I think Americans, as individuals and as the institutions we create, are very bad at learning lessons from our mistakes. The media, for example, appears to have learned very little from its plethora of mistakes in covering Trump during the 2016 election. Here we are four years later, with all of the consequences clear, and they made an effort last week to circulate this patently ludicrous – really, it makes no sense whatsoever – "Biden laptop" scandal from the New York Post, an organ renowned for its careful investigative journalism and integrity.
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The thing is, it hasn't gone anywhere. 90% of Americans have no idea what right-wingers are shrieking about when they say "Burisma," 8% think it's a soccer team, and the remaining 2% are addicts of (or grifters from) the Trump Cinematic Universe who nobody listens to outside of those confines. It's a non-story, despite the fact that Trump is flogging it with all his might and major media outlets gave it some air last week.
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I doubt Americans have soberly internalized the details of the story and, after careful consideration, rejected it as implausible. I believe that on a more basic level, Trump has shot himself in the foot by unintentionally raising the bar for what counts as a "scandal" that rises to a level that our political discourse will actually pay attention to it. Once you've experienced all the things Trump has done over the past four years, he is finding (to his own detriment) that getting anybody to give a shit about some supposed email on supposedly Hunter Biden's laptop. The "Her Emails" thing that worked so well in 2016, or at least seemed to work well, now seems quaint to the point of comedy. For four years Trump stretched to the breaking point what would be tolerated as acceptable or even normal in American politics, and now he's discovering too late what every performer who relies on shock value learns: the dose must always be increased to have the same effect.
Here in North Carolina we see an even clearer example, with the revelation of embarrassing text messages by the Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, which the flailing, unpopular incumbent leapt upon like a life preserver. Certainly nobody would argue that what Cunningham did is awesome, but the story simply had no staying power. Beyond that, Cunningham's poll numbers actually went up – not because it somehow helped him to be publicly humiliated, but because the "scandal" simply didn't register at all. That classic political scandal, marital infidelity, seems silly and frivolous now to any voter who wasn't desperately looking for a reason to hate Cunningham in the first place.
I don't think we will ever go back.
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Things that would have been campaign- or career-ending in 1990 just aren't going to move the political dial anymore. There are too many other things on the table for voters right now (and remember that the average person will devote only limited attention to politics) for anyone to get excited about the mildly interesting titillation of a "politician cheats on wife" storyline. Maybe compared to the dullness of, say, the Jimmy Carter years such a thing might be leapt upon by voters and the media as a rare interesting tidbit in otherwise boring politics. Now, Trump got what he wanted. He vastly increased public tolerance for political malfeasance, which is what all autocrats want because it makes it easier for them to steal with impunity.
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But in getting what he wanted, he also let all the air out of the only thing in electoral politics he or the right-wing noise machine really know how to do.