Solveig Torvik

“One thing that qualifies me to run a journalism organization is the fact that I don’t have a journalism degree.”

— Roger Ailes

The day Donald Trump became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes lost his job.

History rarely delights us with such ironic symmetry. No one has done more to set the table for Donald Trump than Roger Ailes.

You know Roger Ailes better than you think. This combative, deeply conservative, talented television executive has been shaping our opinions, politics and news reportage for decades.

Scorning fussy journalistic standards, Ailes’ programming foreshadowed the incivility, ignorance, intolerance and infatuation with incompetence that are central to Trump’s toxic political campaign. Ailes prepared us to expect debased civic debate as the norm.

It began innocently enough with his masterminding of “The Mike Douglas Show.” It ended ignominiously when he was booted out as CEO of Fox News — pocketing $40 million for cab fare home — after numerous female employees accused him of sexual harassment.

A pioneering TV “image consultant” to politicians, Ailes also gets considerable credit for bringing us the presidencies of Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Not bad for someone who masquerades as a mere television news executive. And now, we are told by the New York Times, Ailes has become a campaign “consultant” to Trump. (Trump denies it; what else is new?)

“We report. You decide,” is the disarming Fox News mantra. If only. Fox became the nation’s leading TV news channel not just by dumbing down and slanting news.

Aides understood that there’s money in appealing to our worst instincts. And he understood that in the name of “fairness,” he could pretend to simply be pushing back against all that “biased,” liberal claptrap offered up by traditional news organizations.

Ailes also understood that grievance sells. He may have obtained his insights about the power of grievance the hard way. He’s a hemophiliac, but his father nevertheless reportedly brutally beat him when Ailes was a small child.

His lifework seems to have been focused on racing to the bottom. Ailes would be the first to admit that all that really matters is having a broadcast formula that rivets eyeballs to the TV screen. It was always about the money, and he proved better at bringing it in than anyone.

Ailes and Trump share more than an unnatural compulsion to win. David Greenberg, professor of media studies at Rutgers, writes that they both employ political tactics that rely on “the substitution of bluster for reason, the angry scapegoating of others, the blind hatred and exaggerated fears of liberals in power, the appeal to traditional conservative values on polarizing social issues. Trump has merely upped the ante.”

The problem with all this is that Ailes purportedly was in the news business, not politics.

You might argue that Ailes didn’t really understand the consequences of what he was doing. But you can’t say that about Republican politicians who persist in blind loyalty to their party’s appalling candidate. They can plainly see what Trump is. Yet they robotically support him.

I hold with those who see this misplaced loyalty to party — or to one’s career? — as a profound confusion about civic duty. What about loyalty to the United States of America? Hello?

Our 4th Congressional District, home to 700,000 people, is one of the nation’s most reliably Republican districts. It runs through the center of the state from Canada to Oregon.

Our voice in the House of Representatives is Republican Dan Newhouse, a low-key, affable sort running for his second term — once again against ex-NFL footballer and far right Tea Party favorite Clint Didier. Two years ago Newhouse narrowly beat Didier.

A hop farmer from Sunnyside, Newhouse served in the state legislature and as Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Secretary of Agriculture. He’s experienced in governance and comes from a political family. His father Irv Newhouse was so well thought of as a lawmaker who could work successfully across the aisle that his name adorns a legislative building in Olympia.

Newhouse seems to share his father’s tolerance for bipartisanship. The Washington Congressional delegation once was regarded as a powerhouse because its Republican and Democratic senators and representatives regularly met to unify the delegation behind laws it could support.

In recent years those meetings ceased, Newhouse said during his recent first visit to Sun Mountain Lodge. But he’s urging our Congressional delegation to start them up again.

How is he on our district’s hot buttons, say turning federal lands over to the states?

Nimble. Newhouse concedes that there can be a role for federal land ownership. But he also says he could support legislation pushed by Idaho’s arch-conservative Republican Rep. Raoul Labrador, who wants to release federal land somewhere as an experiment to see what happens.

And will Newhouse vote for Trump?

An elder in his Presbyterian church, Newhouse explained that he’s troubled by Trump and never expected him to be the party’s nominee. However, at the outset of the campaign, Newhouse said he pledged to support whoever became the nominee.

“I’ll support him now. I still say that,” Newhouse said of Trump. Then this: “I have faith in the American people to make the right choice.”

Let’s face it: threading the needle of politics can be … umm … complicated. Especially with an extremist opponent like Didier within striking distance.

Is this a great country or what?

 

Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.