The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Bleak” Times in America
MSNBC is too caught up in the daily cycle of reporting about the Trump disaster to waste time on understanding and unpacking history.
MSNBC, like Fox News, has a worldview that can never be questioned on the air and which may well be even more black and white than that of Fox News. It clings to the apparently comforting belief that Donald Trump and Russia are the embodiment of evil and — with at least as much insistence as Fox News — that the US has temporarily suspended its constructive role as a force for unmitigated good in the world, which wouldn’t have happened if only Hillary Clinton had been elected president in 2016. The problems everyone recognizes — such as inequality of income, racial injustice, an opioid crisis, falling life expectancy, crumbling infrastructure and a degraded planet — are all due to Trump and/or the Republicans in Congress, which is especially true whenever a Democrat happens to be in the White House.
In his latest book, America: The Farewell Tour, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges refuses to place the blame for these problems on any particular politician or party, and prefers to highlight something more permanent and insidious: what he calls the “corporate coup d’état” that now runs both the economy and the hyperreal political theater delivered daily and hourly by the media (such as MSNBC) in their “we-never-sleep” reporting on “they never-stop-running” political campaigns. MSNBC’s dutiful journalist, citing the challenges of the past, objects to his apparent pessimism by saying, “we’ve seen it though, we’ve come out of it” before asking Hedges the question, “Why, if you see it as bleak, are we going to stay bleak?”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Regarded as hopeless, but only by those who fail to recognize what is profoundly good, especially those curmudgeons who refuse to understand what it means to live in the best of all possible worlds.
The journalist makes her (MSNBC’s) worldview clear, when, reacting to the dismal long-term trends Hedges delineates, she asks him: “Take history though, the history of this country and you look at its past and you look at the darker moments and you look at the challenges … we’ve seen it through, we’ve come out of it. And who’s not to say that couldn’t be the same when it comes to this time now?”
MSNBC puts forward a Manichean view of the nation’s destiny, which ultimately derives from the Puritans’ belief in their founding of a New Jerusalem and the “city on the hill” shining its light across the world. The United States, in their view, has a mission that encounters challenges but always comes out with its shining armor slightly dented but always intact. The trend that Hedges is describing, that of the decline of an empire, has no place in the corporate vision of a nation that is evolving toward an ever “more perfect union.” In Aristotelian terms, the nation is an essence (the foundation of its being) and its history merely accidents (superficial features). Decline is inconceivable and, therefore, discussion of it unnecessary.
In Candide, Voltaire mocked the followers of the German philosopher Leibniz who claimed that, despite multiple calamities, we lived in “the best of all possible worlds.” Americans and their media are content to believe — in all modesty — that they live merely in the best of all possible nations.
The difference between the two world views typifies what the media have become. Hedges takes on the task of situating the US in its historical context, examining long-term trends. The journalist puts forward an implicit view of the US as a kind of eternal present that occasionally encounters storms, just as life-giving sun displays its innocuous sun spots, tempests of relatively short duration that burst forth on the star’s surface and then regularly disappear. This eternal present is a fundamentally theological and concept that can only be dangerous when applied to history, as the justification for empire.
MSNBC is not alone among media outlets to treat the news they routinely report as sunspots on the shining star of civilizational glory. The nation has charged them with the task of making the public believe in itself and its institutions. The situation cannot be bleak, only the outlook of pessimists can be bleak. The journalist’s question — “And who’s not to say that couldn’t be the same when it comes to this time now?” — with its two negatives (“not to say” and “couldn’t”) reveal a tense defensive stance, which became definitive when Hedges mentioned “fictitious capital” citing Karl Marx, after which she quickly dismissed the interviewee.
Those who know and appreciate the work of Hedges were surprised to see that he had been invited by MSNBC. They weren’t surprised to see him cut off in the midst of his analysis to go on to reporting serious news.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.