to documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter. . . .

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said neither Mr. Adelson nor any outside parties were consulted on its recent decision. But department officials said that they were in possession of the legal analysis from Mr. Adelson’s team after being asked about it by The Wall Street Journal.

So, there we go, America. While we have been distracted by vituperous political feuding, bogus stories, and Twitter outrage mobs, special interests are continuing to bend public policy to their interests. And we hardly even noticed.

We can treat politics like a blood sport and cheer on our favorite politicians the way the Romans did their preferred gladiators. We can pray for the ruin and damnation of our opponents, and the triumph and glorification of our heroes. We can dox random high-school students from Kentucky.

Or we can do the hard work of making sure our government works for the good of the whole people, rather than a wealthy and well-connected few.

We cannot do both.

Pick one, America.

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