The aphorism “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is as old as time itself — or nearly, anyway. According to our good friend Wikipedia, its first recorded use was in a Sanskrit tome on statecraft from the 4th century BC, which means we’ve at least 2,500 years of political cynicism preceding the election campaign in which we’re currently embroiled. As far as political expediency goes, though, that particular nugget of wisdom is one that’s best regarded with suspicion — as the ongoing pitched battle between the camps of Donald Trump and Fox News demonstrates nicely.
Ever since Trump announced that he was withdrawing from the latest in an endless series of Republican debates because he felt moderator Megyn Kelly had been “unfair” to him, there’s been a sort of rueful admiration for her emanating from unlikely sources: the Guardian, for instance, suggested that “Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly is not the first journalist to incur the wrath of Donald Trump. But she may be the first to have forced the combative Republican presidential frontrunner into submission.”
There’s no doubt about the fact that Trump is a blowhard and a bully. As such, then, there’s been a degree of admiration for anyone’s who’s seen as having stood up to him, even if that person happens to be Megyn Kelly of Fox News. And it is indeed tempting to bestow some rueful praise on Kelly after seeing her challenge Trump on his treatment of women, and witnessing Trump’s subsequent bloviating on that topic (Salon, for instance, described her as being “caught between being a reasonable, smart journalist and being a Fox News pitbull”).
But is the enemy of our enemy a true friend to the groups Trump is attacking? It’s a good time to revisit an article from a couple of weeks back, wherein Gawker’s Sam Biddle points out (in a very Gawker-y manner) that Kelly is (and remains) horrible person. If she’s a feminist — if — she’s also a walking reminder that one can be a feminist and an asshole.
Kelly also remains living proof of the fact that standing up to Donald Trump does not in and of itself make you worthy of admiration. The Republican establishment is sick of Donald Trump because he is undermining decades’ worth of careful work directed toward getting the American public to vote in direct contradiction to its own self-interest. Fox News is sick of Donald Trump because he is undermining their ability to control the conservative narrative.
None of this changes the fact that all the people involved in this dust-up remain as worth of condemnation and contempt as they were six months ago, before the whole Trump traveling sideshow took to the road in its garish jalopy. Fox News may or may not be the enemy of the left’s enemy — one suspects that they’ll all be BFFs again if Trump wins the GOP nomination — but either way, these are the same Rupert Murdoch-funded propagandists who’ve been flooding America with right-wing bilge for the last 20 years.
You’d think this would be self-evident, but these subtleties are surprisingly elusive in America’s polarized landscape — the pervasive atmosphere that dictates those on your side are inherently and thoroughly good and those on the others are inherently and thoroughly bad is hard to escape, even if you consider yourself smart and/or educated enough to know better. Clearly, a good/bad dichotomy poses all sorts of problems when you have anything beyond two polarized parties, i.e. pretty much any case that occurs in the actual real world. This, perhaps, is why Americans tend to conflate ISIS with al-Qaeda (they hate one another, for the record), or why George W. Bush could group three wildly different and mutually hostile countries into an “Axis of Evil.”
Bush’s use of the word “evil” in relation to his fictional axis is particularly telling, because it highlights a key difference between left and right: the left has long shied away from ethics, perhaps because for so long the subject has been conflated with religion, which in turn has been conflated with right-wing demagogues ranting about who God does or doesn’t want us to kill at any given moment. But ethics — questions of what is morally right, what is just and fair — is a subject that the left should engage with, because much of what the right advocates is ethically untenable.
This goes for both Donald Trump and Fox News, and it’s the basis on which they should both be condemned. Trump’s policies, such as they are — building a wall along the Mexican border, banning Muslims from entering America, etc. — aren’t just ridiculous; they’re wrong. Turning away refugees is morally reprehensible. Outsourcing cheap exploitative labor and a ridiculous War on Drugs to a southern neighbor, and then closing the border to that country’s citizens, is morally reprehensible. So, too, is the garbage that Fox pumps into American discourse on any given day.
The right rarely makes a stand on principle, but is very good at creating an appearance of doing so; the left is generally terrified of being seen to do any such thing. But the left should stand on principle, and do so more often. In this case, the enemy (FOX News) of every sane humans’ enemy (The Donald) remains, well, our enemy. This is an internal conflict between two parties that remain equally worthy of condemnation, whether or not they happen to like each other. There’s no need for political expediency here; a plague on both Trump and Kelly’s houses.