What was the embittered left -- Democratic presidential candidates and their media allies -- supposed to do when their hopes of Russia-Trump collusion crashed on the boulevard of broken dreams?
They had invested so much in their fantasy that President Donald Trump was a treasonous agent of Russian boss Vladimir Putin. But when special counsel Robert Mueller's report came out, and there was no collusion, no crime charged, their fantasy collapsed.
And so, after a brief spasm of despair, the left pivoted to their default position: race.
Race. Race. Race. Race. Race.
With Americans working and with money in their pockets again, with the 2020 election approaching, Democrats are reaching for the race card the way a sick man reaches for the waters of Lourdes. Desperately. Their allies in media followed suit, with Trump called everything from a white supremacist, to a Nazi, and on and on.
Meanwhile, the New York Times embarks on an ambitious new series, the 1619 Project -- marking the 400th anniversary of the first slave ships to our shores.
The newspaper said it hopes "to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."
NYT editor Dean Baquet, a former colleague of mine at the Chicago Tribune, a thoughtful man now with his newsroom in turmoil, expressed the pivot in a different way.
In terms of Mueller.
In a transcript of a newsroom meeting with his liberal staff that made its way to Slate, Baquet said this:
"The day Bob Mueller walked off that witness stand, two things happened," Baquet said. "Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, 'Holy s---, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.' And Donald Trump got a little emboldened politically, I think. Because, you know, for obvious reasons. And I think that the story changed. A lot of the stuff we're talking about started to emerge like six or seven weeks ago. We're a little tiny bit flat-footed. I mean, that's what happens when a story looks a certain way for two years. Right?"
So the Times pivoted.
The story of slavery in America is compelling and worthy of such attention. But reducing the whole of America to the sin of slavery and racism that America has tried so hard to reject -- by shedding blood in the Civil War, by passing the Civil Rights Act, by twice electing Barack Obama to the White House -- is absurd. But revealing.
I talked about this on "The Chicago Way" podcast with Tom Bevan, co-founder of Real Clear Politics. His website publishes a wide spectrum of politically diverse views. (Disclosure: I consider Bevan a friend, and my column has been linked on that site.)
Real Clear is what I once imagined the New York Times to be, before it took on such an overwhelming liberal bent.
"What happened to just reporting the news, as (RCP columnist) Carl Cannon says, without fear or favor?" he asked. "The New York Times is a for-profit institution and must cater to the whims of their readers or they'll cease to exist as a business. Their readers are upper-class white liberals ... the Times felt like it had to be part of the resistance to succeed with their readers. That strategy succeeded. But they're caught in this cycle. They're no longer the paper of record."
The short-term benefits of defining America by race may help Democrats and soothe subscribers at the New York Times.
But what it does long term, to journalism, to the republic, doesn't concern the left, just as it doesn't concern Trump.
He's not introspective. An introspective man couldn't, wouldn't have said some of the things he's said. He's a purely transactional politician, as cynical as his opponents.
In the short term, Democrats and their media allies are using race and charges of "white supremacy" to herd those 60 million or so Trump voters back into Hillary Clinton's basket of deplorables.
But once you brand 60 million people as "white supremacists," and "Nazis," what can you do with them? If Democrats win in 2020, will Trump voters be welcomed back into some brave new Trumpless America?
Will the left open its arms and call them brothers and sisters on the condition they agree to kneel like penitent sinners and burn their MAGA hats in ceremonies of public redemption?
No. It doesn't work like that.
Recently, presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren reminded their faithful that Michael Brown, a black man of Ferguson, Mo., was "murdered" by a white cop. Ferguson erupted in riots after Brown's death.
Warren and Harris are both lawyers. They know that the Obama Justice Department tried mightily, but did not, could not find that Brown had been murdered.
But they incite anyway. Because they want to win.
The American political media, relentless in ferreting out even a whiff of suspected racism among conservatives, largely gave them a pass.
According to PolitiFact, a liberal standard of truth, their use of "murder" was problematic, but not a lie.
PolitiFact said "the significance of Harris' and Warren's use of the word (murder) is open to some dispute, we won't be rating their tweets on the Truth-O-Meter."
Of course not.
Watching our politics, as some Americans have their individuality stripped away by identity politics, as others are kicked to the margins of society, as I mourn journalism as I remember it, I'm reminded of something.
Ernest Hemingway's explanation of how a man went bankrupt:
Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.
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