In which I lose patience with the vapid amorality of our discourse

Detail from Edvard Munch, "The Scream." 1893.

Detail from Edvard Munch, “The Scream.” 1893.

This is just a brief note to express my disgust at the state of American political discourse today.

You are probably familiar with Quote-Unquote “President” Trump’s latest Twitter outrage, in which he said some pretty nasty things about MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski.

This outburst is completely reprehensible. Not just reprehensible for the President of the United States, but for anybody. Any man who lashed out at a woman with this kind of vicious, fact-free, casually misogynistic attack would be condemned, and rightly so. And the media has been quick to condemn Trump for it in the strongest possible terms, which they should.

But I want to contrast this episode with another outrage coming out of the White House that has attracted a much more muted response. That outrage is the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has been passed by the House and is currently within an inch of being passed by the Senate.

I call it an outrage because it has been estimated that both of these repeal bills would leave more than 20 million people without health insurance, and cost many of those who don’t lose their insurance thousands of dollars more per year in medical expenses.  And those estimates don’t come from some granola-crunchy liberal think tank or Democratic politician’s office; they come from the Congressional Budget Office — an agency that is part of Congress, which, remember, is at the moment entirely controlled by Republicans. See for yourself: here’s their analysis of the House bill, and of the Senate version. So there’s not really any doubt that this is going to be a disaster for lots of low-income and middle-class people.

(So why are they doing it, you ask? Because it lets them give the richest Americans a trillion-dollar tax cut. But I digress.)

On this, however, the media response has been much more muted. There’s no outrage to be found, just all the standard horse-race political nonsense. Will Mitch McConnell be able to pull together a majority in the Senate to pass the bill? Will throwing 24 million people into a completely avoidable personal financial crisis help or hurt the Republicans’ chances in the upcoming midterm elections? What would the passage or failure of repeal mean for the fate of Trump’s other legislative priorities?

It’s being covered like just one more everyday political story, in other words — despite the fact that it is very much not an everyday political story. It’s a story of huge and immediate consequence for a large slice of the American population! But you’d never know that from the coverage.

Which raises the obvious question: why? Why is the insult to Brzezinski covered as a serious moral transgression, while the insult to the millions of Americans ACA repeal would impact is not?

Allow me to suggest a hypothesis: the media takes the insult to Brzezinski seriously because Mika Brzezinski is somebody they know. They know her personally, she is part of their peer group, so an attack on her feels like an attack on them.

But the millions and millions of low-income Americans whose literal lives and deaths may hinge on whether health reform is undone or not? The people in the press doesn’t know those people, except as an abstraction. And they’re not worried about their own health insurance going away. So the issue becomes remote, impersonal — just another horse race.

Which is, or at least ought to be, an outrage all its own.


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