The Problem with MSNBC
“We’re probably going to have to charter a contempt sub-committee for all the lawlessness of the folks over there. But Rachel it doesn’t have to be this way. What I mean is that Don McGahn doesn’t have to follow a lawless order from the White House…He should just come and be the first person in this administration who raises their right hand and does the right thing and tells the truth.”
The italics are mine. The counterfeit earnestness Eric Swalwell attempted to breathe into these words could not slant them on their own. This is how the California congressman answered Rachel Maddow’s question Tuesday night on the possible “constitutional crisis” emerging as a result of Don McGahn being ordered by the White House to defy the US Congress. He carries hollow lamentations like one would a dead cow to market — expecting no sale. He admonishes henchmen.
But who is the performance for?
McGahn — take nothing from him — is a man who was capable of steeling himself to be the chief defender of an ethnic cleansing regime. Such a man was certainly not watching at home thinking to himself, “you know, that guy who imitates 80’s action movie presidents is right.” Swalwell wasn’t seeking a change of heart and Maddow had already mentally checked out to the next question. The audience learned nothing, no one is entertained, and nothing moves.
This is the problem with MSNBC.
The muted, self-declared voice of the opposition drifts from regurgitating tidbits of happenings in the white power administration to taking turns announcing their shock, their being stunned, or making knowingly false claims that this or that incident will definitely be “politically devastating for Trump.” Banal nazisms, ethnic cleansing policies and barely coded incitements to racial violence are presented in the form of a supermarket thriller. William Barr is “revealed” to be an authoritarian. Surprise! The “adult in the room” John Kelly has a problem with black women. Stunner! No one can make sense of why Trump would pardon a Behanna or a concentration camp enthusiast. And no one — not for all the pork and beans in the world — can figure out why Republicans are not “standing up to the president.” Because, of course, the white right wing in Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Alabama has traditionally been the mortal enemies of white nationalism. It would be an unsellable murder mystery novel where the culprit turned out to be the character called Mr. Murdy, a mysterious man with a mustache, dark glasses and hooded jacket that read “I DID IT!” Similarly, anti-Semitic campaign commercials, Klan and Skin-head defending, Jeff Sessions and Kris Kobach, build a wall, “Make American Great Again” does not elicit an “I wonder if they’re racist” from anybody (including that fictional character of the Republican who “holds their nose and votes.”) It is all just a little on the nose. Any reasonable onlooker would assume that to join this administration your commitment to white power is vetting question number one. Whoever joined and is not a Johnny Rebel themselves has had to be at least one helluva dog-whistler — outsmarting the dogs themselves. It’s not a plot-twist that a new appointee has a history of making anti-black jokes — on the other hand it would be a shocker if they had a Black Lives Matter pin in their drawer, or followed the journal Public Culture on Twitter. You don’t the Rosetta Stone to discover why white conservatives are not standing up to the purest expression of white conservatism in the White House for decades. It’s a bad mystery novel produced by Cable News. Center and “Center-left” Cable News networks are more akin to trash-lit than journalism.
But what is lost in this?
There may be a population out there that is succored by the opiate of split-screen pearl-clutching. Certainly Maddow is redeemable for her personable and engaging presentations, uniquely thorough and informed reading and well-laid out storytelling. This, however, only lasts for the first segments and then its off to the “contributors,” “analysts” and D-list politicians to be provided with a platform to say nothing, state their shock and dismay in their stately camp. Or worse, declare their intention to take [insert white nationalist cabinet member] at their word. Maddow is the best the network has to offer. Chris Hayes a close second. What he lacks in audience engagement he makes up for with some incisive questions. But Chris Matthew’s Hardball is not the BBC’s Hardtalk. There is no one remotely like Al Jazeera’s Medhi Hassan anywhere on the network, to say nothing of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the quality debates on France 24 or even the review of investigative journalism on The Daily podcast. Much like other mainstream North American appetites MSNBC is often an addictive, over-processed cheesy dip — comforting but offering little in the way of sustenance. Cable news, an instrument that could be used to expand and make plural thinking, is weighed down with incessant appeals to our dimmest faculties. I complain not from a place of loftiness but as its victim. I willfully fall to the shouting, flashy set-designs waiting for impeachment news to come in like I’m waiting on my numbers. I too dull my senses with repeated nothings that feel like a moving of the needle, playing the podcasts under the sheets when I don’t want to think and just be fed.
Yet this moment, the moment of the first significant attempts of ending congressional power and the teasing of self-aware authoritarian rule deserves better, more informed oppositional discussion. Trita Parsi was right to sound a reserved panicked tone that the American public cared more about the Mueller Report than John Bolton’s war games. The Hitlerism of the colonies is threatening to wash up again on Hitler-lands. The last century’s fascist turn was counterbalanced with ideas, art, criticism and editorials. They came from a truly angry, desperate and a ready opposition that took public opinion seriously and as a genuine battleground. Currently oppositional outlets work primarily as platforms for upwardly mobile politicians to register their displeasure safely and for “contributors” to show-off their synonyms for “outrageous” and “shocking” in lieu of information and serious analysis. Mainstream opposition media is a force for lulling the population to the couch. It is the white power state’s assist. Garnishing us, dressing us in peeved, rose-colored glasses to watch the show of confederate monuments stepping down from their platforms and walking over.