Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 2, 2020
I’ve been struck in recent days by our leaders’ general failure to aim at the target at hand, choosing instead to find relatively narrow issues that they believe to be the big ones.
Mostly these efforts end up in posturing for cameras, or election attention or ego, but do little to help you and me get through the day. Unfortunately, sometimes this leadership myopia substitutes for actual decision-making on issues for which we actually need their help — as in the impasse over continued stimulus aid as the result of pandemic.
Instead, local partisan issues interfere.
In Congress this week, the House Judiciary Committee finally brought the big technology companies to have to answer why they should not be broken up as monopolistic entities with too much power over the lives and buying power of Americans.
Instead, the always aggressive Rep. Jim Jordan, R-OH, and fellow Republicans spent all of their questioning power on the single issue of whether these companies are abusing their licenses by blocking commentary, including objectionable, false or misleading language from right-leaning posters or search subjects.
It’s a fine issue for debate, of course, weighing some version of free speech against the licensed responsibility to avoid, say, known untrue advice about medications for coronavirus. But the issue is much narrower than the subject on the table — worry about the degree to which these few companies are buying up and destroying competitors, reselling consumer information and behavior patterns, and generally acting as robber barons needing to be reined in.
To no one’s surprise, heads for Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple all said their services are not biased politically and that they are not running monopolies. The meeting ended, the cameras shut down and the companies went back to continue with or without their biases and making more money per second than you and I earn in a year.
Resetting the Agenda
It wasn’t the only such redefinition of agenda.
Donald Trump announced that he was shutting down Tik Tok because he believes that its information is routed to Chinese intelligence operatives, though I do wonder what Chinese spies are making of teenage lip-syncing videos.
Okay, dealing with international online espionage seems a real issue, but then why is the same Donald Trump not more concerned about the larger issues here — including continued Russian efforts to disrupt our actual elections, for which we are told there is lots of electronic evidence.
Rather, Trump seems to be picking on Tik Tok just to show “toughness” with all things Chinese, along with closing a consulate in Houston and blaming China daily and incorrectly for incubating and sending coronavirus our way. Thus, “China” becomes another political check-off on Trump’s re-election image projections, something that might disappear entirely if China were to accept Trump’s trade proposals.
The impasse among Trump, Senate Republicans and Democrats over continued economic stimulus has been drawn over the relatively narrow issue of the size of unemployment checks. Republicans are using the issue to press some kind of morality tale about the need to get people back to work without wanting to deal with the base problem here — a raging pandemic that is keeping work, schools, sports, airplanes and entertainment closed.
It’s not that the specific issue cannot sustain debate, it is that such narrowing keeps us from looking to address the underlying problem.
Looking at Patterns
It is a pattern.
When the bigger issue is just not politically advantageous to Trump, it gets no hearing.
Portland was blowing up, out of control, until Trump caved, and withdrew ineffective federal agents, prompting an immediate calm in the same downtown blocks that had been on fire. Still, Trump managed through the entire kerfuffle never to deal directly with the basic point of the very protests he was seeking to misdirect — a national shame of police brutality and death cases against unarmed Black citizens.
The schools issue is not about “opening,” it is about opening safely.
DACA issues are not about encouraging illegality, it is about humane treatment for people who had no choice in their upbringing.
It true for issues as diverse as gun control, immigration policies, hunger and poverty, an acceptable health system. The fight is always about something terribly narrow when compared with the bigger picture, and always tainted by the political overtones.
This week, it was democracy itself that was at risk through Trump’s threats to move an election date that he is not legally allowed to touch.
Ask yourself each time: Is the issue as defined by Trump the actual question on the table?