BENZONIA, MI — Though I never attended a formal class in journalism my career, now over 40 years in the making, is firmly centered in sturdy principles of reasoned conduct and examined execution. Stripped of adornment those principles encompass seven rules of engagement:
Follow stories that matter.
Gather views from disparate quarters.
Make the complex simpler to understand.
Write with energy and grace.
Follow the facts wherever they lead.
Given that foundation, what does a responsible journalist do with the lies, the conspiracies, the irresponsible democracy-weakening malevolence of far too many members of the Republican Party? The answer: follow the facts where they lead.
Here’s where they lead. It’s a great story.
The malignant behavior of the outlaw American political party is specifically designed to disorient people. Amidst the confusion the GOP is generating in Washington and state capitals, the party is hoping to set in place a grand design to protect its patrons from change. Fossil energy. Banking. Insurance. Corporate food production. Wall Street. The question for the country is whether the strategy will succeed? My reading is that while it is treacherous, and personally infuriating, what the GOP is up to will fail. Powerful currents of ecology, technology, culture, fact, economy, and most especially young voters, will ultimately swamp the party’s tactical gambit.
Regardless, the Republican game plan operates in three primary arenas. First, it completely takes advantage of the mainstream media’s reckless love for agitation and blasphemy. The wicked and the whacky elevate to national attention. That’s the Marjorie Taylor Greene phenomenon. Masking, she argues for instance, is tantamount to the Jewish holocaust prompting a week of condemnation and consideration while Congress rejects a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection.
Second, it instills fear of the other and the future. That’s the Fox News phenomenon, where lies are treated as facts, conspiracy serves as truth, and Donald Trump — lazy, incompetent, defensive, and treacherous – is celebrated as an icon.
Third, it deploys false outrage as a powerful tool to obscure the insidious work of undermining democracy. Fourteen states enacted laws to restrict access to the voting booth so far this year. More than 60 laws to restrict voting are in various stages of consideration in 18 more states. This weekend Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbot promised to hold a special legislative session to pass a law that is aimed at restricting voting access to black and brown urban residents. Democrats, who temporarily blocked consideration of the bill, noted that Gov. Abbott did not call for such a special session when Hurricane Harvey drowned Houston or a deep February freeze left millions without electricity or water.
The GOP goal is plain. By recovering power in Washington and retaining it in state capitals, the party can help the fossil fuel sector develop the trillions of dollars it still has in the ground. It can keep the federal price supports and the toxic chemicals flowing to, and the regulators away from, industrial agriculture. Banks will loan without regard to the public interest. Utilities can continue to develop the big centralized power systems and expansive transmission grids on huge expanses of open ground just like they did in the 20th century.
But while ambitious in its freakish deviance, the GOP grand plan is almost certain to collapse. It’s too weighted by fraud. It’s too flimsy to succeed on a planet displaying greater truculence to human communities than ever before. It’s not relevant in a country finally recognizing the relevance of injustice, race, and fairness, a country much more ready to invest in resolving economic inequity. And the GOP grand plan doesn’t embrace the era’s advancing technology in science, medicine, computing, communications, transportation, and energy generation. In fact, the party and its supporters view those breakthroughs as a threat to their view of the world. How else to explain public opinion polls that show most GOP leaders and voters regard climate change as a hoax, and masks and the Covid-19 vaccine as an affront to constitutional rights?
So while Republicans feel justified in pursuing voting recounts to prove a lie and election law changes freighted by fakery, the sane among us need to recognize that all this trauma does not necessarily lead to an American calamity. The belligerence and wild rhetoric heard in Washington, the red states, and on Fox News are actually the cries of desperation from people who are frightened by fact, truth, and the future.
That’s the story I’m determined to tell.
— Keith Schneider