No More Stormenatti!

Please, my fellow liberals, stop treating Stormy Daniels like a civil rights hero, and stop booking Michael Avenatti on every show in the MSNBC lineup…

I get it. Daniels and Avenatti are going up against Donald Trump, so it’s tempting to welcome them as fellow travelers, or at least “enemies of mine enemy.” But if Republicans have become roundly unprincipled, liberals should stand up squarely for something better than the crass opportunism represented by Stormenatti.

I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk liberal. I tend to embrace causes of social compassion and human rights. I also try and see through all forms of propaganda and b.s. I just can’t take any more #Stormenatti on MSNBC, particularly on Lawrence O’Donnell, where Avenatti is given nothing but softballs to hit. It’s like a Bizarro World version of Fox News, but with liberal propaganda. It’s transparently bad journalism, and drives away principled people who might otherwise be allies.

Politics can be a mixed bag; it sometimes brings us insight, but other times asks us to put on blinders. Yea to the former but nay to the latter.

If you’re not just playing politics, but take a principled stand against Donald Trump due to his unbridled hucksterism, then you should also take a stand against Daniels and Avenatti — for the same reason. Not that I want their legal bid to fail; I just don’t want to see them dominate the news or be held up as role models.

Metaphorically speaking, Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels both inhabit the same grindhouse exploitation film — and the person they’re exploiting is you the viewer. They’re both in show business, both insatiable publicity hounds, and perhaps neither has much to offer beyond the brassy, artificially inflated personas they flash for the cameras.

I’m not suggesting a ban on coverage of #Stormenatti, but please don’t make it/them nightly attractions, and please practice basic journalism, like asking tough, skeptical questions about their means and motives.

What is the great civil rights cause championed by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer? That she ought to get paid more than $130,000 for having sex with Donald Trump and keeping quiet about it?

What are the underlying circumstances? Why were she and other porn stars hanging around the golf resort where Trump was staying? Because they were on the lookout for millionaires, hoping that an initial hookup might be bartered into a hefty wad of cash — which Daniels eventually got. Later, she made a self-interested business decision that if she could overturn the contract that netted her $130,000 for one night’s work, she could make millions as a celebrity in her own right. Gandhi, MLK, and Susan B. Anthony move over!

I’m not a lawyer, and don’t pretend to understand the legal distinction between “blackmail” and “hush money.” But if there is a legal distinction (and it may be a fine one), I see very little moral and ethical distinction. So, notwithstanding that I’m a liberal, it makes me want to throw up when I see the shrewd and rapacious Michael Avenatti blathering away on Lawrence O’Donnell as if his client were a cross between Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.

One can cover newsmakers from a liberal point of view while still retaining an iota of skepticism. The New York Times covers #Stormenatti, but with a tad of snarkiness that helps restore perspective. This they do by interspersing factual narrative with titles of films in which Daniels actually starred. My favourite (make-believe) ones are Bring Me Some Head for Alfredo Garcia and Three Days of the Condom (links are Roger Ebert reviews).

I’m always trying to refine my understanding, and to avoid saying what’s already been said better. So when researching this post, coming across “Stormy Daniels is a feminist heroine,” I assumed it must be meant sarcastically. I was gobsmacked to find it was a credulous (if rhetorical) claim by none other than Krystal Ball, who often appears on MSNBC.

My mind works in a discursive manner, so I can only say that I’m reminded of a scene from a DVD extra called “Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom.” It’s about the toys that Doctor Who fans had when they were kids. Some toys came in boxes of Weetabix wholegrain cereal — which was a terrific marketing coup, and had the side benefit of keeping millions of young Britons extremely regular. Sadly, Krystal Ball was not among them.

By all means, let’s treat all people everywhere decently, and let’s not be overly judgmental. The conservative right tends to apply hateful stereotypes to women who make certain less-than-ideal career choices, but the fallacy in Ms. Ball’s thinking is that she applies a syrupy inverted stereotype to the same women. In truth, Ms. Daniels is neither an untouchable sinner, nor a feminist heroine taking back power from the patriarchy one spank at a time. Like her lawyer, Daniels is just another huckster, not easily distinguishable from millions of other hucksters who dot American life, from telemarketers to folk selling quack baldness remedies on late night TV. May they one day find better wisdom.

As human beings, we are all of us more than we appear to be. In characterizing where some people presently are, I don’t mean to restrict, confine, or belittle them. We all have the potential to bring out deeper aspects of our selves — aspects which are in some sense truer. But that acquisitive instinct or spirit of hucksterism tends to be a stumbling block, making it hard for us to be our best selves.

If we recognize this greediness to be a stumbling block in human nature, then we would ideally choose as role models those who epitomize unselfishness and charity.

There’s a sense in which real estate magnates and porn stars go together. They are both found at golf resorts plying their respective trades or proclivities. But the world is so much bigger than that! America is a great and good nation, and the national attention should be focused on better things.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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