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General News    H3'ed 10/17/16

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Finding Hope in Dismal Times

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Consider it justice (of a sort): he who lives by the media dies by the media. I'm talking -- as if you had a scintilla of doubt -- about Donald Trump. If the Washington Post's release of a video of his lewd conversation with Access Hollywood's Billy Bush (that family again!) on his way to the set of Days of Our Lives proves to be the beginning of the end for him, there could be no more appropriate way to go. After all, we're talking about the man whose greatest skill may be sensing the proximity of a camera and attracting it; about the man who, despite his recent denunciations of the use of unidentified "sources" in reporting his campaign, spent the 1970s, '80s, and '90s calling reporters as "John Miller" and "John Barron" to offer the latest scoop on one Donald J. Trump; about the man who launched his political career in part by citing an "extremely credible source" claiming Barack Obama's birth certificate was a "fraud"; about the man whose boasts of routinely assaulting women were caught on camera.

He was always a media-made man. In return, he's had an uncanny ability to glue eyeballs -- never more so than in this unending Super Bowl of elections that has included a level of public crudeness once unimaginable and now the purest of cash cows. As CBS head Les Moonves put it earlier this year, speaking of The Donald's performance: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS... The money's rolling in and this is fun... Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going." And keep going it has.

So if, in the last week-plus, the media finally said to him, "You're fired!" and started him on his presidential death spiral, who better? And of course, all the unavoidable questions of our moment follow, ensuring through-the-roof ratings for a few more lucrative weeks until November 8th: How far will he go down? Can he recover? Who will he take with him? And what about the Republican Party?

Until now, it's been such a close relationship. The Donald has played a significant role in transforming the news into the strange, obsessive, 24/7 creature it is today, and in return the media made him. That it can now unmake him should surprise no one but does highlight the basic asymmetry between them, since he's incapable of unmaking them. In this context, stop thinking of the mainstream news as "the fourth estate." It, not the Libertarians or the Green Party, is now the true third party of the present infotainment version of American politics. Get used to it. Les Moonves and his associates aren't going anywhere. And count on it: election 2020 starts on November 9th. These are, after all, the days of our lives.

Luckily, not everyone has been glued to the screen, eternally watching The Donald. From Black Lives Matter to the climate change movement, activists have, as TomDispatchregular Rebecca Gordon points out, never stopped working to make this a better world and, as she indicates, if we can take our eyes off the media spectacle-cum-circus for a few moments, they offer us a kind of hope for our future that shouldn't be ignored. Tom

Learning to Claim Our Victories
Or Why Fighting for Justice Is Like Surfing
By Rebecca Gordon

In these dismal days of climate change, imperial decline, endless war, and in my city, a hapless football team, I seem to be experiencing a strange and unaccustomed emotion: hope. How can that be? Maybe it's because, like my poor San Francisco 49ers who have been "rebuilding" for the last two decades, I'm fortunate enough to be able to play the long game.

But what exactly is making me feel hopeful at the moment?

For one thing, we seem to have finally reached Peak Trump, and the reason why is important.

Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers didn't do it. Promising to bring back waterboarding and commit assorted other war crimes didn't do it. Flirting with the white supremacist crowd and their little friend Pepe the Frog didn't do it. But an 11-year-old video tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women "by the p*ssy" seems to have been the drop of water that finally cracked the dam and sent even stalwart Republican leaders fleeing a flood of public revulsion.

In the midst of the most frightening and depressing presidential election of my life, the reactions to this latest glimpse into the Mind of Trump have actually lifted my spirits. Not that many years ago, an exchange like the one between Donald Trump and Billy Bush would hardly have been news. Sexual harassment was an expected part of the lives of working women -- par for a Trump golf course. I remember, for instance, paging through my family's New Yorker magazines and coming across a Whitney Darrow cartoon about a lesson at a secretarial school. A businessman is chasing a woman around a desk as the teacher explains, "Notice, class, how Angela circles, always keeping the desk between them..."

There you have it: the devaluation of women's work (secretarial skills reduced to techniques for evading the boss's advances), the trivialization of sexual predation, and in Angela's knowing smile, admiration for the woman who keeps her sense of humor while defending her virtue.

What's most surprising about the response to Trump's hot-mic moment is the apparent national consensus that speaking -- or even thinking -- about sexual assault the way Trump did on this video is neither normal nor amusing. This shared assumption that women are not trophies for the taking marks an advance toward full personhood that we have achieved only in my lifetime. When you stop to think about it, it's an extraordinary cultural shift. And once people figure out that women are, after all, human, it's pretty hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle.

Of course, there are still a lot of men who have a hard time with the woman-human being equation. Paul Ryan, for example, responded to the Trump video release by opining that "Women are to be championed and revered" -- a view that suggests we are either helpless creatures to be saved by a "champion" or other-than-human creatures belonging on some Victorian pedestal.

Then There's Hillary

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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