Political Struggle in a Time of Polarization
The New York Times looks at Trump as a toxic force that require new rules for journalism. As someone pointed out, there are now three parties in Washington DC. There’s the Republicans and the Democrats -- and there’s the Trump Party, with all its disgruntled white, rural working class elements reminiscent of the Know Nothing Party of yore. In this sense, Donald Trump did something no one else has been able to do in modern times: He was elected president as a third-party candidate. Now the Trump Party is in the White House with tendrils reaching into the racist, White Nationalist Movement and tendrils reaching into the the great storehouses of capital in America and the world. Analysts of fascism talk about a pincer arrangement that includes working class thuggery as one pincer and elite-class capital as the other, with the middle class caught in the pincers. Congressional Republicans are said to be “eating toad” to conform with the Trump Party line, as the Trump Party conforms with established Republican programs. This isn't a pretty picture. Think a fat-cat party of confirmed liars and bullshitters conforming to the rule of an impulsive authoritarian president sympathetic to white nationalist thuggery.
In this light, did The New York Times in a front-page picture manifest a modest flip of the bird to this right wing pincer regime taking over power in Washington DC? Was the photograph on the front page of the January 4th Times the case of a well-composed image reporting a real-time vote in the House of Representatives. Or was it a more abstract, more provocative image pregnant with semiotic baggage relevant to the moment?
As a photographer who has read a lot on composition, timing and issues of meaning inherent in the content of a photographic image, the more I looked at the image of Rep. Paul Ryan swearing in the 115th Congress on the January 4th front page, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe. The photo by Stephen Crowley accompanied a top-of-the-fold story about a House effort to eliminate under the cover of darkness an ethics oversight body. The action truly smelled and was immediately widely condemned; when Donald Trump learned of it he Tweeted against it, suggesting it was terrible timing. It was quickly taken off the docket and the House chamber was fumigated. The photograph, however, may have a much longer shelf life.