The feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox News, and the asymmetric polarization it promotes, is at the heart of a nascent effort to compel the federal prosecution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for ripping up pieces of paper.
A cynical chorus erupted from right-wing circles, with pundits -- whose boot-licking praise of Trump has never been forestalled by his rhetoric -- lashing out at Pelosi for her breach of decorum. Some mainstream reporters joined in, demonstrating a shameful commitment to “both sides” civility policing which has failed at every turn to inform their audiences of the fundamental asymmetries of modern American politics.
So far, so normal. Both of these events, while deplorable, are to be expected given the orientation and incentives of the right-wing and traditional media.
But then one of the stupidest people in American public life got involved, and things went off the rails.
It will surely not shock you to learn that Kirk’s interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071, Section 2071 (a) is incorrect.
Reviewing his tweet -- which became necessary as his moronic take spread through the dumber parts of the MAGAsphere -- PolitiFact noted that the statute is “designed to prevent people from destroying records in official government repositories like the National Archives” and that Pelosi had simply “ripped up her own copy of Trump’s address.”
Others pointed out that Kirk’s attack is mind-numbingly hypocritical given that Trump himself reportedly “has long made it a practice to tear up his papers and throw them away” in “a clear violation of the Presidential Records Act, which is supposed to prevent another Watergate-style cover-up.”
While the facts have never kept Trump’s sycophants from engaging in a “lock her up” chant, in a previous media environment, this is the sort of inanity that might have bubbled up from the right-wing fever swamps, gotten some play on Fox News, been debunked by more credible outlets, then been replaced by a new bit of nonsense.
Instead, this happened.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is one of several House Republicans -- call them the Fox News Caucus -- who have found a way to make Trump’s Fox obsession work for them. By becoming fixtures on the network and using their frequent appearances to shill for the president and his interests, backbenchers like Gaetz captured Trump’s attention, gained his favor, and used it to bolster their positions in the party.
But because the Republican Party has become a personality cult in which loyalty to Trump matters above all else, the political currency Gaetz earns with his servile Fox appearances spends quickly. In January, he was publicly chastised by the White House for encouraging other Republican members to join him in voting for a Pelosi-backed nonbinding resolution limiting Trump’s authority to take military action in Iran. His effort to make up with Trump by going on Fox and trying to flatter him apparently failed, as he was subsequently left off the president’s impeachment defense team.
With groveling apparently not doing the job, Gaetz has moved on to targeting one of the president’s primary adversaries. There’s little chance that the ethics complaint leads to the House censure and referrals to the Department of Justice that the congressman seeks. But it got him some facetime in Fox’s prime-time block, and the bid made enough of an impression to be discussed on Trump’s beloved Fox & Friends morning show. That may be enough to win him back into the president’s good graces.
Update (2/7/20): Gaetz’s strategy apparently worked. Trump gave the Florida congressman a shoutout during Thursday’s White House event celebrating his acquittal by the Senate. Gaetz in turn blasted the praise out on Twitter, then made appearances promoting his call for an ethics investigation of Pelosi on the programs of two of Trump’s most prominent media supporters, Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity.
By Friday morning, Trump himself had adopted the galactically stupid lie that Pelosi broke the law by ripping up her copy of his speech.