The Sunday shows were sleepy today—unusually so, given the nomination of a new would-be Supreme Court justice less than 24 hours ago. It may be that we have simply lost our ability to be entranced by The Usual Bullshit. Newest Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows held forth on a few topics, for example, but because ex-House Republican Mark Meadows has been a lying, gross hack since the day he flopped, like a bag of wet laundry, onto the national scene, none of it amounted to a hill of beans. The Sunday shows’ go-to format, in which the nation’s most powerful and connected people sit themselves down and weave fanciful tales of insulting nonsense that we are all supposed to nod our heads and stroke our chins to, is too wearying in the time of COVID-19.
200,000 deaths and rising steadily: not the best background for a puppet show.
There was at least one moment of note. Former Trump national security adviser Lt. Gen. (Ret) H.R. McMaster has a new book to sell, which means he suddenly has new insights to share with the world, at least according to the arcane rules of Sunday show bookings. McMaster was willing to give us the very steady assurance that there will be no military coup in November. He wasn’t going to go out on a limb and suggest that there will be no coup, mind you—just not one specifically supported by the U.S. Army et al.
So there you go—and you were complaining that there was no good news in 2020. Tsk.
Responding on Meet the Press to a question posed by the hosting lump of journalistic drywall, a question about whether Donald Trump might make good on his threats to invoke the Insurrection Act to put down whatever he personally deems to be “unrest” if things do not go his way, McMaster boldly assured viewers that the military would not get involved.
“I think what’s really clear for the American people to understand is, the military will have no role in a transition—in fact, to even talk about it, I think, is irresponsible, and that’s maybe why, if you detect some reticence on the part of senior military leaders, or those in the Pentagon to talk about it, it’s because it shouldn’t even be a topic for discussion.”
There you go, then: no military-supported coup in 2020, and we have the word of a man once hired by Donald Trump to be a national security adviser to put behind that one. Not going to happen. Stop bringing it up.
Feel better yet?
In his next response, McMaster also said it was “wrong” and “more than unfortunate” that Trump gassed an American crowd for an impromptu photo-op, because we can’t, “across the political spectrum, Chuck, which really bothers me these days,” try to “pull the military into politics.”
So we can be assured the military will not be called up to deal with “unrest” if Donald Trump decides certain cities need tear-gassing, on or after election day, and the reason we can be assured of that is because when Trump Already Did That, it was unfortunate.
You know, across the political spectrum. Because both sides—wait, come again?
“Some of the things the president said I think have been irresponsible, but often times, the reaction to what he says is equally irresponsible.”
Ah, there we go. The siren song of American Journalism, Post-Capitalist Pandemic Dystopia Edition. The archconservative slide into criminality and violence-endorsing fascism is bad, mind you, but isn’t people reacting to such things equally bad?
Can’t we all meet at a happy midpoint, where we agree that, say, using active duty military troops to occupy American cities deemed Very Naughty by a clearly corrupt attorney general is unfortunate, but objecting to that too strongly is Communist, or something? If only we could all agree to a happy midpoint, where an archconservative cabal bent on nullifying anticorruption norms could retain power and we agree to, you know, not raise too much a stink over it. It’s called comity, you cretins—look it up.
Anyhoo, I forget where we’re even go—wait! I remember. Ex-Trump official H.R. McMaster has thoughts. Among his thoughts are that Donald J. Trump not agreeing to commit himself to a “peaceful” transition of power, if people he doesn’t like vote ways he doesn’t like in November, is extremely horribly bad.
“It’s a gift to our adversaries, right, who want to shake our confidence in who we are. Shake our confidence in our democratic principles, and institutions, and processes.”
Well that sounds ba—
“What I write about in Battlegrounds is how Russia, for example, has engaged in this campaign of disruption, disinformation, and denial, and if, if the Russians can just use our own words against us, that’s the best way to pull us apart from one another.”
All right, so Donald Trump is directly giving a “gift” to our adversaries, specifically Russia, in damaging our democracy for his own personal gain, which sounds like one of the more clear-cut violations of the job’s theoretical oath of office, but this dangerous attack on our very means of government is not so threatening that a book plug cannot be wedged in there somewhere.
Sigh. This was a mistake. Today’s exercise has been nothing but another confirmation that a national press that sent itself into maudlin uproar over whether past presidents should remove themselves for X, Y, or Z will not launch themselves too fully into the fray over whether threatening the use of U.S. troops to quell protests, or whether an attorney general personally involving himself in decisions on which individual protesters to charge with supposed federal violations, or whether multiple clear ethical breaches from international extortion to holding a political convention on the White House lawn—none of that has yet set off American journalism’s disapprobation in the same way that far lesser scandals have been micro-parsed into reasons why political heads should roll.
American democracy may be at its most precarious point in a centuryish, but By God There Will Be Books To Sell. Both Sides will be chastised in equal proportion, and not for the gassing or lawbreaking but for upsetting the national stomach and national tea time with widespread uncouthness of rhetoric.
There still looks to be a way out, mind you. If Joe Biden, of all people, manages to wipe the floor with Trump’s bad weave on election night, all of this could fade again—though slowly. But it would require a new commitment to civility.
For example, a new Sunday show in which we round up figures from the past regime and allow common Americans to slap them upside the head, as hard as they can, one time for each lie told in office or on the job. Really just deck ’em. Civility, of the sort that all these thumping blowhards insist was the way things were done in the good old days. Do it as charity fundraiser. They can all write books about it afterward, moaning books about the injustice of it all, and Balance will be restored.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.