OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: Dumb and dumber returns

I used to write a column every couple of months or so citing what I thought were the dumbest political developments since the last column of dumb developments.

I stopped doing those columns during the Donald Trump era because there were so many contenders for dumb that I couldn't keep track of them any longer. As our political world became progressively dumber, more dumb things happened, and the dumb things that happened tended to be even dumber than the dumb things that used to happen.

But for old time's sake, here are some undeniably dumb things from recent weeks:

Media coverage of Donald Trump's "bloodbath" comments.

No one with even a pea for a brain could have watched his speech and concluded that he was threatening violence if he lost the election. What he was saying, in typically incoherent fashion, was that the auto industry would be devastated if he lost the election. No honest reporting, assuming there is still interest in such, would have presented it any other way.

The first line of any such news report, reflecting journalistic principles that were once taught in the first week of any journalism news reporting class, should have read "Former President Donald Trump predicted in a speech in Ohio yesterday that the auto industry would suffer a 'bloodbath' if he loses the election." Elaboration would have followed, including discussion of Trump's proposals for tariffs on foreign automobiles (ostensibly intended to prevent that metaphorical "bloodbath").

Trump is noxious enough without having to lie about him and distort the crazy things he says.

Just report the facts, and nothing but the facts. No spin or broader narrative of any kind. If Trump is truly as awful as the media believes, then reporting on him honestly is the best way to diminish his prospects.

What makes the "bloodbath" reporting not just dishonest but also dumb is that it produces the opposite effect of that intended: When the media lies about Trump and does so in such an easy-to-detect fashion, it only discredits itself and makes him stronger. People will stop believing anything they report about Trump, even when it's true.

As bad as Trump is, what might be worse is the reaction to him, which increasingly includes the abandonment of the rule of law and journalistic standards.

Bernie Sanders' proposal for a 32-hour work week.

What stands out most in Sanders' thinking is the failure to link the concepts of labor and wages on the one hand to productivity and wealth creation on the other.

It is as if Bernie lives in a fantasy economic world in which how much money we make has no relationship whatsoever to how much we work or what we produce when we do.

The dumb part isn't so much the proposed shortened work week per se--there might even be some merit in challenging the 40-hour expectation that has been around for so long--but the claim that we could make that shift without losing any income or productivity, such that our standard of living would be unaltered.

We are used to politicians spending other people's money to buy votes (see the minimum wage), but such gambits are usually accompanied by at least some kind of analysis which seeks to incorporate or work around the sturdy laws of economics.

When we "Feel the Bern," we leave those laws entirely behind.

We are left to wonder which is more discouraging: That a fellow displaying such staggering economic illiteracy once came close to winning the presidential nomination of one of our two major political parties, or that a fellow displaying such economic illiteracy came close to winning the presidential nomination of one of our two major political parties because there were a sufficient number of other economic illiterates out there to vote for him (and to keep re-electing him to the United States Senate in Vermont).

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson expressing concerns in oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri about the First Amendment "hamstringing the government in certain ways" and making it "difficult to take steps to protect the citizens of this country."

Apparently, Justice Jackson missed those law school lectures on the purposes of that amendment, which has long been understood to do exactly, precisely what Jackson fears it might--prevent the government's ability to suppress speech, in particular political speech.

Yes, the First Amendment permits government to try to influence media coverage and broader public discourse about important issues for the sake of what it sees as the national welfare, but that same amendment also allows media which are the object of such efforts to tell the government to bugger off. And it most certainly forbids the government from using threats and other forms of pressure and coercion to influence media coverage, or to punish expression of opinion more broadly in any way after the fact.

Of all the dumb ideas that have surfaced since the pandemic's onset, the dumbest of all might be that we should allow the government to define what constitutes "disinformation" and censor it accordingly. Were that principle accepted, any speech critical of government would be quickly labeled as disinformation and suppressed. James Madison understood this, Justice Jackson doesn't appear to.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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