Saturday, February 11, 2017

Comedian profanely and beautifully humiliates Trump apologist Piers Morgan

The greatest moment in the history of cable television happened Friday night, and I was privileged to witness it. My new hero, Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, gave unmitigated idiot Piers Morgan the humiliation he so richly deserves:
There's a deeper insight to be gained here, though, beyond the extremely satisfying spectacle of Piers Morgan having his ass handed to him, then having it sent back to the kitchen to achieve a harder sear, and handed back to him again.

While Morgan is, I suspect, just being an asshole to get attention, his attitude reflects that of a lot of Trump apologists who tolerate so much of his onerous shit, while still managing to see themselves as "independent." Many of the white people who switched over to Trump from Obama, or who switched over from less-toxic Republicans to Trump, find themselves able to excuse Trump on the basis of the sort of "logic" that Piers uses, and to the rest of us, the reason seems obvious.

Someone like Piers Morgan can reason that there's no Muslim ban because there are lots of Muslim countries that aren't banned, and so everybody just needs to calm the fuck down, because Piers Morgan will never be affected by the ban, and will never know anyone who's affected by it. There are no stakes for him. If the ban were on 7 majority-white countries, with exceptions for racial and ethnic minorities, I suspect Morgan would be able to see that as a ban on white people.

At first blush, then, the argument appears to be that Piers Morgan lacks empathy, which is a common critique made by liberals. While this critique has some truth to it, I believe that this is a faulty and losing argument, mainly because of a fundamentally flawed human understanding of empathy.
empathy - noun - em·pa·thy \ˈem-pə-thē\ : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
To most people, empathy is about feelings, which does two things to your argument. It first marginalizes it as non-factual, and second, makes your opponent feel attacked as unfeeling or inhuman, notions that almost every human reflexively resists seeing in themselves.

In reality, though, it is the empathic argument that is the more logical, and the non-empathetic one that is emotional. Piers Morgan (assuming his ignorance were honest) is unable to see the Muslim ban for what it is for two reasons. The first is that he lacks the experiential wisdom to see it, as I indicated before. If this were a white people ban, he would see it. Morgan's emotional attachment to his own experiences and point of view blinds him to the logical conclusion that this is, in fact, a Muslim ban.

The second reason is that he, and other Trump apologists, have emotional incentives not to see it. For some, it's attraction to Trump's gaudy projection of success, for many others (like media types who help to normalize him), it is a fear of deviating from the status quo. To recognize Trump as a monster is more frightening than to report dispassionately on partisan rancor over his fangs and talons.

Empathy is, in fact, a logical and rational phenomenon, and the lack of it is not. That this is so poorly understood means we ought to abandon "empathy" as a trait to be discussed in politics. Nobody thinks they, themselves, lack it, and those who choose not to act on it do so because they believe it is irrational. Telling these people to have empathy will never produce results, because they already think they have it, and are better off ignoring it.

So I don't think Piers Morgan's problem is a lack of empathy, it is a defect in logic caused by his own emotional attachment to norms. And because he won The Apprentice.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Sean Spicer Took Questions for 23 Minutes, and he was still a disaster

At his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lived up to Melissa McCarthy's devastating spoof by spending just 23 minutes taking questions, while bungling facts and bullying reporters the entire time. Press Secretary Sean Spicer's White House briefings have quickly started to resemble Saturday Night Live's biting depiction.

While his predecessors would take questions from reporters for 45 minutes to an hour or more, Spicer has a tendency to pad his briefings with lengthy opening remarks, then spend half an hour or less taking questions, while managing to disregard facts and do his best to bully the press corps. The latest briefing was no exception.

Spicer took questions for just 23 minutes (still outpacing other recent briefings, which clocked in at 22 minutes and 16 minutes), and after the obligatory softball from a right-wing outlet, immediately began to show strain under tougher questioning.

 Asked about Kellyanne Conway's illegal promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, Spicer tried to close the issue with a terse reply, but evinced rambling uncertainty about his own response (emphasis mine):
REPORTER: Questions have been raised after Kellyanne Conway did an interview, I believe it was with Fox News this morning, where she appeared to, from the confines of the Brady Briefing Room, promote the products of Ivanka Trump. Do you believe that she crossed an ethical line?

SPICER: Kellyanne has been counseled. And, that's all we're going to go with. She's been counseled on that subject, and that — that's it.
One might expect that discussion of what "we're going to go with" would be confined to the press office conference room, and not spoken aloud as a clear identifier of a PR strategy. Depressingly, this White House press corps decided it was best not to follow up on that egregious ethical and legal breach. In answering a question about another Trump tweet about America being "bogged down," Spicer either ad-libbed a major factual error, or rolled out a disturbing new talking point (emphasis mine):
The spread of it has gone, in the last eight years, has proliferated. And I think that the resources that we have to spend, this isn't a traditional war, where you're just looking at the other — you know, enemy with a uniform and saying "Here's the country we're fighting."

The proliferation of ISIS throughout this country, um, has made it so we that have to focus a lot more, on a lot more places and expend a lot more resources because it's more of a disparate approach that we have to employ, as opposed to having one country that you're facing at one time.
There have, of course, been exactly zero attacks on U.S. soil over which ISIS had operational control, or even connection. Spicer's assertion of a "proliferation of ISIS throughout this country" is without basis in fact. But it could be a window into how these things are discussed in strategy sessions, where communications can be weaponized to justify onerous policies like Trump's Muslim ban.

 Despite their limited time, reporters did take several cracks at Spicer regarding Judge Neil Gorsuch's comments about Trump attacking the judicial branch, and Spicer repeatedly reiterated the spin that Gorsuch was not talking specifically about those attacks, which ironically cuts against the narrative that Gorsuch is somehow demonstrating "independence." When a reporter tried to pin Spicer down by citing Republican Sen. Ben Sasse's (R-NE) comments that Gorsuch definitely was talking about Trump's tweets, Spicer avoided the follow-up by talking over the reporter:

REPORTER: Sean, your answer about the context doesn't make sense when you think about what Senator Ben Sasse said today, this morning on TV. He said he asked Judge Gorsuch specifically about the president's "so-called judge" tweet, and in response —

SPICER: No, this is the third time I've answered this question —

REPORTER: No, but this is a different context, Sean.

SPICER: I understand that. Phil, I've —

REPORTER: HE asked directly about that —

SPICER: I understand that. And I've said exactly what Senator Ayotte said about it. I don't know how many times you can ask me. Yeah. I understand, thank you.
Spicer steamrolling past reporters' questions is a regular feature of his briefings, one which finally saw a reporter push back during this session. But his tactic has a dual purpose: Aside from getting himself out of a quick jam, shutting down reporters trains them to self-censor, lest they lose their chance to ask questions. The reporter who yielded at this briefing was never returned to, and Spicer routinely skips other mainstream outlets from which tough questions might be asked. He also devotes a significant chunk of those briefings to softball questions from local outlets in the "Skype seats," which include the likes of right-wing radio host Dale Jackson.

Spicer may not be long for this job, which is a shame, because his ham-fisted manner, dislocation from truth and reality, and overall lack of competence make him the perfect spokesman for this administration