Inauguration week civics lesson

From Martin Luther King Jr. to his followers in Congress, the rights movement has changed.

In a providential alignment of historic dates on the national calendar, Monday of ‘Inauguration Week’ was the annual celebration of the great civil rights leader Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., news reports circulated that early civil rights activist and now senior Representative John Lewis and a growing company of protesters would not attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, which shared attention with reports that a Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration would bring hundreds of thousands of protesters to DC to repudiate the new president and what they expected would be the damage wrought by his perceived policies.

Dr. Martin Luther King delivered one of his lesser known talks, ‘Our God Is Marching On’, in 1965 to encourage engagement in public policy and the political process, with a timeless message.

Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes until all…God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor…

And yet, this week is a snapshot in a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ look at the setbacks King’s aspirations have suffered in the modern day splintering of the movement into diverse ‘rights’ groups, many based on identity with redefined terms and redirected energies.

Here’s one, based on the new activism of Congressman John Lewis against President-elect Trump, with Lewis leading a boycott of the inauguration by members of Congress who don’t see the incoming president as ‘legitimate’.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Tuesday accused Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) of resting on his status as a civil rights icon, arguing he has done little in Congress.

“I have long contemplated the idea of just going to the [House] floor and saying, ‘John Lewis, thank you for your contribution to civil rights during the Civil Rights era. I would appreciate it if you would contribute something since then…

King also criticized Lewis and other Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members for sharpening divisions in Congress.

“When they formed the Congressional Black Caucus back years ago in the aftermath of or in the immediate beginning of the civil rights movement, the shape of that, I looked at it even then and said, ‘How can you form a caucus that’s established on race?’” he asked. “And now, the Congressional Black Caucus, I just openly say it – they’re the self-segregating caucus.”

“I mean, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. – as [this week] we celebrated his birthday – wasn’t about segregation, it was about de-segregation,” King added, citing Monday’s holiday for the civil rights leader.

“But now, they self-segregate and use the vehicle created as the self-segregating caucus in order to advance a leftist political agenda that is not at all reflective of Martin Luther King [Jr.’s] memory.”

This is all a shame. Dr. King and his family who continue his work today have long referred to ‘the Beloved Community’ based on ‘love and mercy, peace and brotherhood, decency and honor’. That’s pretty much gone in this post-election transition time, as it was through the campaign and election season.

And about “God’s children”, not only does this week fall within a week of the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court law legalizing abortion on demand – which King’s niece Alveda never stops reminding the country is the new civil rights movement – this year the annual March for Life in DC is preceded by a Women’s March on Washington to protest the presidency of Donald Trump and the perceived harm his administration will do to women’s rights.

But can’t they walk together, as Dr. King asked in his day, especially of fellow clergy in Letter from Birmingham Jail? Isn’t there some common ground?

The stated goal of the March for Life is “a world where every human life is valued and protected.

The vision statement…of the Women’s March pledges a commitment to nonviolent solutions, noting that there is “no true peace without justice and equity for all.

Furthermore, even though the women who are organizing the Women’s March had only two months to put their event together, they have created a diverse, enthusiastic and eager community.

Since those words were written in that article, the women planning this event narrowed their community to those who shared the core belief in abortion as a woman’s right. So the Women’s March grew less diverse, when organizers disinvited New Wave Feminists and other pro-life organizations. Though some enthusiastic and eager pro-life women plan to go anyway.

But that’s January 21st, a full news day away from all the planned protests in DC of the inauguration, the parade and celebrations scheduled for those historic events. If only those who celebrate King’s legacy actually tried to live it, we would have more decency and honor.

Trump “took everyone who should know better by surprise”

The presumption is revealing.

‘We, the media, should have known better’ was the message and the admission, or confession, in some cases. Confession, because some now see how they treated, or disregarded, the people who decided.

Some commentators in various types of media went at least as far as admitting to arrogant bias all along, and the need to learn from such (egregiously) flawed dissemination of information as they were practicing in their various outlets throughout the whole, long campaign for the presidency.

This wasn’t a new self-awareness by the entire pack. Back in May, New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote this ‘Confession of Liberal Intolerance’. How prophetic it would turn out to be. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” It was mostly about American universities, disciplines like the Humanities, the (apparent) lack of conservatives on campuses. But it prevails over the political culture.

It’s easier to find a Marxist in Academia, studies found, than a Republican, Kristof wrote. And he admitted that “bias on campuses creates liberal privilege”. It shows. And whole populations of Americans across the country, ‘flyover country’ so often sneered at among cultural elites, not only noticed, they kept their resentment in check for years.

In the aftermath of Election 2016, I’ve been traveling a lot and abroad, working on other news stories but gathering an interesting collection of post-election analysis pieces that reveal ‘out of touch’ media trying to reckon with their stunning failure to know or even notice such a wide swath of America and the Americans who live there.

This CBS News commentary just after the election captures “The unbearable smugness of the press”.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it…

They hate us, and have for some time.

And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.

That line captures it well.

But the admission continues.

There’s a place for opinionated journalism; in fact, it’s vital. But our causal, profession-wide smugness and protestations of superiority are making us unable to do it well.

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

What’s worse, we don’t make much of an effort to really understand, and with too few exceptions, treat the economic grievances of Middle America like they’re some sort of punchline. Sometimes quite literally so, such as when reporters tweet out a photo of racist-looking Trump supporters and jokingly suggest that they must be upset about free trade or low wages.

We have to fix this, and the broken reasoning behind it. There’s a fleeting fun to gang-ups and groupthink. But it’s not worth what we are losing in the process.

