Good Friday Morning! I hope you and your family are safe and dry while Hurricane Florence makes landfall across North Carolina and the eastern seaboard. I know I’ve been praying for my friends in the region.
This week I’m doing a continuation of sorts on the nationalization of media and culture combined with the collapse of all things local. We’re increasingly experiencing a culture immersed in all things national, with very little in the way of local news, politics, or community. That has consequences, and I explore those below. Links follow.
As I’m publishing this email, a story popped up about Brett Kavanaugh, and from all angles, it looks like a clear smear job by Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein, who is on the judiciary committee. She released a statement saying she had received information on Brett Kavanaugh from an anonymous source who requested confidentiality and that she referred it to the FBI.
A source who said they were briefed on the contents of the letter said it described an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman that took place when both were 17 years old and at a party. According to the source, Kavanaugh and a male friend had locked her in a room against her will, making her feel threatened, but she was able to get out of the room. The Guardian has not verified the apparent claims in the letter. It is not yet clear who wrote it.
So, essentially stupid teenagers acting like… stupid teenagers.
It’s early on, but I’d be shocked if this had any weight to it. Here’s why: by all accounts Feinstein had this letter for weeks and sat on it until now. If it were a bombshell, she’d have put copies on all the red state Democrats desk to kill their votes and then leaked a copy to the press. Combine this with the FBI saying they had no intention of investigating anything, and this is just another delay tactic by Democrats.
Kavanaugh has filled federal legal positions for 30 years and subjected to multiple FBI background checks. Democrats have had numerous shots to attack him over that time. It’s suspect this is coming up now.
And if Feinstein truly doesn’t have the goods here, it’s another baseless smear against Kavanaugh.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
Washington DC is all abuzz about who wrote the Anonymous NYT column saying there was a “stable state,” instead of a deep state, in the White House. It’s one of the weirdest episodes in a very strange White House. And if you take the essay at face value, it is self-defeating.
Obama’s speech at the University of Illinois is classic Obama. He uses grand words to describe the world around him, and when he’s ready to aim at the problem, he only finds Republicans.
All politics are national now
Easily one of the most famous lines from a politician is former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s declaration that “all politics are local.” And what that meant is for a politician on the federal level, you could spend all the time you’d like fighting the big fights on the big stage, but ultimately your job was representing and ideas and issues your local district believed.
A question we should be asking more often: Is that still true? And if so, or not, why?
I’d suggest that we’re slowly moving away from local politics controlling politicians, to the national picture controlling everything. And I don’t believe that’s a beneficial development.
National politics decide not every race, but every local race is now colored and viewed through a national lens, instead of a local one.
There’s a new book out by Political Scientist Daniel Hopkins at the University of Pennsylvania, “The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized,” where he drives home the point that our politics are increasingly moving in a national direction.
So why have these gaps in turnout and engagement grown? A key part of the answer is right before your eyes. Since 1980, the way in which Americans learn about politics has transformed — and that transformation has given national content providers an advantage over older, spatially bound media sources. A few decades ago, on local TV news or in newspapers arriving at readers’ doorsteps, the media consumer was likely to see a lot of content that was targeted to her based on where she lived. Both advertisers and editors thought about their audiences geographically, and tailored their coverage accordingly.
In recent years, though, our reliance on spatially bound media sources has eroded. Cable television and the internet have introduced a host of new competitors that attract audiences based on a shared interest in politics rather than a shared geography.
North of 70 percent of respondents indicated that they were regular newspaper readers as late as 1990, a figure that fell to the high 50s by 2014. The drop in those who reported watching local TV news is even steeper, from above 75 percent to below 50 percent. Over that same period, the share of people who reported getting news online more than tripled, from 15 percent to 46 percent. And while in theory those citizens could be going to the websites of local news outlets, research has found that they emphatically are not, so the shift to online news has meant a shift away from local content, too. Americans are moving away from media outlets that are likely to have some state and local coverage and toward those that do not.
And he goes on to show how the shrinking local news impact on culture is leading to lower engagement in local races. Participation in local events is important because in our federal system, most of the government issues that affect you day-to-day happen on a local political level.
The nationalization of the news and our local politics has had a profound impact on our politics and the type of politicians we’re voting for at the ballot box. It’s something I wrote about last year, as something I’ve witnessed in my local papers:
I’ll give an example: The paper I’ve read most of my life has been the Tennessean. For most of my life, though it was a liberal paper, it was a southern liberal newspaper. People generally agree the paper had a liberal slant, but it had a specific kind of liberal slant. It would have been considered to the left of your average blue dog Democrat in the state. While the Tennessean bills itself as the state paper, it’s more of Nashville/Middle Tennessee’s newspaper. It covers that specific area more than it does the rest of the state. The other major cities, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, each had their own newspapers that reflect the liberal bent of their city. Knoxville is more conservative than Chattanooga, which is more conservative than Nashville, which is more conservative than Memphis. Each region reflected the history and political differences of their citizens.
That’s no longer true. The business Gannett came in and bought out every single paper in the state, save one, and made them all into little USA Today’s for their region. Instead of these papers reflecting local versions of liberalism, each paper now reflects a nationalized liberal viewpoint. A type of liberal progressivism that is, for the most part, wholly unknown to these parts of the South. It also meant something else: local newspapers no longer reflect the people in their markets. They reflect a nationalized political audience and push stories to those groups. The locals have to either accept being force-fed something they don’t believe, or they cut their subscription and move to other sources.
And here’s the larger problem: After losing touch with their readers, newspapers caused people to lose touch with their communities. People only heard a nationalized version of their community and local groups, not the local news. And if they didn’t like that type of news, they simply stopped reading and went other places. With the explosion of the Internet, people can go someplace else to get their news. Hence the rise of polarized Facebook and Twitter feeds. People only see their communities through the vein of national politics.
