TRUMPadelphia: Political polarization, healthcare deadlines, and more

Good morning, friends. I spent 20 minutes trying to write a “trust the process” joke about the Senate healthcare bill for this newsletter, and I’m not sure I can ever show my face at a Sixers game again.

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— Aubrey Whelan

Today, let’s talk about spin.

What’s at stake

The future of American political discourse, the immutability of observable facts, the tenuous bonds of civility that hold this weird old country together. (We always start this section out on such a sunny note, don’t we?) But the horrendous shooting that wounded Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and three others last week — and the way we talked about it — is a case study in the political polarization that’s been building here for decades.

The backstory

This is Twitter and this is 2017, so within minutes after news of the shooting broke, the framing was pretty much set: The right blamed heightened rhetoric on the left — that Kathy Griffin photo, and the Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar with a Caesar resembling President Trump. The left blamed lax gun laws (and pointed out that Trump is no stranger to heightened rhetoric himself — remember “Second Amendment people?”)

Partisan interpretations of a major breaking news event aren’t exactly new. But within those interpretations, basic facts are increasingly up for debate. And people such as Norristown’s Jack Posobiec are at the center of that debate.

What’s ahead

I wrote this week about Posobiec and the way he helped shape the narrative of the Scalise shooting spun out on the far right. A Twitter personality with more than 100,000 followers, he rose to prominence during the campaign, and his interpretations of the aforementioned basic facts — quotes, even — tend to go pretty far afield, to the point where he’s been called out by both the Daily Caller, not exactly a bastion of liberalism, and the New York Times.

To Posobiec, these are just his takes on the news of the day. To observers of right-wing media, they’re brazen falsehoods fueling intense polarization. And while there’s some debate over whether the Internet caused this, researchers have found that hatred for the other side has skyrocketed over the last five decades —- even as most Americans’ politics remain pretty centrist. Political affiliations, in other words, are becoming central parts of our identities — and the kind of news we consume, the narratives we settle on, reflects that.

“I think a lot of what we’re seeing is just tribalism — doing whatever you can to make your team look better and make the other team look worse. There’s a process called motivated reasoning, where people reject information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs or identities,” Yphtach Lelkes, a political science professor at UPenn, told me last week. “You can’t get on the same page, because you reject the information.”

What they’re saying

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt” — President Trump, tweeting about a Washington Post report that the investigation into Russian meddling in the election was also investigating Trump himself.

“The president is not under investigation by the special counsel.” — Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, on CNN, about the president’s tweet.

“Fewer tweets wouldn’t hurt.” — Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), on the president’s loquacious Twitter account.

In other news …

  • Sen. Toomey, who’s one of a group of Senate Republicans helping write the GOP’s health plan, talked to the Allentown Morning Call about where he thinks the bill’s heading. He said the bill will keep Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which got 700,000 Pennsylvanians health insurance. But he thinks the feds should eventually pay half of what they’re currently paying for the expansion, with the state picking up the rest of the tab, and critics say that means some people will lose their coverage. Meanwhile, the Senate plans to vote on the bill next week, the Guardian reports — and the public still hasn’t seen the thing.
  • Contrary to a campaign promise, President Trump will keep an Obama-era policy that shields DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children — from deportation. My colleagues Jeff Gammage and Jason Nark talked to area DREAMers about the decision — though they noted that no final decision has been made on whether to keep the program in place.
  • Trump’s nominee to replace his fired FBI director is Chris Christie’s Bridgegate attorney — and, after billing New Jersey taxpayers $2.1 million, he’s still working.
  • The League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit to throw out Pennsylvania’s congressional map, saying its districts are so gerrymandered that they’re ” basically unresponsive to the will of the people.” Meanwhile, a gerrymandering case that could upend the practice for the first time in the country’s history is moving to the Supreme Court.

What I’m reading

A non-political palate cleanser

This is my favorite lede in the paper today: “On any weekday evening after school has let out for the summer, you might find an 8-year-old girl in the back room of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, slicing the eyes off a dead fish.”

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