"I think it raises questions and concerns and they should be looked into", said Hillary Clinton about the proposed merger of AT &T and Time Warner. She opined that it was "appropriate" for Congress to hold hearings on the matter and said, further, "So I'm going to follow it closely, and obviously if I am fortunate enough to be president, I will expect the government to conduct a very thorough analysis before making a decision." Clinton made those remarks more than four days after the merger was announced.
In the 1980s, fifty different companies together owned about 90% of US media, a fairly high level of concentration already. Today, through mergers and acquisitions that have, ostensibly, been "thoroughly analyzed" by government regulators, we've narrowed 90% of media ownership to just six enormous corporations. The $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner deal would make that even worse. I guess that's why Tim Kaine, Clinton's running mate weighed in to say, "Less concentration, I think, is generally helpful, especially in the media."
Donald Trump spoke out about the merger the same day it was announced, saying that it was a deal that "we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Wait, what?
Trump, the billionaire blowhard, bully and egotist, said in less than 20 words what the top two people in the Democratic Party could not even come close to saying with three times the verbiage. Adding to an extraordinarily concentrated - and as a result, deeply flawed - media "raises serious concerns"? "Less concentration... is generally helpful"? Is it any wonder that Clinton and Trump are neck and neck? Or that Liberals have been losing working people, rural residents and countless middle class folks for more than a generation?
Of course it goes without saying that the long-term, heavily funded campaign of the extreme Right to denigrate the government and denude the public sphere has played a huge role in this shift. Not to mention the actual policies adopted by so-called liberal administrations and politicians, from NAFTA to Wall Street deregulation. But I'm talking here about another critically important factor in the rise of Trump (and before him, Sara Palin and others): Losing liberal language. Vague, conditional, non-committal language that leaves you wondering where they stand and what, exactly, they just said. It's the language of bureaucrats and Ivory Tower academics. Plenty of words, not much content. And for Heaven's sake, nothing clear and simple, because that's the way the less-educated talk.
Perhaps an even stronger example of this losing Liberal language was Hillary Clinton's "statement" regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests that have emerged around it. As with the AT&T deal, it took Clinton a long time to issue any statement at all. And when she did, it was so vacuous, so devoid of anything approaching a position that it prompted Bill McKibben to describe her words as "literally saying nothing". Hundreds of peaceful protestors arrested, scores of them pepper sprayed and shot with rubber bullets; a number of the women strip-searched by local police. With all of this unfolding as Native Americans reassert their rights to sacred lands, and scientists speak of the urgent need to move beyond fossil fuels to slow climate change, Secretary Clinton suggests that "all voices should be heard and all views considered... to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest." Right.
I detest Donald Trump. I hate how Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have built empires largely based on lies, distortions and gross oversimplifications. It's been poisonous for our public debate and democracy. But they're not the only culprits. Liberal elites have driven millions of people into their hands, with bad policies to be sure, but just as much with their losing language, where "listening to all voices" really means embracing no one and nothing in particular. Until this changes, dramatically, winning back the hearts and minds of most Americans is a losing proposition.
Anthony Flaccavento is an organic farmer and sustainable development consultant based in Abingdon, Virginia. His book, Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up was published by the University Press of Kentucky in June, 2016. He writes and speaks widely on these issues, and also produces a weekly, five minute You Tube series, "Take Five with Tony".