Orthodox Privilege

“…orthodox privilege: The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions…If you believe there’s nothing true that you can’t say, then anyone who gets in trouble for something they say must deserve it.

—Paul Graham, “Orthodox Privilege.” PaulGraham.com. July 2020.

The Decline of Fox News & Trump TV

The amazing thing is how pervasive Fox—this niche, tabloid-style news network—is in American life. It’s in fast food restaurants. It’s playing in hotel lobbies. I keep seeing it in public spaces, seemingly everywhere.

A common scenario is you walk into a space, say a hotel breakfast area, and there will be some old white dude(s) watching Fox News. Then, they’ll leave, but leave the TV on. No one wants to check to see if anyone else is watching, and so, an inertia sets in. Fox News may then be on that TV all day spouting out its partisan view of the world to everyone in that space. You’re soaking in it!

Anywhere where the public has access to the remote control, the Fox viewer will tune in and then leave it dialled in when they leave, probably believing that everyone else is as into it as they are. I’ve listened, most often because it’s the easiest option, and every time I find myself responding to the weird framing, the absence of logic, and the unapologetic propaganda. I don’t think anyone who subjected themselves to a steady diet of this “programming” would come away smarter or more informed. That’s not their objective. Their objective is to attract and hold attention, and the best way to do that is to play on people’s fear and make them angry.

It’s tabloid television. Why do people subject themselves to its influence? For the entertainment value? Because it makes them feel something? Because it gives an outlet to all their frustrations? When I raise issues about Fox News with viewers I know, I always get a retort along the lines of, “Would you rather it be CNN?”

Is there a nice way to tell them that only old people watch cable news, and it might not be the best indicator of what the average person that is half their age might think? Is there a nice way to say that if you want news that isn’t partisan propaganda, you might turn to non-U.S. sources. While non-U.S. sources are biased in a certain way, they aren’t biased toward the agendas within the narrow band of allowable political discourse that characterizes the “free speech” typically employed in the United States.

Is it possible to communicate ideas like the liberal to conservative spectrum might have been useful during the times of the American and French revolutions, but times have changed? Perhaps if your thinking closely aligns with any political orthodoxy, you aren’t thinking for yourself very much?

The weird thing about this particular moment is that I suspect that if Trump survives his Presidency, which he may because sending a President to jail sets a bad precedent, he’s likely going to follow-up on his original plan and create Trump TV. If that happens, he will split Fox News’s core audience and seriously undercut the network. Fox News will have to slide back into a more moderate right-wing conservative posture, and try to be the “voice of reason” in the room, perhaps try and pretend to be “Fair and Balanced” once again. On the other end, Trump TV will become the 4Chan of TV. There’s money to be made there, just as there is in wrestling, but it’s not going to have the same appeal to as large an audience that Fox News had under Roger Ailes. That moment has passed.

Meanwhile, Democrats will continue to try to be the “big tent” and be a moderating influence on the worst of inequalities and corruption. But, it’ll still be about maintaining the status quo, just one that is a little more diverse. I guess we can call that progress?

And the actual left, not the hand-wringing liberal elite voting in change by keeping the same people in office for decades but those that believe in things like direct action, it will continue to be marginalized, both in share of voice in the media landscape and as a political player. Whether it’s Castro coming out of the jungles or Antifa punching some conservative troll in the face, any minor threat will continue to be the boogeyman that Democrats, moderate Republicans and alt-right “Trumpers” can use to discipline their ranks, despite the reality that the threat is largely emerging from their fevered imaginations.

Bernie Sanders is the face of democratic socialism and has been in the U.S. Congress for almost 30 years. If he scares you, you probably need to turn Fox News off, stop scouring right wing conspiracy theory sites and get more time in the sun.

And while up-and-comers, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, show some promise as the face of the future Democratic party, the whole media landscape is trying to turn them into acceptable politicians in the Nancy Pelosi model. Tough enough to be demonized. Pragmatic enough to pass legislation in a legislative body of a center right country. That’s as far left as anyone is allowed to go. Beyond that, the Overton Window closes and other left-of-center political ideas become unthinkable.