Jim VandeHei, the former Washington Post reporter and co-founder of Politico, inspired a "Special Report" to Axios.com email subscribers headlined “How American politics went insane, in 6 steps.”
That was the cleaned-up version. Inside the e-mail from Axios co-founder Mike Allen, the headline was “How American Politics Went Bat [guano] Crazy.” VandeHei has proclaimed “six seminal events” caused our current insanity (emphasis theirs):
1. Newt Gingrich, in the early 1990s, weaponized warfare politics in a methodical and sustained way. In tactics and rhetoric, Gingrich ushered in a good-vs.-evil style that persists today.
2. Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went heavy on politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama.
Let's stop for a minute. How old is VandeHei? 25? No, he was born in 1971. So how does "hard-edged combat politics" somehow begin in 1994?
It apparently wasn't "rage" when the hippies sang "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" It wasn't "hard-edged" when Jane Fonda sat behind a North Vietnamese gun pointed at American planes? It wasn't "combat politics" when Bill Ayers was bombing the Pentagon? Even Oliver Stone and other leftists point to the assassination of JFK as the end of "innocence," like JFK was immaculate.
The rise of Ronald Reagan and a conservative majority inside the Republican Party -- to the Axios crowd, the end of America as we know it -- came in reaction to Vietnam and the media's impeachment crusade known as Watergate. It came in reaction to the Left deciding America was an evil global influence and the "good guys" were Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh.
We've heard this spin before, like when liberal PBS NewsHour analyst Mark Shields tried to blame the shooting of Steve Scalise and other Republicans on Speaker Gingrich's speeches in the '90s, not on the shooter's inspirations from the Left, like Antifa or Bernie Sanders.
Back to the VandeHassle:
3. Facebook and later Twitter, both products of the post-2000 Internet revolution, socialized rage and argument. Now every nut with an opinion could find fans and followers to cheer/egg him or her on. This happened as the middle in politics was officially purged from Congress.
4. John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 celebritized rage politics. Until that moment, Republicans typically picked conventional, next-in-line candidates. Palin, made for cable and social media, was the precursor to Trump.
VandeHei knows that Palin was picked to match the "celebrity" of Barack Obama, who was given a Jesus-like aura of light around his pate on magazines from Time to Rolling Stone. But celebritizing the politics of rage? Let's go back to Jane Fonda, and Paul Newman campaigning for Gene McCarthy in 1968, and Warren Beatty campaigning for George McGovern in 1972. Or heck, just go back to Reagan, who supposedly first "celebritized rage politics" in 1980.
Axios is channeling the media elite's rage that social media is now shaping the political conversation, and now instead of the elitists dominating things, "any nut with an opinion" gets to share:
5. Facebook, with command of so much of most voters' time and attention, algorithm-ized rage starting around 2015. The more emotion you felt and sought, the more the newsfeed machine pumped at you. With no one looking, fake news was born and metastasizing.
6. Twitter + Trump, igniting in 2016, habitualized and radicalized the moment-by-moment rage and reaction of politicians, voters and the media. This created more froth and more fog, and resulted in a spike of people who don't believe real news, much less the fake news pulsing through the system.
Now, all of this has been institutionalized. No wonder people don't trust, like or believe politicians — or often each other.
Once again, trust in government and politicians eroded with the Baby Boomers and their "Question Authority" buttons, not suddenly when Twitter broke out under Obama.
Axios ended with the liberal talking point of the day...always blame conservatives for rage and polarization:
Sound smart: Politics is growing more personal, polarized and pugnacious. This dynamic is particularly acute on the right.
PS: Speaking of divisive politics, it's always amusing to recall VandeHei channeling this pugnacious personal question to Mitt Romney in a 2007 presidential debate: "Governor Romney, Daniel Duchovnik from Walnut Creek, California, wants to know: What do you dislike most about America?"