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There’s probably some overlap between Discourse Blog subscribers and people who start every weekday off with a cup of black coffee and Politico’s marquee newsletter, Playbook, but I’d hasten to guess that it’s fairly small. I read Playbook on occasion. I do it because I want to have my bubble challenged like a serious thinker, of course, but mostly because it’s nice to get the day’s (morning) news all neatly summed up in one place. Beyond that, though, Playbook, like Politico, is terminally afflicted with the voice of Aggressive Objectivity, and if we’ve learned anything in the last four years, it’s that remaining neutral in the midst of *all this* is a force for conservatism.
So imagine my surprise when I saw Ben Shapiro was the guest editor for today’s edition of Playbook, as part of what new Playbook supremo Ryan Lizza billed as a “12-day run of Playbook written by an eclectic group of guests from the media world.” (He added that “each will synthesize and analyze the news in their unique way; the first edition was written by former most hated man in media James Bennet, who was the editor of the New York Times’ horrendous opinion section.) The promotion seems to be meant to bridge the gap between the departure of Playbook authors Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, who left Politico to launch a competing product, and the arrival of the new Playbook crew, including Lizza. Among the other guest authors: documentarian Ken Burns, PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor, and, apparently as a left-wing counterbalance to Shaprio, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
For whatever it’s worth, the first explanation from Politico leadership about giving Shapiro a platform has been about “mischief-making” and the outlet’s “secret sauce.” Ew.
Here’s Lizza promoting the newsletter today:
The notion here is that Hayes is as far left as Shapiro is far right, or that they are equally noteworthy thinkers. This is obviously absurd. Hayes is a serious journalist and author. Shapiro is a virulent bigot, a hypocritical liar, and a demagogue. Seeing an equivalence between the two is a parody of “balance,” and the kind of lazy nonsense that only people who work for Politico could peddle with a straight face. I shouldn’t be surprised: we’re talking about a venture with a…dubious moral code:
But let’s see how the Facts and Logic Guy’s Playbook turned out, shall we? Headlined “The real reason most Republicans opposed impeachment,” it begins auspiciously:
Howdy from Nashville, y’all! I’m BEN SHAPIRO, and I host the conservative podcast and radio show “The Ben Shapiro Show”; I’m also editor emeritus of the Daily Wire, husband to a medical doctor, and father to three children who run me more ragged than the news cycle.
He goes on to reason—this is all in the opening, mind you, to a very long edition—that media elites and Democrats (one and the same to him) still acted surprised when not a ton of Republicans joined with Democrats to vote for Donald Trump’s second impeachment yesterday, and when it emerged that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to do fuck-all to act on this vote before the inauguration. Shapiro then argues that Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and….Paul Krugman are using the Capitol insurrection to paint all Republicans with a broad brush (emphasis throughout is his):
Many in the media seem bewildered that House Republicans didn’t unanimously join Democrats in supporting impeachment (looking at you, Playbook readers in the media) — after all, Republicans were in the building when rioters broke through, seeking to do them grievous physical harm. My Republican sources tell me that opposition to impeachment doesn’t spring from generalized sanguinity over Trump’s behavior: I’ve been receiving calls and texts for more than a week from elected Republicans heartsick over what they saw in the Capitol.
Oh really! You’ve gotten calls! How nice. Meanwhile, it feels like every day there’s new reporting about how elected GOP members of Congress not only encouraged the MAGA chuds to invade the Capitol, but allegedly abetted the attack, making Trump’s tweets look like child’s play.
Sen. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.) suggested this week at NBCNews.com that the only way to prevent a repeat of the Capitol riot was endorsement of a full slate of Democratic agenda items. Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) suggested that “Southern states are not red states, they are suppressed states, which means the only way that our country is going to heal is through the actual liberation of Southern states …” And PAUL KRUGMAN of The New York Times placed blame for the Capitol riots on the entire Republican Party infrastructure: “This Putsch Was Decades In The Making.”
Unity looks a lot like “sign onto our agenda, or be lumped in with the Capitol rioters.”
