Politics in America feels like Groundhog Day
SAN DIEGO -- At lunch the other day, a friend -- an old Marine who will soon turn 80 -- informed me that originality is dead.
"Nothing is new," he said. "Everything that's happening now has happened before."
At the intersection of politics and media, he has a point. The alarmist anti-Trump media likes to say that things have never been this bad.
You know what's bad? People's memories. It's Groundhog Day in America. It feels like we've been here before -- even if neither party admits it. When a politician on your team comes up with an idea, we declare that no one has ever come up with anything this good. When a politician on the rival team does anything, we insist that no one has ever been this bad.
You know what else is bad? The media's reputation. In the Trump era, not many folks in my line of work are known for their fairness and objectivity. The media could restore much of the public's trust by admitting that much of what they find shocking is actually quite familiar.
For example, when reporting on a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico that looks a lot like the old trade deal with Canada and Mexico, why can't reporters make that point -- but then follow up by pointing out that repacking policy initiatives is hardly new. They could mention that President Barack Obama did the same thing when he essentially Xeroxed many of President George W. Bush's policies for combating terrorism? In fact, federal judges would scratch their heads over the fact that -- in defending domestic surveillance -- the briefs from the Obama Justice Department so closely resembled those of the Bush Justice Department.
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And, if the claim is that Trump simply re-branded the North American Free Trade Agreement without changing much of the content, then why not mention that Obama did much the same thing when he scuttled the educational law, "No Child Left Behind" -- and replaced it with his own educational initiative, "Race to the Top"? There wasn't much of a difference. The former pushed accountability by threatening to close underperforming schools, while the latter pushed accountability by offering financial initiatives to over-performing ones.
Putting all this on the table provides context. In the bygone days of what we used to call journalism, it was considered telling the whole story. It was fair. But it was also closer to the only thing journalists are meant to chase: the truth.
Context changes a minor story from what one president is doing wrong into a major story about what's wrong with our political system.
In a more recent example, anti-Trump forces heaped criticism on the Fox News morning show "Fox & Friends" after it emerged that the show's producers choreographed interviews with former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt was often given the questions ahead of time, allowed to choose the topics, and even given script approval.