Political Discourse at the Diner

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The other day I was in a favorite local haunt having a conversation with two guys I see often in town. Both are Republican. A year and a half ago, when we’d have a conversation about politics, they’d pounce on my points before they were out of my mouth. President Trump is the be-all, end-all. He is the answer. Wait — where’s my caps lock key? — make that the ANSWER.

But this week, we had a shift in our dynamic. I like talking to these guys, so I almost always welcome the discourse, face to face, no hiding behind our keyboards. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the two — let’s call him Mike — has an affinity for objective truth and has therefore hopped off the Trump Train. The other guy — let’s call him Jay — is as entrenched as ever in the whole #MAGA propaganda trip.

“I like watching Chris Cuomo,” Mike says.

“He’s a sleaze,” Jay fires back.

“What? Don’t look at me,” I say. “I’m not a fan.”

They begin sparring over whether Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson is better. I sit quietly, sipping my coffee while they go at it. No way am I weighing in on two smarmy entertainers whose solid ratings are a testament to how low we can go in our discourse.

I only half-joke about Fox News turning into state media and I get the predictable response from Jay.

“What about MSNBC?” he says. “That’s the liberal equivalent.”

I’m so tired of this analogy. I try to pick my battles. But right here, right now, this is a hill I’m willing to die on.

“OK, no,” I say. “This is not about politics, per se. This is about a damaging narrative. MSNBC has never pretended to be ‘fair and balanced.’ They don’t claim that they’re not left-leaning. We’ve always had conservative media, like National Review or the Wall Street Journal. It was once about different approaches to policy, different ways to solve problems.

“What we have happening at Fox News is the scapegoating of whole groups of people and convincing viewers those groups are the source of the problems in their lives. It’s not blatant hate, as too many Democrats charge. It’s actually more insidious. Over time it has seeped into the national dialogue. This network has a brilliant marketing team because this narrative helped to elect a President who gets his information almost solely from them and saw the potential in riding that narrative to power he can’t handle.”

Mike is nodding. Jay is quiet.

“Watch the Twitter feed and the rallies for proof,” I say. “No need to take my word for it. He is doing it out in the open.”

Immigrants (those who are legal citizens and those who are not), people of color, Muslims, Native Americans, women who believe they should have autonomy over their bodies, the press, our intelligence agencies, our Department of Justice, the Hollywood elite. Some days Trump puts them in a blender and hits a button so they all whir into one big problem only he can solve. Other days he reads the climate and hand selects just one or two to pound.

And the American patriots stand in back of him laughing and cheering. Or they re-Tweet him and pile on — ‘yep, she is ugly’ or ‘killing a journalist is not a human rights issue.’ If you, our beloved ANSWER, believe Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un and now this esteemed crown prince in Saudi Arabia are truthful, they must be cool. Rock on. And boy, look how you’ve solved all these problems no other President has solved.

They just keep validating him as if all of this is normal or has any kind of moral grounding. Even the Evangelicals, who keep thanking God for sending him. Remember back in the good ol’ days when they thought Jesus was the ANSWER? Meanwhile, the resounding message in the emails coming from his campaign (yes, that’s right, campaign), go like this:

Republicans who courageously stood up for Judge Kavanaugh in the face of the liberal mob now need security to protect themselves from death threats.

A little refresher, since this seems like 100 years ago — the “liberal mob” was women who had been sexually assaulted asking to be heard by their representatives in Congress. They were overwhelming peaceful, actually more plaintive than anything. This is what has been twisted into a “mob” for the sake of votes, power, money.

Did I forget to mention that I left Mike and Jay to duke it out over coffee while I dashed home full of inspiration to write a column?

Thanks, guys. I look forward to our next conversation.

Originally published at unfetteredexpression.com on October 21, 2018.

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