Searching for Chris Hayes

chris-hayesI like Chris Hayes.  I like his news/talk show on MSNBC, “All In.”  I’ve  enjoyed him since he started out in a 5 am TV time slot. He’s the smartest pundit on TV.

Lately though, I’ve been unable to watch his show. Like all the other political talk programs, it has devolved to reading New York Times and Washington Post headlines at you so there’s hardly any reason to watch, despite the ubiquitous “Breaking News” banner (Chris Hayes has a new tie!). Used to be, you could count on enlightening analysis from Chris. No more.

I want Chris (and the others there at Progressive News) to succeed, but from what I’ve read, viewing numbers at MSNBC have gone off a cliff since the election, and it’s easy to see why. Many progressives and liberals have retreated from the vapid, repetitive chatter involving little more than baseless speculation.

Chris and his colleagues, and his guests and producers, have not adapted to the new political world. They’re doing the same snarky reporting as before the apocalypse. Why, look at this glaring inconsistency! Good Lord, here’s a conflict of interest! Those are not the stories, Chris.

The pundit class is practicing denial by clinging to status quo reporting. Chris, et al. cannot or will not accept that the world has changed for them, as it has for all Americans. Politics in America has become entirely theater, a language that speaks to an under-educated, emotionally-driven voting class that feels ignored or disrespected by liberal politics. They don’t watch MSNBC, so they don’t feel the sting of smug criticism that amounts to little more than self-indulgence.

Pretending there are policies and matters of fact and then speculating on what they might imply for the future is idle. There are no policies. There are no facts [= propositions with consensus truth-value in a community].  Everything is opportunism, self-aggrandizement, spin, greed, and identity politics. None of that has anything to do with critical thinking.

So I thought I’d send a message to Chris Hayes, or at least his people. I wanted to say, “Hey Chris, snap out of it!  You’re losing your audience. The world has changed.” Chris seems to think he’s still in a Kabuki performance where all the moves are known. He doesn’t realize he’s now in an impromptu theater where each move depends only on instinct and feedback.

But his bubble is impenetrable. After considerable probing, I found that it is not actually possible to communicate with Chris Hayes, at least not for me, a member of the great unwashed.  I can “join,” “like,” “follow,” “subscribe,”  “retweet,” and “reshare,” but I cannot actually communicate.

Hey Chris! Pick up! I know you’re there.

There are practical issues with two-way communication in what is essentially a one-way medium. Except for voting day, political information flows downhill. Maybe that’s why so many pundits and politicians were caught flatfooted. And that’s why shows like Chris Hayes’s may be surprised when the bottom falls out of the viewership.

What would I want to see Chris and his people doing instead? All over the world, principles of liberal democracy are bending to a resurgence of ethnic and nationalistic tribalism. It’s identity politics in full flourish. What is the present and future of governance, especially in America, in that climate? We need to look at questions at the intersection of  sociology, political science, communications, and performance art. What should government look like?

What holds no interest are the speculations of the pundit class on what appointment X or pronouncement Y might or might not mean in the future. Such predictions have zero credibility and are based on no data. And for god’s sake, quit talking about stereotypical categories: “the blacks, the whites, the women, the Hispanics, the gays.”

I’d like you to question the validity of nationalism, the meaning of ethnic, regional, economic, and vocational identity. I’d like you to revisit fundamental principles: What is government by the people?  Is it working or not? How do you persuade without reason and evidence? Actors do it. Novelists do it. Maybe the era of persuasion is over.

Does capitalism inevitably lead to oligarchy? What’s wrong with a Chinese- or Russian-style, authoritarian quasi-democracy? Is America really “exceptional” or just hubristic?  What kind of politics balances the impulses of greed and communal interest? Who do we have in the pipeline who can speak to the future? Is Bernie all we’ve got?

I realize you can’t go all egghead on a basic cable news show. And you’re a so-called reporter, not an educator. But how about some thoughtful analysis instead of pretending that all we’ve seen is a personnel change?

Personally, as an over-educated, relatively affluent progressive, I’m worried, not about a replay of the Third Reich, but about a replay of the Cultural Revolution.

Wake up over there.


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