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Republicans can't defend Trump's tariff gaffe, so apparently the experts are all 'Communists' now?

Authoritarianism thrives on misinformationā€”and so does our free press, apparently.

4 min read

Digby points to Paul Krugman who pointed to this little turd dropped into the discourse punchbowl on Monday.

If elected again, Donald Trump has pledged to enact a 10% across-the-board tariff on imports that he says will raise billions of dollars in revenue to pay for more tax cuts. But mainstream economists say such a plan, plus a 60% levy on Chinese imports, would amount to a tax increase for American households.

Not true, says the Republican National Committee. According to reporting Monday from Bloombergā€™s Nancy Cook in Washington, RNC spokesperson Anna Kelly said ā€œthe notion that tariffs are a tax on US consumers is a lie pushed by outsourcers and the Chinese Communist Party.ā€

That link is to Bloomberg News, a quite mainstream press outlet that prides itself on being both business-savvy and politics-savvy, and if you're wondering whether there was any pushback on RNC spokesbot Kelly's phlegmy claim that "the notion that tariffs are a tax on US consumers is a lie pushed by outsourcers and the Chinese Communist Party" the answer would be no, there was not. The piece is framed with the usual conventions, as if there is sincerely an issue to be weighed here instead of one side pointing to basic math and the other side responding with scenery-chewing paranoias and pie-throwing.

On one side, we have professional economists who point out that Donald Trump's math doesn't even come close to working out and, even it did, it would be American consumers who would be paying these new government taxes because that is how tariffs work: You charge importers a fee to import foreign goods, which requires the importer to raise the price on those goods, passing the cost of the tariff on to consumers.

Making consumers pay more for imported goods is, in fact, the whole point of imposing anything high tariffs to begin with. If there's a domestic source of the same product, those domestic manufacturers now become the consumer-preferred alternative to the importsā€”and are likely to nudge their own prices upward now that consumers have no other choice but to pay them. And if there's not a domestic competitor to the imported products, then importers are free to pass the full cost of the tariff to consumers because there's not a damn thing consumers can do about it.

This is such basic economic theory that there's no way an American journalist working for a "business" news outlet would not know it. There's no controversy here. There's no both sides. Tariffs raise consumer prices, and raising consumer prices is one of the most regressive means of boosting government revenue you can name because poor and middle class people are obliged to spend a whole lot more of their income buying things than rich people are.

But Bloomberg News can't just run a piece that assertively states the plain facts, because the conventions of journalism demand that "both sides" of any statement be presented, even if the only other available side is the incoherent babbling of a professional fabulist.

So against the plain facts of "the math doesn't work and it'd amount to the government yanking money out of consumer pockets even if it did," Bloomberg slaps in a contrary both sides-premised statement claiming that well maybe a couple hundred years of extraordinarily well-documented world history is all just lies pushed by The Communists.

And it's not seen as worth even a line or two of pushback, when presenting that claim to a public audience. Nope, just business as usual here in the business mines.

Now, if you're a journalist covering either proposed economic policies or partisan political maneuvering, there's exactly one reason that you might want to pass on a quote in which RNC spokesperson Anna Kelly bellows that the economic foundations of tariff theory are conspiracy claims pushed by "the Chinese Communist Party." You would print it to show that Anna Kelly, top spokesperson of the Republican Party, is (1) apparently off her f'king rocker and that (2) the immensely powerful and well-resourced national party was able to muster no coherent defense of their presumptive presidential candidate's latest nonsensical "policy" demand.

That's actually pretty big news, right? But it's only news if you point out that it's news; it doesn't count if you put it in your business paper as just another normal bit of rhetoric in just another normal argument over the color of the sky or whether birds are real. If the people in the Republican Party home offices can't respond to inquiries about Dear Leader's policies without insisting that his critics are merely part of some grand world conspiracy, then buddy, you've found your news. Your news is that one of the most powerful institutions in United States politics has now been reduced to Baghdad Bobbing their way through government policymaking decisions that are likely to be of existential importance to the business community that your whole damn media outlet is aimed at serving.

But no. No, the other way to do this is to not just leave that quote hanging, hanging as if you either believe it's a legitimate and rational thing for someone to say or as if you think you can't get away with criticizing somebody in that position of almost-power, but to also follow up on it by noting the conflicting opinions of Larry Summers and Wilbur Effing Ross.

This is what experts on authoritarianism mean when they fret that American journalism isn't just ill-equipped to deal with the full denial of facts that authoritarian movements are based on, but has designed itself into policies that actively reward false propaganda. It's not just the inability of press outlets to unequivocally assert that the people who claim convicted felon Donald Trump's 2020 election loss was "fraudulent," it's the normalization, day by day, of these little batshit statements of the sort that journalists would have had a field day with if they were not constrained by editorial notions of "fairness" demanding that truth and lies be treated equally, very very equally, and new assertions that it's not the job of a free press to confront powerful people saying crooked things, oh heavens no, can you imagine how gauche that would be?

Democracy can't survive this enforced indifference to crookedness. It can't happen. Business can't survive that either; if your paper is out there tossing out the latest economic statistics alongside equally straightfaced claims that oh well screw it maybe imposing a 30% tax on captured PokƩmon will revive the bedbug industry, then you've just rendered all of the rest of your reporting useless because nobody can tell which parts are true and which are hallucinatory.

American journalism doesn't have a lot of time to get this right. What's more concerning is that there still appears to be not a damn bit of interest in getting it right.


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