The Washington Post's David von Drehle situates good journalism:
"Fearless journalism is not just reporting in the face of adverse power. Another brand of courage is the guts to tell one’s friends that their assumptions may be mistaken. It’s the willingness to push oneself to dig deeper and think harder. To understand bad guys and challenge heroes. To ask ourselves why we think as we do and could we be wrong" — "the genuine objectivity of an open, curious, careful mind. Readers won’t always like what it produces; seeing the world in all its mixed-up shades of gray is not necessarily comforting. But most of them respect it when they see it. Journalists who strive to deliver it bank credibility in small doses over time, humbly acknowledging their blind spots and errors."
I suppose most of us already subscribed to von Drehle's concept of authorial professionalism, which is centered more in commentary than straight journalism. Hackery is not just monotonous; it's contemptuous of the seeking, independent mind — and such minds find that insulting. The stimulating informational value of five minutes spent with Breitbart.com or two minutes with Sean Hannity is akin to rewatching yesterday's news for the fiftieth time. You'll be served endlessly familiar defenses of Donald J. Trump, which differ vastly in ethical intent from endless assaults on Donald J. Trump. The former intend to justify a monstrous offensive against all that has made America a force for good in the world; the latter are requisite reminders of just how monstrously unAmerican Trump really is, just how dangerous he is to you, me, America, and the world.
All that has been long understood by a readership such as mine, which, I'm honored to say, by and large seeks independence in commentary, agreement on black-and-white American virtues, and dispute wherever virtue is grey. Throughout President Obama's tenure we explored matters of disagreement about that tenure, and though inevitably I lost readers where disagreement emerged, most of you stuck around — because controversy excites the exploring mind. Sad to say, this feature of independence in both commentary and its readership has become exclusive to the center-left. And here is a singularity, even though it demarcates today's professional commentary, that von Drehle neglects in a column discussing professionalism in the written word. I appreciate that no column can embrace every aspect of any particular subject, but still, this division is crucial.
In a mid-December Atlantic piece, the superb (but regrettably libertarian) David Frum was just as sad to remark on the state of stated opinion as I am. He notes a Harvard study which found, in its words, that "the center-left and the far right are the principal poles of the media landscape…. Partisan media sources on the left … are of lesser importance than the major media outlets of the center-left," however "the center of attention and influence for conservative media is on the far right. The center-right is of minor importance and is the least represented portion of the media spectrum." This is a critical point; reread it if necessary; I myself hovered over it for some time, absorbing its importance.
Which is, simply put, that while center-left opinion reigns in the left's commentary (with all its admirable differences of opinion), the center-right is anathema to the right; there, independence of mind has been almost entirely abandoned to radical-rightism, the far right. Due largely to commercial pressures, conservative voices of at least partial reason have splintered away from such and, however reluctantly, joined the ranks of the monolithic pro-Trump crowd. Frum observes, for instance, that "in the spring of 2016, National Review published its 'Against Trump' issue. Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency." Most notably marooned on the right are, as Frum cites them, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, Mona Charen, Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz, Tom Nichols, Charlie Sykes, and Joe Scarborough. I would add George Will, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, and Andrew Sullivan (although he, I'm pretty well convinced, is a closet liberal).
The tragic ramifications ensuing from the right's relative homogeneity are monumental, and twofold. First, it's an abdication of judgment. No right-thinking conservative intellectual of the 1930s would have defended Adolf Hitler, in his or her assorted newspaper columns, for putting people back to work and making the trains run on time. The little corporal's many brutalities and mass upendings of everything civilized more than negatively compensated for any Hitlerian upsides, and conservative intellectuals would not have been snookered into praising any good with the bad. It was the overall blueprint of Hitler's evil that counted, and deserving of vigilant commentary. Or, as Frum further notes, anti-Trumpist Jennifer Rubin’s "crime [in the eyes of the right] is that rather than waking up every morning fresh for each day’s calling of balls and strikes, she carries into her work the memory of the day before. She sees patterns where [others on the right see] only incidents."
The second of ramifications is that which, it seems, is becoming conventional in thought. I shall let Frum articulate it. "Donald Trump may not be the leader of American conservatism, but he is its most spectacular and vulnerable asset. The project of defending him … is already changing what it means to be a conservative. The word conservative will of course continue in use. But its meaning is being rewritten each day by the actions of those who lay claim to the word. It is their commitment to Trump that etches Trumpism into them. And while Trump may indeed pass, that self-etching will not soon be effaced."
With that, I have "issues." In the long arc of conservatism, the reasonable Burkean sort has survived somewhat intact (essentially, in the Democratic Party). It is no doubt besieged and battered by the troglodytic right wingers of our day. But while Trump will indeed pass, the self-etching of Burkeanism will not soon be effaced. For it's an idea, a mood, a state of being that has proven its intellectual worth, and thus shall not perish in the vicissitudes of emotional derangement and political brawling.
As an adherent of democratic socialism, I'd like to see its idealism someday marry Burkeanism's pragmatism. Perhaps it will. Meanwhile, and for the foreseeable future, it is sad to say that authentically conservative commentary is typically a thing of the past.