Fun? To gang up on people, fall in with groupthink, chuckle and snicker at ‘those people’ who ‘don’t think like us’?

You’d think that Trump’s victory – the one we all discounted too far in advance – would lead to a certain newfound humility in the political press. But of course that’s not how it works…

Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.

Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.

That the explainers and data journalists so frequently get things hilariously wrong never invites the soul-searching you’d think it would. Instead, it all just somehow leads us to more smugness, more meanness, more certainty from the reporters and pundits. Faced with defeat, we retreat further into our bubble, assumptions left unchecked. No, it’s the voters who are wrong.

As a direct result, we get it wrong with greater frequency. Out on the road, we forget to ask the right questions. We can’t even imagine the right question.

He, they, should go back to this intention, admitted several paragraphs earlier:

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

Emphasis added.

Such self-examination cut across different levels of media. Take this blogger, for example.

It was all a lie.

Time for some truths: America’s governing class is bound together more by geography, education, and manners than anything else; it does not understand and cannot relate to the lives of most of their countrymen. Socially and economically the led and the leaders are distinct. In less than two decades, this elite has launched this country into three wars, and lost each of them. None were punished or held accountable for doing so. They plunged the earth into recession, a recession entire regions still feel–but none were punished or held accountable for doing so. This class is fundamentally unaccountable: bankrupt Americans, bankroll cartels—in the end, none of that matters if you’ve made the right connections and you speak the right shibboleths. The gateways into this class are shrinking. The privileges it claims grow larger…

It is time to destroy the lies.

This stinging rebuke of fellow travelers is almost hard to read. Almost.

The Democratic Party is without a leader. The President and his administration are packing up shop…The DNC is a mess. A civil war is brewing. The battle for your party’s soul is coming—and when it is over, the winners must be people with better judgement than those who ran the last campaign.

That is only the first part. The second may be more important—the cadre of “thought leaders” who led you all into this mess must be cast aside…

These men and women…built an echo chamber and mistook its confines for the world outside it. They sold their self-deceptions to you as fair and reasoned truths—but they are and always were deceptions. You and I were fed a diet of lies. Now the liars and those who believed them both find themselves locked out of power, utterly unprepared for the age about to dawn. These people need to be held accountable.

‘The New York Times publisher vowed to rededicate the paper to reporting honestly‘. A lot could be said here. The publisher says enough, for now.

It’s rather rich that he promises readers to rededicate the paper to its mission of journalism that will strive “always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences” in the stories the paper carries, given its record on some political perspectives and certainly some “life experiences”. And “to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly”. Now that a wild card Republican will be in the Oval Office.

You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

The same as what? I would have liked to have seen Arthur Sulzberger Jr. finish that sentence, or that thought, that comparative assertion. I’m a subscriber, a reader, therefore one to whom the publisher penned that letter, asking for our “continued loyalty”. I’m not going anywhere, I like to read the Times and will continue to for its smart and especially international reporting, where and when its found in those pages, and the arts and culture and book reviews and entertainment culture features, and food and film and sport. The crossword puzzles. The editorial and op-eds, and very often especially the op-eds.

But we want to see improvement.

New York Post columnist and former Times reporter Michael Goodwin wrote, “because it [The Times] demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president.”

Kudos due here.

Sulzberger’s letter was released after the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, took the paper to task for its election coverage…

Spayd wrote, “Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”

Maureen Dowd tasted humble pie at Thanksgiving. Good for her.

But already, the Times is in a quandary (along with other media, apparently) over how or whether to cover Trump’s tweets, if he keeps posting them (and one hopes he doesn’t, for everyone’s sake).

It was a rare and unexpected surprise to see Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi publish this column, although the title ‘President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong’ seemed to signal a blame piece coming, against Americans who voted for Trump. There was plenty of blame alright, but self directed, for a change. Though Taibbi gets his shots in there, he takes plenty himself, on behalf of his style of writers with influence. Who didn’t seem to notice when things were wrong if their guy, or their party, were the ones in charge.

On President-elect Trump…

He takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens – powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

Right.

Trump made idiots of us all. From the end of primary season onward, I felt sure Trump was en route to ruining, perhaps forever, the Republican Party as a force in modern American life. Now the Republicans are more dominant than ever, and it is the Democratic Party that is shattered and faces an uncertain future.

And it deserves it. The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party spent most of the past two years not only ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumors of its creeping unpopoularity as vulgar lies and bulled anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the party’s willful blindness symbolized a similar arrogance across the American intellectual elite. Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of the Establishment. The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn’t want to see…

Those of us whose job it is to cover campaigns long ago grew accustomed to treating The People as a kind of dumb animal, whose behavior could sometimes be unpredictable but, in the end, almost always did what it was told.

Whenever we sought insight into the motives and tendencids of this elusive creature, our first calls were always to other eggheads like ourselves. We talked to pollsters, think-tankers, academics, former campaign strategists, party spokes-hacks, even other journalists…

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Yes, he’s finally got something right.

When Barack Obama was elected president, a great many Americans felt that their voice would finally be heard, that he represented them and their beliefs and best interests. Now, a great many other Americans feel the same thing about Donald Trump. President Obama has handled the election outcome and beginning of the transition of power with gracious dignity, crediting President George W. Bush for doing the same for him, and vowing to carry on the tradition seamlessly and with the same goodwill.

It would be nice, to say the least, if the press corps “who should know better” would rise to the occasion as well, and serve “The People” whose trust they need to earn again. If they ever will.