Conservatives see the game. It doesn’t matter whether you held your nose when voting for Trump; it doesn’t matter if you denounced his prevarications about a “stolen election” (for the record, I was met with great ire when I declared the night of the election that Trump’s declaration of victory was “deeply irresponsible”).
If you supported Trump in any way, you were at least partially culpable, the argument goes. It’s not just Trump who deserves vitriol — it’s all 74 million people who voted for him.
And that claim, many conservatives believe, will serve as the basis for repression everywhere from social media to employment.
“If you supported Trump in any way, you were at least partially culpable, the argument goes.” Uh, yeah!!!! As you should be!!!! As has always been the case, being a Donald Trump supporter means signing onto his policies and governance wholesale. For four years, this has ruffled the feathers of a lot of conservatives who were upset that they couldn’t find a loophole to support Trump’s tax cuts but not, say, his policy of separating children from their parents at the border. If you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas—you don’t get credit for trying to edge away to the corner of the cage to try to avoid the fleas. You’ve made your decision, I don’t make the rules!
Shapiro also has a vested interest in defending this claim. When the outlet named him one of their “Politico 50” in 2018, he characterized himself as a “sometimes Trump” supporter—although oddly enough, he went on to praise the president, and seems to be largely in favor of Trump’s policies. From the interview:
What’s surprised me most about Donald Trump as president is… His conservative bent on policy. I didn’t expect him to implement conservative policy, since he had no history of philosophical conservatism and swung wildly on issues throughout the campaign. But he’s governed in a steadily conservative direction. With that said, what’s surprised me least is his personal behavior, which hasn’t changed in the slightest.
Back to Shapiro’s Playbook. Mr. ‘I’ve never sexually pleased a woman‘ goes on to equate the badness of the group that stormed the Capitol—a number of whom were clearly inclined toward violence because they believe that’s the only way you overthrow the international cabal of pedophiles—with Black Lives Matter protesters and antifa.
You see, these things are all the same, according to Ben:
Furthermore, many conservatives doubt that Democrats are applying any sort of neutral standard toward Trump in pursuing impeachment.
— Is the standard refusal to accept election results? STACEY ABRAMS never accepted her election loss (she still claims she was the victim of voter suppression); Rep. JAMIE RASKIN (D-Md.) has been appointed one of the Democrats’ impeachment managers by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but challenged Florida’s electors in 2016.
— Is the standard “incitement”? Few serious lawyers believe that Trump’s activities would amount to prosecutable incitement; the real impeachment charge against Trump is extraordinarily reckless and inflammatory rhetoric and behavior. But that sort of rhetoric is, unfortunately, commonplace in today’s day and age, and sometimes even ends with violence (see, e.g., a Bernie Sanders supporter shooting up a congressional softball game).
And what does it lead to? Per Ben’s Playbook:
But it’s just as plausible to see such questions as demands for neutral political standards to hold everyone accountable. Without such standards, conservatives fear, any political flashpoint will be used as a cudgel to cram down social, cultural or even governmental repression.
Republicans may divide over impeachment — there are good prudential arguments against, and good principled arguments in favor. But one thing is certain: If anyone expects Americans to come together once the Trump era is over, that’s a pipe dream.
Our social fabric is torn. It was torn before Trump. And, as it turns out, the incentive structure of modern politics and media cuts directly against stitching it together again.
I too worry about metaphors about our “social fabric.” But as Shapiro does actual whataboutism with supposed “left-wing violence” vs. balanced against the far-right violent insurrection at the Capitol, these sides of the scale never feel equal. Equating them feels as dishonest as Bari Weiss using her book to equate the specter of anti-Semitism on the far-right, most notably with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, with what she views as just as potent, just as violent anti-Semitism on the left. These claims never pass the smell test. The scales are simply not equal. In order to start anything that looks like weaving those threads back together, we must first be honest about what ideological project—and which public intellectuals—made their names taking scissors to it in the first place. And we should make sure that places like Politico feel embarrassed to hand their most prized platforms over to the people who have done so much damage.