False political narratives are nothing new. In 2000, Al Gore, a passionate environmentalist and good government centrist was transformed into an earth-tone wearing beta male with a penchant for lying. His opponent was not an inexperienced figurehead governor trafficking on his family name, he was a home spun cowboy you wanted to sit down and have a bull session with. What the media did to Hillary Clinton during her career could fill a book, but in short, a woman who dedicated her adult life to advancing policies that improved the lives of women, children, and the less fortunate became a shrewish ladder climber and unscrupulous liar constantly trying to hide from the truth.
These narrative typically take time to congeal - Reagan’s efforts to portray himself as an affable, jellybean-eating optimist who simultaneously stared down the Russians and lifted the country out of financial ruin took years and much spinning by his devotees to set in the public’s mind, but in 2017, the existence of social media allows us to see the creation of these falsities in real time. NYU Professor Jay Rosen captured the creation of the myth of Donald Trump as an independent deal maker bucking his party thusly:
Consider what triggered this setting of conventional wisdom. Trump agreed to a deal with the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill that does three things: (1) raises the debt ceiling for three months so we can continue paying our bills and maintain the full faith and credit of our government; (2) funds the government for three months; and (3) puts a modest down payment of about $15 billion on hurricane recovery efforts that will reach well over $100 billion or even $200 billion (depending on the rest of the hurricane season).
For doing what is essentially the bare minimum of operating the federal government - extending the credit line to keep paying the bills and keeping the lights on - and a small amount of hurricane relief funding, Peter Baker has characterized Trump as more independent than Teddy Roosevelt.
And this is the thing. If some random blogger like me wants to spout this type of pablum that’s one thing, but Peter Baker and Robert Costa are two of the premier reporters in the country who write for two of the most prominent (and cited) newspapers in the country. The Associated Press is an international wire service relied upon by local media around the globe for content and information.
What they say matters. What they say “drives the conversation” as Politico is fond of saying. Stories like Costa’s and Baker’s get injected into the media mainstream where they are discussed and debated on the endless loop of cable TV political shows and pretty soon, become accepted fact even though the thesis is demonstrably false. All of it. Trump cut a deal to keep the lights on. So what.
This supposed independent held a victory party with every member of the House Republican Caucus in the Rose Garden when they passed an Obamacare repeal bill. A narrower repeal failed to get through the Senate by one lousy vote. The Senate confirmed (largely on party line votes) Cabinet secretaries who were either unqualified for their job (Ben Carson) or affirmatively opposed to the core mission of the agency they were picked to lead (Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt).
When Trump nominated a lawyer named John Bush to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and whose main qualification was linking to Obama birther conspiracies on his blog, every Republican, including supposed Trump bête noire Jeff Flake, voted to confirm him (McCain did not, but only because he was not present for the vote). And Trump is now turning his attention to massive corporate and personal income tax cuts which will garner widespread support by his fellow Republicans.
Far from triangulating, Trump and his allies in Congress are largely in lockstep. That Trump got bored figuring out how to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for 90 days so he impulsively agreed to a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer does not change any of that unless the media does Trump’s work for him, which it appears they are eager to do.
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