We’re doing it again.
Remember last year’s campaign? Remember how dogged and relentless we were in covering Hillary Clinton’s sloppy handling of her emails?
Remember the comparatively free ride we gave Donald Trump despite his repeated demonstrations that he was unserious, unsound and unfit? Remember all the hand wringing afterward about how we had embraced a false equivalence?
Apparently, we learned no lesson from that.
I keep reading and seeing all these stories on America’s political polarization, the great divide between left and right. Ted Koppel did a couple such reports for “CBS News Sunday Morning,” Robert Samuelson wrote a column about it for The Washington Post, Andrew Soergel pondered the question in U.S. News & World Report.
We have explored the role of social media, the loss of the Fairness Doctrine and the city/country divide in creating this break. But no one – at least, no one I’ve seen – has explored what seems to me the most glaringly obvious factor. We are not, after all, divided because Americans pulled back from the center and retreated into extremism.
No, we are divided because one party did. And it wasn’t the Democrats.
Our political thinking being as fixedly bipolar as it is, many people will read the foregoing as an endorsement of the Democratic Party. It emphatically is not. Democrats are very often disorderly, disputatious and downright dumb, not to mention stunningly bad at deciding and conveying what they stand for.
In other words, they are pretty much what they were 30 years ago. The same cannot be said of the GOP. Consider a few recent headlines:
The Republican White House closes press briefings to cameras. The president issues coarse, sexist insults to the hosts of a morning news show. We learn he allegedly threatened them with an unflattering story in The National Enquirer. He tweets a juvenile video of him “wrestling” a cable news network. Oh, and a guest on a “news” program he admires claims America has kidnapped children and used them to establish a secret colony. On Mars.
That’s all in the last few days. And it’s been a pretty average last few days. By next week there will be a new list, equally outrageous. This is reality now.
A party that once provided a sober conservative counterweight to the Democrats’ more liberal impulses has flat-out lost its mind, given itself over to rage, fear, schoolyard taunts and bizarre conspiracy theories. Which leaves me impatient with those who frame our political divide as if the issue were that left and right had equally abandoned the center. No fair observer can believe that.
To the contrary, it becomes more obvious every day that we are where we are because something is very wrong with the GOP. To not acknowledge and report that, apparently out of some misguided notion that doing so wouldn’t be “fair and balanced” is, in itself, deeply unfair and unbalanced. In our terror of being called biased, we in media have neutered ourselves, abandoned our watchdog function.
We end up having mannered debates over whether to call the president’s dozens of lies lies. Meantime, America’s international prestige is eroding, its government is paralyzed, its friends are worried, its enemies emboldened.
Enough. You will never find answers where you are scared to ask questions. Here’s what we should be asking:
How did the GOP get this way? And how can the right right itself?
Yes, I know some people will call those questions biased. Fine.
But I call them journalism.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is email@example.com.