The Democrats' Guilty Conscience Laundromat
A key function of elite media is to morally sanitize cruel, bipartisan policies of austerity, caging, and policing.
It was customary during the Elizabethan era for executioners, at least when the target of their ax was noble, to ask forgiveness of those they were about to behead. In 1587, after Mary Queen of Scots had been found guilty of conspiring to overthrow Elizabeth I, her day finally came. As she kneeled down atop the scaffold and said her final penitential psalms in Latin, her black-robed executioner turned to her, formally asking for her forgiveness. She’s reported to have said, “I forgive you, for now I hope you shall end all my troubles.”
It’s a perverse scene. The guy whose job it is to behead people for a living is made, albeit briefly, into the victimized agent in need of comfort and care—no less seeking comfort and care from the person whose brain stem he’s about to detach from her body.
It’s a useful analogy for how much of our centrist, liberal media functions when it comes to helping assuage the guilt of liberals who support cruel, carceral policies—from how we treat homeless people to immigration crackdown to the “refund the police” cries yelled nonstop by party leadership calling for a return to the Tough on Crime 1990s. It’s not enough to support more policing and cages to solve social ills—the liberal must let you know they Feel Bad About It and, above all, they Have No Choice. Like the executioner, liberal leaders doubling down on cruel carceral policy solutions need to be forgiven and are Only Doing What’s Demanded of Them.
And this is the primary function of the ho-hum media coverage of recent crackdowns by blue city mayors, governors, and federal lawmakers. Ostensibly horse race stories about liberals reluctantly turning to right-wing tactics to “solve” homelessness, immigration, and crime, these articles fundamentally serve a moral function. They exist to let centrist and liberal readers know that they and their buddies—the high-status professionals, lawyers, McKinsey consultants, thank tank fellows, and marketing execs who support these policies—have no choice. That they carry out arresting and caging with a heavy heart. That they feel bad about it.
Let’s take a look at some recent examples of this genre of reportage.
Responsible party presented to the reader: vague, unnamed “angry citizens demanding a change,” “intense public pressure.”
Responsible party in reality: Specific Democratic leaders, namely Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.
Politico recently reported on California Democrats increasingly resorting to arrests and criminalization to tackle the “enduring [homelessness] crisis.” The article, “Rising homelessness is tearing California cities apart,” insists—as all others in the genre do—that Democrats are not resorting to over-policing and jails to harass homeless people because this is aways what they’ve done, or because they take the plurality, if not majority, of their campaign donations from the real estate industry that lobbies for these policies. Rather, Democrats are pursuing carceral solutions because they’re simply reacting to “intense public pressure.”