By Jason Parham
As gray clouds cleared Wednesday morning, the feed that broadcast out of Trumpland beamed a bright, bloody red. Unsurprisingly, the ostensible victoryâ€”a continued firm hold on the Senate and critical, if slim, gubernatorial winsâ€”emboldened many Republican acolytes whose loyalties lie with the presidentâ€™s camp.
Amongst Trump supporters, news moves at a dizzying, disorienting pace. The hostile quell of democratic progress is a constant tool of counterprogramming used by right-wing media entities and pundits, a stubborn brand of media narrative pillared by non-apology and paradox. And so the headlines of Trumpland reflected as much: Republicans did not lose control so much as the party happily, powerfully maintained it. It was, in the presidentâ€™s phrasing, a “Big Win!” But a deeper truth persists, and flickers just as bright. The hoped-for blue wave failed to wash ashore, but the tide shifted still: For the first time since Trump assumed office two years ago, there will now be House of Representatives oversight of the Executive Branch.
Still, for Republicans, the shady art of agitprop hinges on a steady tempest of deflection and denial (“Kansas is dead to me,” Ann Coulter tweeted in response to Laura Kelly winning the stateâ€™s gubernatorial race)â€”performed most skillfully by the likes Fox News, The Daily Caller, and other conservative propaganda machines. A boiling stew of confrontational politics and media distortion, they are enterprises consumed with presenting an image of the most basic formulation: one with that has no center and lacks equilibrium.
Tuesday night’s results only seemed to exacerbate the normally obtuse logic employed by these entities. Look no further than this predictably styled Big League Politics headline about the Democratic losses in the southern belt: “SOCIALISM LOSES: Oâ€™Rourke, Gillum and Abrams Blew It, But It’s Their Policies That Suck.”
As morning seeped into afternoon, Trump railed against the press during a briefing at the White House, saying the “Republican party defied history” in spite of a “hostile” crusade from liberal media. On Fox Newsâ€”which non-jokingly branded itself “Americaâ€™s Election HQ”â€”Daily Briefing host Dana Perino wondered about “stale” Democratic leadership in the House, which was now an incandescent blue. Clips of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kempâ€™s Tuesday night speechâ€”in which he exclaimed, “the math is on our side”â€”also made rounds. The statement was a slimy, convenient reframing of rampant voter suppression Kemp benefited from in his run against Oprah Winfrey-backed Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has yet to concede. On Twitter, in a tart whiff of self-absorption, pundit and Blexit founder Candace Owens enlightened followers: “What I learned this election: No one cares what @taylorswift13 thinks. No one cares what @Oprah thinks. No one cares what @Diddy thinks. No one cares what @rihanna thinks. But celebs will still keep telling us who to vote for because there is no known cure for narcissism.”
Narcissism is certainly one way to paint the heart of conservative media, and even more certainly the most accurate way to paint Trumpâ€™s relationship to it. He understands media as part of a larger narrative about controlâ€”that even as he torpedoes into it, without it, how one is translated for public consumption can be hard to unprogram. It is all in how one angles perception: Winning equals power, and power is one thing Republicans, most of all Trump, refuse to relinquish, even if they understand it as pure illusion.
The signs of progress were everywhere for Democrats, too, even as conservative media took a lopsided view of the results. In Florida, Prop. 4 passed in a resounding manner, restoring voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million former felons, a sure gamechanger for the liberal vote come 2020. Elsewhere, women of all stripes were elected to the House: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first two Muslim women to hold seats. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas, who identifies as queer, became the first two Native American women to win appointments. Elsewhere, Catalina Cruz became the first former â€œDreamerâ€� to win a New York State Assembly post. And though Ted Cruz managed to thwart Beto Oâ€™Rourke by an impossibly thin margin and secure his Senate seat for a second term, his narrow win was, in fact, an undeniable sign of the growing liberal groundswell, and changing demographics, in Texas.
“In fighting and challengingâ€”in marshaling the energy of candidates and volunteers and protesters, the investment in left politics and new leaders and approachesâ€”progressives not only scored big wins on Tuesday, toppling men,” Rebecca Traister wrote at The Cut, “they laid a path for the future.”
By evening, with the promise of tomorrow somewhere past the horizon, even Trump could feel his grip loosening. The smokescreen of conservative cable news was dissipating. The resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions again sent right-wing media into PR modeâ€”how best could they color what many were speculating was a chess move by the president to soften the blow of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation? Early on, Sessions was considered a Trump loyalist but, as most relationships do in the Trump White House, it soured over time. On Twitter, Scott Greer, conservative author of No Campus for White Men, offered a different counterprogramming measure: a meme. In side-by-side photosâ€”one of the new Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker lifting weights and the other of a giddy, gnome-looking Sessionsâ€”he wrote: “The Chad Gamer has replaced Redpilled Keebler Elf.”
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