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.


  • To me this implies a possible future for "Drumph!"; he could be a sideshow geek, because what won't he do for attention?

  • In some ways, I think this might be good in the sense that a lot of the muck that got stirred about politicians was beside the point. I didn't care who was sleeping with whom. Last count I read, about 40% of unmarried relationships and about 25% of married relationships had at some point some infidelity. It always seemed the pinnacle of hypocrisy that we hold politicians to a higher standard. (If 1 in 4 is the norm, politicians seem actually *better* than average.)

    So far, Trump has torpedoed the "not be a craphound in your personal life" norm.

    He's also attempted to torpedo the malfeasance in office norm with somewhat less success. There are a lot of people that are very, very unhappy with what he's done to the presidency and republicans have done to governance in general.

    The ones that still love him are more in the "I shot myself in the foot and isn't it great!" category.

    In John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars there's a scene where they're slicing the tops off of cans to make bombs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGEjorOQT6I, about 1:20) One of the crew, is so high he cuts his own thumb off. Ice Cube watches this, laughs and says, "That's beautiful… that's what you get, dumbass."

    Watch that and tell me you don't think of Trump and his zombies.

  • TripsyMcstumble says:

    Good post with a good point. That's exactly how I felt about the sexting scandal: "whatever." You never know with these media outlets, how they can amplify "scandals." Seems like they didn't get very many clicks so dropped it.

    I'm thinking Trump and Co. will eventually flee the country to avoid all the legal battles. Where will Trump land after the money's gone? Saudi Arabia with Javanka? It would be like a Twilight Zone version of Schitt's Creek.

  • Shorter Ed: "Ruh roh".

    The apt question is not what constitutes a scandal, it's the pathetic MSM double standard concerning what constitutes a story.

    In this connection, the apt comparison is not Cunningham's extracurricular love life, but The Atlantic's recent military hit piece.

    A souffle of anonymous sources was nonetheless a Story to someone, so it became THE story for everyone. Because anti-Trump.

    An as-yet unverified–and unrefuted–story cannot be anything, because it is not yet not everything , Because anti-Biden.

    The MSM double standard (since Reagan) is the repeated mistake.

  • Point taken, but with the caveat that left wing politicians (merely in the sense of whatever the slightly more leftish-ish major party of one's constituency is) always have to be more virtuous than their right wing opponents.

    First, right wing media from talk radio all the way up to the USA's Fox News and other countries' newspapers will always blow up the progressives' scandals and regurgitate them endlessly while letting the conservatives' scandals pass even when the latter are much more severe.

    Second, although there is tribalism everywhere, all else being equal the progressives themselves are less forgiving of their politicians' scandals than the conservatives are of theirs. (Or perhaps another way of looking at it would be: there is a difference on the two sides in what counts as a serious scandal. Even conservatives who can overlook corruption or infidelity will not forgive the rejection of certain shibboleths, so they do have some standards!)

  • The funniest part has been Don Jr trying to hammer Hunter for making money off his daddy's coattails. What exactly do you think you do here, Don, having never had a job where your boss wasn't your own father?

    Seriously though, Burisma should be a major scandal. Hunter has never even attempted to hide the fact that he's a drug addict with no useful skills whatsoever. The only possible reason for him to be on a corporate board is to buy US Government influence via his father. It's seriously screwed up that our tolerance for malfeasance is so high that this doesn't even register with the public anymore. The Democrats entire pitch is right now is built on demonstrating the competence and integrity that Trump lacks. But everything about Hunter shows that the Dems are just as happy as the Republicans to cash a dirty check, they just don't yell about it through a bullhorn afterward like Trump does.

  • "…New York Post, an organ renowned for its careful investigative journalism and integrity."

    Uh, I hope your readership understands you're being sarcastic. I can see it from the full context of the paragraph, but it might confuse some people.

    I wouldn't line my birdcage with that racist rag.

  • "Here in North Carolina…" So you're no longer in "Major Midwestern Liberal Arts University," Ed? I must've missed the move. Or maybe you're on sabbatical. Did I miss the announncement, I wonder. Because it would do my heart good to know your talents had risen to their proper reward.

  • It's more that the increase in partisanship is now high on the Democratic side as well. Republicans have been like this for many years, obviously. But now for Dem partisans as well: Democratic politicians can do no wrong, and anyone who opposes them is evil.

    That's how Bernie went down. Dem leadership let it be known that Bernie was Out and Biden was In, and the partisans fell in line. It's not just scandal fatigue.

    Whatever turd of a Democratic candidate is vomited up in the future will be slavishly supported by an increasingly large chunk of the Dem voting base.

    Suppose there's a third party leftist candidate running for President or another office. Threatens to split the Dem vote! They have some minor scandal, stole some paperclips from the office. Will this be a huge scandal in the eyes of Dem voters? Yes, yes it will. It's not scandal fatigue. Some scandals still count. Just not Dem scandals (to Dem partisans) or Republican scandals (to Republican partisans).

  • Agree that the Burisma crap was an inept attempted reprise of 'butter emails.' Still, I will not vote for Hunter Biden this election.

  • "Things that would have been campaign- or career-ending in 1990 just aren't going to move the political dial anymore."

    And yet, can you imagine a young governor from Arkansas (rhymes with "Blinton") rising to prominence and then the presidency by dodging multiple sex-assault accusations over two decades or so of life in public office, in an age of #MeToo and TMZ?

    I grant your point that scandals de jour don't really have sticking-power post-Trump, but I think #MeToo is here to stay and is a game-changer. (And this is a very good thing!)

    FWIW, I would vote Clinton over Bush or Dole again, but IMO Clinton as a prominent national Dem contender just wouldn't be possible today, unless he somehow learned to curb his predatory behavior.

    tl,dr: Yes we are scandal-overloaded. But post-Weinstein, we are primed to dump ideological fellow-travelers when they act like creeps. Republicans not so much, of course.

  • "we are primed to dump ideological fellow-travelers when they act like creeps. Republicans not so much, of course."

    Swap out, "so much", for "at all". and we're in agreement.

  • The danger from a fake scandal is the same danger from any dysinfo campaign: low-information voters hear that there was something about a Biden laptop and some scandal, then they take the 'corruption' metric out of their decision-making calculus because 'both sides'. Noise always has an effect.

  • Hm, I'm not convinced that the laptop isn't genuine, and that there isn't something there that could tip the election. Timed to where it will be hard to say. Biden has a good lead but not an insurmountable one, I'd average predicctit and 538 to get like 70% Biden, 30% Trump. And much like the email thing, it seems like it at least smells like a real scandal to me. Neither bleach bitting correspondence that the law mandated be preserved, nor having Ukrainian oligarchs giving your kid millions of dollars inspires confidence in either their honesty or competence. But since Trump has clearly had his chance and demonstrated neither honesty or competence Biden will get my vote like Hillary did. But if Trump gets reelected, I bet the laptop will have played a role, if only as a distraction from the second wave of COVID and the climate going haywire.

  • The GOP knows how to do two things.

    The first thing is to take it up the ass from their sponsors while fucking everyone else–incuding the people that they KNOW vote for them.

    Whatever the second thing is they never stop doing the first one for long enough to try it.

    I would dare say that ALL major political parties are corrupt as fuck–it's in the nature of things.

    Saying that the dems and the GOP are equivalent is not only untrue, it's what they want.

  • I'm still left in the dark as to whether Jeff Toobin's career is over, or just paused. If the former, maybe it's thanks to the sensitivities of the Left than to that of our benumbed society generally. We are a fussy bunch.

  • Let's hope the Biden Crime Family wins the White House…so they can continue their sexual predatory behavior unabated.

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