Over now to MSNBC, that glorified test of the emergency broadcast system between Fox News and the Big Bang Theory reruns you want to fall asleep to. The Supreme Court on Friday announced it had overturned Roe v. Wade, upending fifty years of abortion law. And the mood on America’s favorite left-of-left cable network was, er, punchy.
It began with Lawrence O’Donnell, who demanded that his audience “never forget the GOP presidents who overturned Roe” (in case Donald Trump was at risk of slipping your mind). After lying that George W. Bush hadn’t won the popular vote before appointing Sam Alito (Bush beat John Kerry by three million votes in 2004, then nominated Alito in 2005), O’Donnell sighed that he was profoundly disappointed. “I spent most of my life in awe of the Supreme Court,” he intoned. Yet today the Court “is not reflexively worthy of respect.”
One imagines Amy Coney Barrett running down the hall: “You guys! We just lost Lawrence O’Donnell!” And certainly the Court has desecrated itself forever by not doing what O’Donnell would have liked it to do. O’Donnell then went on to patronize Clarence Thomas for disagreeing with Roe while being black and married to a white woman. Thus did MSNBC give the country exactly what it needed: a lecture on race from a white guy from Boston.
Elsewhere in the blunderdome came Chris Hayes, MSNBC’s leading man, who in a monologue on Friday set about systematically undermining the whole of the English language. Abortion, which isn’t mentioned in any of our founding documents? “A right enshrined in the Constitution as intimate as any right one could imagine.” Efforts to extend human rights to the unborn? “The forces of reaction.” Allowing state legislatures to vote on abortion law? “A brutal day for American democracy.”
Hayes is like one of those dorky kids who struts around calling people “malefactors” and “ne’er-do-wells” even though he clearly he has no idea what any of those words mean. Yet it’s his use of “democracy” that’s especially telling. Strictly speaking, “democracy” means simply that the people get to decide, either directly or through their elected representatives — as they now will on abortion. Yet for progressives, “democracy” has taken on more of a folk definition. Just as Orwell said the word fascism “has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” so too does “democracy” now have no meaning except as something that makes an MSNBC contributor feel all peachy on the inside. So: lawless abortion, etc.
This debauching of our language admittedly runs both ways (a “Republican” is now one who thinks Donald Trump should maybe be king?). Yet flipping “democracy” to mean “judicial authoritarianism” might be a whole new level of doublespeak altogether. And it really is curious just how many words have had to be blurred in order to keep the abortion boat afloat: “fetus,” “procedure,” “late-term,” “constitutional right,” “choice.” If this much of your thinking is based on not thinking, it may be time to turn the critical gaze inward for a while.
Yet there’s a bigger problem at MSNBC than just vocabulary: its sense of smug superiority. Remember when Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election? The network spent months pompously declaring that the GOP was dead. Then, when that same GOP stubbornly refused to die, when Trump was elected in 2016, MSNBC leaned hard into the Russiagate conspiracy. It wasn’t the conservatism or the populism! This was a Putin snow job, and once it was corrected, they would be back driving the agenda once again.
This same sense of inevitability has pervaded their abortion coverage, which is why MSNBC and their kith and kin may be more responsible for Dobbs than anyone else. They refined pro-choice smugness into televised narcotic. Not only did they fail to seriously engage with the arguments put forward by the other side — fetal personhood, the weakness of constitutional “penumbras,” etc. — their complacency lurched them even further to the extreme. “Shout your abortion!” they cried. “Scrub ‘rare’ from ‘safe, legal, and rare’!” Why not? The other side was just a bunch of theocratic Neanderthals, practically self-refuting.
Even after the Dobbs arguments back in December, which saw the conservative justices all but skywrite “THE VIABILITY STANDARD IS BULLS–T” above the Supreme Court, they still couldn’t quite believe the knuckle-draggers were about to pull it off. Now, they’re making the same mistake again, assuring themselves it’s just a matter of time. Republicans will pay in the midterms! Will they though? Polls have consistently found that decisive majorities support something like the Mississippi law at issue in Dobbs, which bans abortions after fifteen weeks. And are the intricacies of abortion really going to trump the pain of $5 a gallon gas?
So it is that we return to MSNBC for one last ray of insight. On Saturday, a deranged individual named Elie Mystal screamed that Biden ought to make abortions available at federal facilities — and surely he should. Democrats, here’s your game-changer: third-trimester abortions at every post office. And then, when you get shellacked in November, when you lose both houses of Congress, just remember this: the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards frantic attempts to normalize the gruesome.
So the media might have unwittingly produced a result the media opposed? That hasn’t happened since the November 2016 election, thanks to Hillary Clinton’s “Deplorables.”