May 19, 2024

we should remember the Maine

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Why we should remember the Maine
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — We can tell a lot about a presidential candidate from the company he keeps, and Elon Musk’s presence spoke volumes on Twitter hosting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  Musk owns Twitter, plus he is a billionaire many times over. A boost from a rich guy who owns a media platform gives DeSantis a leg up in the Republican primary contests.
          DeSantis needs all the help he can get. Ex-President Trump is leading him nationally by 23 points, and DeSantis isn’t ahead in any of the early primary states. But there’s time. DeSantis has plenty of money, and things can change.
          It’s more than money that Musk brings to the table. Like the robber barons of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Musk brings lots of attitude and can-do adventurism. And like another contemporary billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, he is a media baron with a platform that can shape politics.
          Without Fox News, orchestrated by Murdoch, Trump would not have been elected president. He would not have survived the Access Hollywood tape without Fox News hosts and viewers rallying to his side. He would not have dodged conviction after being impeached twice, and he would not have been able to spread the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
          Lately, Murdoch has been leaning toward DeSantis, but if he reconciles with Trump, the Republican primaries will not be a battle between candidates, but a battle between media moguls
          The power of the media to sway politics is not new. William Randolph Hearst almost singlehandedly caused the Spanish-American War of 1898 by whipping up public sentiment against Spain through what has since been acknowledged as dishonest and exaggerated reporting.
          When the battleship USS Maine blew up in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of its almost 400 American crew members, the Hearst-owned newspapers rushed to judgment blaming Spain. There was no evidence to prove the allegation, instead it could have been an accident, and probably was. But the Hearst headline screamed, “Remember the Maine,” and America was off to war.
          Where Musk lands on the ideological scale is hard to determine at this point. He supported Democrats Obama and Biden for president, but in the last couple years he has noticeably moved to the right, adopting more libertarian and populist conservative views.
          He, like Hearst long ago, has also showed a disturbing inclination to intervene in foreign policy when it suits him. In Ukraine, he pulled back some of his company’s Internet satellite services, saying he didn’t want them used in warfare. And in Turkey, he yielded to the government’s request to shut down dissident voices in the days leading up to the recent election.
          Musk presents himself as a champion of free speech except when it runs counter to his interests, making him the perfect partner for an authoritarian like DeSantis, who has signed into law an array of edicts that limit free speech he doesn’t think align with his form of Republican politics.
          DeSantis has gotten a free ride in the media for his hard-edged approach to the cultural issues. Abortion in Florida is banned after six weeks, books can be taken off school shelves if just one parent objects, and public colleges must disband their racial equity and inclusion services.
          “Make America Florida,” is the DeSantis slogan, a play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again. But DeSantis has taken a nosedive in the polls nationally. His campaign announcement on Twitter was panned. There were too many glitches for any but the most stalwart to follow. Voters will have many more chances to get a sense of who he is, and whether, like his slogan he is just a play on Trump either as Trump Lite or Trump More without the performance skills.
          He wants to present himself as someone who’s different but still the same. Someone who can win but is still Trump at the core. Like processed food, he’s all packaged and ready, but, like Trump, fundamentally unhealthy for democracy. 
          In the end, all that may matter in the Republican primaries is whether the Fox or Twitter puppet master comes out on top.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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