At one time, geography played a significant role in the politics and character of a given community. And while you still see those differences, over time as we view everything through a national lens, local communities are losing more and more of their specific appeals.
You can even get a flair for this in Tennessee’s current Senate and Governor’s races. In the past few decades, Tennessee has shifted from a part of the Democratic South to a safely red state for Republicans. But state Democrats see a chance to win both the Senate and Governor’s race with their best candidates in decades.
Phil Bredesen is a former governor who was and is immensely popular across the state. He’s a Democrat from a bygone era when blue-dog Democrats reigned supreme over all state politics. His counterpart running for Governor is Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville, who ran on Bredesen’s coattails and is working to capture the same magic. They’re trying to run local races.
The problem for Bredesen is that he’s running for a national office. Thus far, he’s done a decent job of answering the federal questions and keeping things local. But everyone knows it’s a facade because he’ll vote and caucus with national Democrats, none of which reflect the local or national politics of the state.
You can also get a sense for this at the local level as well because after Bredesen and Dean left the mayor of Nashville, the most recent upstart from the Nashville Democrats was now disgraced former Mayor Megan Barry. She had far more in common with national Democrats than anyone in the state of Tennessee.
And it’s not just in Tennessee where this is happening, as Hopkins notes in his book, and Peter Beinart in The Atlantic note, it’s happening everywhere. Beinart writes in the Atlantic that Tip O’Neil’s old seat has gone to a far left Democrat who has little in common with the area. And he notes other examples:
But these days, southern Democrats sound like Democrats everywhere else. In their gubernatorial primary earlier this, Georgia Democrats nominated Stacey Abrams, whose pro–abortion rights, pro–gun control, pro-immigrant liberalism would fit in comfortably in California. Florida Democrats nominated Andrew Gillum, a former Hillary Clinton supporter, more recently endorsed by Bernie Sanders, who wants to impeach Donald Trump and abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Texas, which once sent conservative Democrats like Lloyd Bentsen to the Senate, Beto O’Rourke is praising NFL players who kneel during the national anthem and slamming Ted Cruz for taking money from the National Rifle Association.
The shift away from local news and local geographic differences in cultures, people, and politics is also coinciding with a collapse in social institutions. You may recall a few weeks back when I wrote about how the failure of the Catholic Church was also a sign of another social institution falling in America.
So while people are getting harmed by or leaving local clubs and institutions, they’re also no longer reading about their local areas in local news. The new community is national. The new clubs are national or global since people cluster up according to what they like and don’t like.
In part, the election of Donald Trump and the results of the Brexit vote to leave the European Union were nationalist responses by people trying to reassert their national identity against the backdrop of a growing global identity push. You see this among elite circles in Europe and the West in general, the desire to wipe out national identities and replace them with a global or European identity.
On a national level, the revolt works as it re-establishes a national identity.
But what might also be helpful is a reinvigoration of state and local communities instead of national identity.
For a federalist system to survive, you have to force more and more power down to the local level. But if people no longer care about the local level, power drifts back up to the federal level. We’ve witnessed this as the Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court control more and more of the issues in everyday life.
But if we allowed state and local governments to gain more authority, it would allow for more variety in our culture. Instead of mass culture, you’d have a diverse geographic culture. And that would, hopefully, in turn, allow for a broader form of expression of individual identities as variety returned to the cultural forefront.
Or if you need a personal reason, if you don’t like the national politics rat race, pay more attention to local news. You’ll connect with people around you and learn about your neighbors. You’re more likely to make a direct impact in people’s lives too.
Links of the week
‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’ – Where was the president in the eight hours after the Sept. 11 attacks? The strange, harrowing journey of Air Force One, as told by the people who were on board. – Politico Magazine
How 9/11 Made a European Upper-Middle-Class Radical a Conservative – Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, National Review
Where I Was on September 11 – Dan McLaughlin, National Review
The Kids Who Come After 9/11: Next fall, there will be voters born after Sept. 11 — a true generational divide. – Katherine Miller, Buzzfeed News
My Europe: Eastern promise and Western pretension: People in the former Eastern bloc are different from those in the West. They are more realistic. This applies to both “Eastern Europeans” and East Germans. For them, idealism is the gate to hell, says Boris Kalnoky. – Die Welt
Is the Senate in Play? Don’t Bet on It.: Democrats would need to sweep the close Senate races in Trump country to win back a majority. That would require an epic Republican collapse this November. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
Scientific publishing is a rip-off. We fund the research – it should be free – George Monbiot, The Guardian
Satire piece of the week
GREENVILLE, NC—As the massive, potentially life-threatening storm began to make landfall in the Carolinas Thursday morning, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were reportedly panicking after realizing they accidentally evacuated 1 million residents in the direction of Hurricane Florence. “Oh God, oh God, oh God—we sent them all straight into the hurricane’s path,” said a terror-stricken FEMA administrator Brock Long, who assured reporters that FEMA rescue workers were collaborating with state officials to rectify their error of urging 1 million residents across multiple states to leave their homes, drive or take buses to the shore, board boats, and travel directly into the oncoming storm. “We probably should’ve realized what we were doing when we called on residents to immediately leave their homes with their bathing suits on and make their way to the nearest beach. Things have been pretty frantic and confusing, but that’s not really any excuse for us piling people into dinghies with lightning rods attached or just shoving residents in inner tubes off the Outer Banks into the wallowing sea. Man, we really screwed this one up.” At press time, panic was mounting at FEMA after officials realized they had just accidentally redirected the 1 million people fleeing Hurricane Florence to head for safety at the bottom of the ocean.
Thanks for reading!