Last week I wrote about how President Donald Trump is a racist and argued that it was indefensible for news organizations to not factor that into their reporting.
I stand by that, but as embarrassing as having such a blatantly racist head of state is, it must be emphasized that that’s almost never the most pertinent political news of the moment. Trump and many members of his inner circle are clearly racist and generally unhinged individuals, but none of that means that they are ineffective at passing political policies. Journalists that criticize Trump or the GOP as ineffective and dysfunctional are setting a dangerous example because…It’s just wrong.
Much ado was made about the Republican Party’s inability to kill the Affordable Care Act, but where that failed, the GOP had a banner year in numerous other areas. Net neutrality is dead. Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries seemed to go into effect rather quietly in December, and now Salvadorans are also in conservatives’ crosshairs. It doesn’t take much Googling to see that throughout all of this, ICE has been busy rounding up undocumented — mostly, but it turns out the department isn’t too picky as long as you look like a Mexican — immigrants for deportation. Also, the Republican tax bill passed, and that legislation included language that targeted abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, so…There’s also that to keep an eye on down the road.
Last week’s headlines were almost exclusively centered on Trump’s “shithole” comment, along with some news about how he had consensual sex with a porn star once. As I’m writing this list about recent Trump news, I literally just received a push alert about Trump’s physical state. He’s fat and balding. Thanks, al.com. But does any of this nonsense really matter?
Less discussed was that the Trump administration plans to allow Medicaid programs to require Medicaid recipients to be employed. This is, of course, horrifying on multiple levels. For one, it more or less states that only working men and women should be entitled to basic health care, which any remotely not-cruel person would agree should be a guaranteed right in any civilized and modern society. Furthermore, it’s a blatant dehumanization that assumes that any unemployed person is in such a state for purely selfish reasons.
Let’s hear what Kentucky — the first state in the nation to go through with this — governor Matt Bevin has to say.
“Since the expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied people of low financial means, we have seen that number go from 20, 25, 30 and now fully a third of our population,” Bevin said in a Monday interview with PBS. “So what is it we’re looking to change is, we simply want, for those that are able to be engaged in their own health outcomes, we want them to be, because there’s dignity and self-respect that is offered to people through the ability for people to do for themselves.”
Ignoring the terrible PR-softness of PBS’s headline for that article, Bevin’s quote implies that all unemployed people lack “dignity” and “self-respect” and aren’t worthy of basic medical services is just…morally horrifying. It reminds me of when Fox News evil person Stuart Varney argued that “(poor people) have things, what they lack is a richness of spirit.”
My point is that the Medicaid thing could have terrible and tangible repercussions for many Americans and is supported by vile politicos whose elitist beliefs are genuinely psychopathic. Compare this to Trump’s “shithole” comment. It was racist and stupid, yes, and quite possibly a major detriment to foreign relations with those countries, but does this compare to a fifth of the nation’s states potentially barring its poorest residents from a basic human service?
More briefly, it’s also worth noting that FISA — the United States’ disturbing program that allows for widespread domestic NSA surveillance — was extended with bipartisan support. Here’s Nancy Pelosi’s terrible statement. I don’t know anyone on either side of the political spectrum who likes the extent of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. This should, and would hopefully have been, in a less insane news cycle, a major story. This is an issue that warrants extensive discussion, but for the sake of staying somewhat focused, let’s just note that it happened, it’s bad and coverage of it was overshadowed by pundits freaking out over the “shithole” comment.
I didn’t hear about any of these things last week, outside of some minor outrage on the Medicaid issue in my mostly far-left Twitter news bubble last week. Certainly, nobody in my newsroom was talking about these things last week. I feel like I mostly fit the Always Online stereotype, so that I didn’t hear more about these massively controversial news stories disturbs me.
Maybe it was a personal failure. Maybe I’m completely reading the journalism environment incorrectly and people are aware of these things and I’ve just been off my game in the last week. But this seems to be a recurring issue, where major news sources exhaustively cover offensive but ultimately unimportant Trump gaffes instead of the quieter, albeit deeply sinister, policy changes that are being pushed by the administration.
My point is, Trump might be a racist and unhinged person, and that should definitely factor into political reporting, but the focus should almost always be on substantive policy and things that will actually have a real impact on human beings. Publishing “shithole” on the front page of a newspaper or blaring it on TV headlines is funny and dramatic and likely to attract viewers, but from an actual journalistic standpoint, it’s essentially malpractice to emphasize the latest sensational racist gaffe over the actual policies being pushing that will likely to significant harm to ordinary American citizens.