About that ‘shared baseline of fact’
In a big, complex society such as ours, the major features of public life have two main components: There are formal legal arrangements and there are institutions, and the former is not very useful without the latter — that means, for instance, that it isn’t enough to have the First Amendment, you have to have the New York Times, too, or at least something doing the job of the New York Times, which the New York Times itself often fails to do.
President Barack Obama, in his farewell address, struggled clumsily toward that as he shared his concerns that too much Fox News and too many fever-dream Facebook memes are undermining our “common baseline of fact.” He is a lawyer and a politician and, in spite of his reputation, not an especially thoughtful man, so it is unsurprising that he could not quite put his finger on what he was trying to say. Have no fear: It was his last address as president, but I would bet a testicle that he’ll average more speeches per annum in retirement than he did even as a logorrheic president of these United States.
If President Obama does not understand why our institutions and the common ground they once represented are in a shambles, he need not look very far for an explanation: He is a man of the Left, and the Left corrupts every institution it touches: the news media, the educational and academic institutions, the cultural institutions, professional organizations, government bureaucracies, everything from National Geographic to the English department at the University of Texas. This is not a case of “both sides do it” or an instance of a conservative polemicist simply fitting his political opponents for black hats. If you want to understand why Americans have so little faith in institutions that were once granite pillars of respectability, you must understand the Left’s coopting of them.