It’s time to start thinking about 2022. Yes, there are traditional headwinds against the president’s party. Yes, the 2020 Census has led to more gerrymandered House districts (though, yes, some of these will be rightfully airlocked in the courts). The question for Democrats is how to overcome these challenges.
As the casting vote in the Senate belonging to Senator Manchin, they haven’t passed robust election reforms. But even if they had, that would only ease problems slightly. The real hurdle for Democrats is the media.
The current state of media is dire. Political coverage of the developing 2022 midterms still narrate it as Republicans and Democrats. There’s no acknowledgment of the other dynamic at play: pro-Union and pro-Insurrection. For example, Utah’s Senate seat will likely stay Republican, but will it be held by Mike Lee or by someone with more scruples (to be fair to Lee, he did vote against objections on 6 January, but he was a pro-Donald-John-Trump idiot for most of 2016–2020). The media ought to be framing it in exactly those terms. Republicans are still very much a threat to good governance, but Donald-John-Trump Republicans regularly issue threats against America itself.
(The media is used to framing and analyzing under the traditional two-party framework, and until someone breaks out of the mold and shows success in doing so, they will keep doing a broken thing. The entire media dynamic works in a similar way. By virtue of being in power, Democrats will tend to receive more press scrutiny, which will tend to sour more voters ahead of the midterms, even if the levels of problems with the Democrats are dwarfed by those of the Republicans they replaced. The media doesn’t give the audience any kind of metric of where things are in comparison on political matters. Bad is bad, blame is equal regardless of the sin, context is dead. At least until some part of the media shows them different.)
Setting aside the media’s failures and tendencies to support and amplify bad actors, the challenge for the Democrats is simple enough: if all they can do is test messages that work within the framing the media has granted, they will lose more seats than if they can get the honest framings before the voters. The media doesn’t like honest framings for the simple reason that they make more money with the lies.
Think of the voters as employees seeking a union. The media is doing the employer’s bidding by pasting up propaganda posters, holding required anti-Union meetings, and so on. The Republicans have their own media, divorced from the mainstream and divorced from reality, with which they program their voters, program the electorate. The Democrats don’t have that vehicle, so it’s up to them to find other ways to get the messages out.
This is a step entirely removed from the campaign itself, and it’s the reason that we’ve seen all this witch-hunting against teaching kids the truth about history. It’s the reason that Phrma can price-gouge America year after year. It’s why they keep building bigger, worse prisons and justice reforms never get very far. The baked-in reality is fabricated by media and interested parties, to the detriment of society.
But the Democrats are often on the sideline of that. They are attacked by media, but they aren’t as good at participating in the creation of media. This is the key to 2022: Democrats have to make the stories that really matter happen.
Their own caucus, of course, presents problems in that regard. There are pro-Phrma Democrats who seek to stop reasonable regulation. There are Democrats who don’t want us to go to the Moon, yeah? And the media likes to cover them. The media likes the drama of Democrats who trip other Democrats in the halls of Congress.
The current state of media is the status quo never having to justify itself. It’s Big Carbon keeping coal and oil going for decades while the climate needle has been in the red. They have their witchcraft, which they use to mesmerize the media. On climate, suddenly the media cares about costs (but not on drugs, not on police, not on military). On drugs, reasonable prices might harm the development of new and more-horrid side-effects. And so on.
That’s the white noise the Democrats and all friends of good governance must overcome. That’s the cosmic background radiation of the news media.
The hard part is breaking through that noise generator. The anti-real right-wing media is the main vehicle to slip these things into the mainstream. They make a fuss, wait for a slow newsday, and the mainstream picks it up. They make the mainstream feel nervous that something is getting all this coverage in right-wing outlets. What if our viewers switch? What if our readers revolt against our failure to feed them the latest tripe? The Democrats lack a similar vehicle, aren’t offering ready-for-print stories in that way. It’s much harder to slip the truth into the mainstream media because of this.
So unless some deep-pocket Democrats want to buy or create media for the purpose, with some side-stream of scam-advertising (Republicans use theirs to sell quack medicine and the like), the means of spreading the truth are few.
(The other option would be for the media to… not suck. Hmm. Problem there is they make a lot of money advertising all the wicked things, things that give you wrinkles and sore joints and shortness of breath and rising seas. They really enjoy that money, and so they won’t do it. Alas.)
But surely they exist, and surely the Democrats’ strategists can figure them out. They need to if they want to do more for the country, to put to bed an insurrectionist Republican party. To secure the blessings of liberty, and so on. The question that bothers me most, as an independent, is do the Democrats want to? Are too many of them part of the same mainstream that floats the nonsense and vitriol of the right-wing media? Do they find it acceptable that The New York Times keeps candy-coating Republican activists and calling them everyday Americans in their journal? That a dog-whistle of Critical Race Theory gets puffed up as the Red Dawn?
Democrats: you must not only rely on campaigns alone. The country has moved on from the quaint days when running for office was a matter of stamping buttons, kissing babies, touring factories. The modern campaign happens before anyone has filed for office. It comes every time a Republican politician can get asked a question about a pet issue without having to do that work to generate it, because the right-wing noise machine has slipped an earworm into the mainstream. The Republicans don’t win with their campaigns. They win with their media. And the mainstream media gladly paid them in human sacrifices to quack cures for COVID-19. Real body counts, because the media will gladly sell Phrma ads on stories about Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine and whatever else the anti-vaccine crowd wants to snort and gobble.
Media: adopt some kind of policy on this stuff. You knew it was right-wing bullshit when you caught first wind of CRT. You amplified it, you effectively campaigned for the Republicans. You run the stories about Twitter and Facebook letting disinformation thrive, but you do the same cheap shit for the same crappy advertising money. If you can’t claw yourself away from the shallow money pit to save your nation, you’re a disgrace to the First Amendment, and you’re inviting the day when some future dictator-installed court replaces you with state-run media.
(There have been times the media has acknowledged this. After the Iraq war, for example, there were stories about soul-searching and the media’s involvement in selling that war. But they never learned the lesson, were not held accountable, and the terrible machine keeps rolling.)