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Status Quo Bias Is a Hell of a Drug

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Charlie wrote an excellent preemptive critique of the fawning coverage Trump’s ability to put on a suit and read a combination of platitudes and shameless exploitations off a teleprompter that Paul noted below:

It some point in the last week or so, the nation’s cable teevee news directors apparently decided to declare Tuesday to be National Bar Lowering Day. The president* was going to give his first speech to Congress! And the cable newspeople decided that this historic moment warranted all day coverage! This came complete with tiny countdown clocks in the corner of the screen and a tsunami of purely speculative analysis, all of it on the sub rosa theme, “Do You Think He’ll Bite The Head Off A Chicken Or Not?”

Make no mistake. If El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago manages to get from a subject to a verb without spraining his ankle, we are going to hear much more than we should about pivots, and reboots, and the political genius of Mike Pence, The Great Conciliator. It will all be stuff and nonsense, but the people dealing it out will do so quite convincingly because a lot of the people dealing it out are terrified of the truth: that, on his best day, the president* is an ill-prepared lout and, on his worst, well, maybe he’ll blame Barack Obama for his bad press, or he’ll blame somebody other than anti-Semitic goons for attacks on Jewish cemeteries and bomb scares at Jewish pre-schools.
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A couple of times this week, I have heard alleged journalists express dismay that what we may be living under at the moment is a “failed presidency.” The panelists all agreed that this would be a catastrophe for the country. Now, as a citizen, I can see their point, I guess, although I’m more afraid that a Congress under Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will succeed. As a journalist, this attitude revolts me. We are not supposed to care whether a president fails or not. Our job is to chronicle how and why the president fails and inform the public in the (perhaps vain) hope that the public will do better at electing a president the next time. We certainly are not obligated to prop up a failed president just because he got elected once.

In the wake of Bush v. Gore, Mark Tushnet wrote a short, brilliant essay about the various strategies that the legal academy would use to avoid the obvious implications of the Supreme Court lawlessly concluding a contested election along nakedly partisan lines. The felt need to see the Supreme Court as a legitimate institution, or that the public see it as such irrespective of whether this legitimacy is merited, is strong. It’s not always as naked as Larry Lessig making a bad argument as an oral advocate because if Antonin Scalia was a partisan hack rather than a Principled Jurist his whole life would be a lie, but it’s a powerful tendency.

And so it is with the presidency and the political press. Many pundits have a strong need to tell themselves that American political institutions are fundamentally OK when they very clearly aren’t OK. And, needless to say, the media was one of the institutions that completely failed and played a major role in producing a political crisis in 2016, so normalizing the Trump Show is self-serving as well.

…Also a crucial point:

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