Imagine I break into your house, kill your beloved dog, and knock a bunch of books off your shelves. Minutes later, you return home, with your friend. You immediately notice me and your dog, and scream, "YOU MURDERER! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY DOG?" And then your friend demands your attention, crying out, "AND LOOK! EVEN WORSE! LOOK AT THESE BOOKS!"
Rachel Maddow is your friend in this scenario. Who cares about Donald Trump's taxes at this point? He is proposing a health care bill that will cause tens of millions to lose their health insurance. He's proposing drastic cuts in funding to the agency that keeps our drinking water safe. Don't get me wrong, I hope the guy paid his taxes and I think his refusal to come clean on that score is scuzzy. I also think it's a molehill next to an active volcano at this point.
One Rachel Maddow segment is not the end of the world, but it's highly indicative of mainstream Democratic thought - thought that has utterly failed to deliver of late. You've perhaps heard of the Wesleyan University study of the 2016 campaign. One chart - an analysis of the substance of the Clinton and Trump campaign's advertising - stands out like a sore thumb:
Note the high degree of "personal" there. Before the election, it seemed like attacking Donald Trump's character would be a good move. I thought this way as well! I have no defense. I was a chump. However, I've learned my lesson. How could you not? Why in God's name have the Rachel Maddows of the world not learned their lesson at this point?
Very few people of either the right or left care about Donald Trump's character. That includes his taxes. People care what his administration does - period. That's it. All the "grab her by the pussy" in the world won't change that fact. That might be sad, but it's true. Wishing it were not true will not make it otherwise.
The good folks at Jacobin bring us this analysis of Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi's long tenure in power in Italy. The article will take you a bit to read but it's well worth your time. For you TL;DR types, here's the crux of the matter:
After the system-wide collapse of the early 1990s, to accuse him of “bringing his office into disrepute,” of undermining the “democratic spirit of the Constitution won through the Resistance,” or even of being a “fascist,” made little impression on an Italian public weary of both such pieties and the continual media revelations of scandal, crossing party divides.
The organized left in Italy kept attacking Berlusconi for this or that irregularity, this or that scandal, while offering little in the way of a political platform intended to bring economic succor to the poor and working class, and lo and behold, they got their asses kicked by Berlusconi for twenty years. It's worth noting that the left at this time consistently reached out to Italy's equivalent of "moderate Republicans" - former Catholic hardliners and the like. It worked for them about as well as Clinton's decision to target moderate Republicans in 2016 worked, and about as well as relying on outrage rather than a progression policy platform will work today.
While we all yatter on about Trump's taxes and this or that tweet, actual substantive policy discussion is being kicked to the curb. One reader brings this Media Matters study to my attention, regarding coverage of the proposed bill allowing for prescription drug importation. Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words:
How much talk over Russia did we get at that time? How much coverage of allegedly-great SNL skits did we get at this time? Kudos to MSNBC for leading the coverage on this topic; I honestly thought it would be PBS. That said, shame on all involved for not covering this situation 24/7.
Rachel Maddow, Alec Baldwin and the rest of them won't do for us what needs doing, just as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert did not stop George W. Bush back in the day. The Democratic party needs to abandon the myth of the moderate Republican and come to terms to with the fact that attacks on Donald Trump's many outrages will produce only apathy in the end.
Will they figure it out in time? 2018 is just one year away.