This year, it will be really hard to separate the signal from the noise.
Between the day-to-day hunger for breaking news and the controversy required to feed it, the noise will be deafening and the signal faint. It will be up to us to tease out the real from the fake, the relevant from the immaterial, the rational from the make-believe.
We won’t get much help from the press, who are busy working the noise for all the eyeballs they can grab.
But those of us who pay attention would do well to remember that most voters won’t be thinking about any of this until September. Most voters will go into this election underinformed, misinformed, and disinformed about almost everything — as always — but most of that won’t start taking hold until Labor Day.
When they finally tune in, I think — or hope — they’ll have perceived, albeit dimly, some sense of what’s at stake. They can’t help but notice that the differences between the candidates — and between their parties — are as stark as they’ve ever been.
Vying for their attention will be two competing systems of morality. One grows darker and more cynical by the day, while the other looks on in horror. More than any other election in my lifetime, your political party will define what sort of person you are. And if you identify as Republican, you define yourself as either ignorant or malignant, and in either case derelict of your duties as a citizen.
In the meantime, the noise will be loud and getting louder. Between now and Labor Day, the media will do all it can to make the election into a horse race, blue vs. red. To them, it’s a gold mine of clicks, views, and advertising revenue, To us, it’s just an existential peril.
Which means that a deluge of fresh stories featuring “Democrats in disarray” will get equal time with stories of Republicans in buffoon mode, lying about lying, terrifying anyone with a heart or a brain. The media need this. They need a constant stream of “both sides do it” stories to create the illusion of a close race, even if they need to normalize awful people to do it. They will continue to distort the news to the point where they can’t be trusted to help us safely through the year.
The noise is especially piercing, and especially dishonest, in the reporting of poll numbers, which are, at this stage, virtually meaningless. While the methodology of polling has grown notoriously unreliable in recent years, the real problem isn’t so much in the numbers as in the way they’re spun. The mainstream press will continue to interpret them in ways that frame the horse race as uncomfortably close, with Biden always in trouble.
Polls will make you insane. If you can’t help yourself, if you simply must look, at least wait until September before thinking they mean anything.
But even the polls won’t be generating as much noise as the Republican party, which seems to grow both more dysfunctional and more abhorrent as the election approaches. Their noise will be all theater, all unhinged rhetoric, all completely divorced from reality,
To me, this is a sign of weakness. If they had anything of substance to add to the national conversation, we’d have heard it by now.
There are plenty of other signs. Just a few weeks ago, the mediascape was all abuzz with detailed plans for the MAGA capture of the government, and all the myriad horrors that would quickly ensue on day one of the Trump junta.
But if the MAGA people really had such intricate plans, wouldn’t they keep them under wraps? Why would they want to telegraph them so far in advance? Unless they’re playing some 3D chess game that I can’t follow, all they’ve done so far is alert the Justice Department to their plans, while scaring the shit out of much of the electorate. Spreading fear is, of course, the point, but as strategies go, it seems dubious.
As for actually getting Trump elected — an essential step in all these ambitious schemes — it’s hard to discern any real movement. There’s still little evidence of a Trump campaign, even as we’re assured from all sides there is one coming. Maybe in two weeks.
In the meantime the Republican party, as a whole, is adrift without a rudder. They’ve let themselves be conned by a serial criminal and practiced insurrectionist, and now they’re talking themselves into overthrowing the existing order.
They’re also talking themselves into going to war for a guy facing 91 indictments in four jurisdictions, with trial obligations that are on track to take up the entire election cycle. They know him to be unstable, vindictive, megalomanic, and utterly ruthless in attacking anyone who crosses him. They know his zombie followers will dox their families in a heartbeat, and that death threats and swatting episodes will follow any apostasy.
They also know he’ll do anything to stay out of prison, including bringing down the whole party. No wonder so many of them are leaving Congress.
I’m guessing most of them would rather see Trump dead, but he just keeps coming, and he always makes everything harder for them. He pushes them through the looking glass, then squeezes them into contorted positions they can’t wriggle out of. All they can do is be led by their noses. Eventually they learn to believe that up is, indeed, down.
In the House, Republican noise has taken the form of toxic ineptitude. Between the logic-free impeachment efforts, the vicious harassment of Hunter Biden, the government shutdown du jour, and the waving of subpoenas they taught the world to ignore, their idiocy has been on full display, and the Democrats on their committees have made them look ridiculous in every hearing.
Jim Jordan and James Comer keep promising to expose corrupt dealings between Joe Biden and China, but remain unencumbered by any evidence. But in the same hearings, Democrats are exposing actual corrupt dealings with China, committed by Trump, and they have the receipts. Trump, it turns out, took millions from foreign governments, with the understanding that he could do nice things for those who slept in his hotels and bought his apartments.
In other words, the real Trump is so much more corrupt than the fictional Biden, it’s a wonder anyone can hold these hearings with a straight face.
Granted, the laugh-out-loud histrionics are not intended for the reality-based community, only for those benighted souls living in the Fox media bubble. But that, too, seems a sign of weakness. When rational thought is no longer permitted, how do you even function?
But the common denominator in all this is noise. Which will be unending. We’ll have to learn how to filter it. We’ll have to fine-tune our bullshit detectors. We’ll have to look at every one of our news sources with a skeptical eye.
This year will be a huge test of our critical thinking skills. We probably should study for it.