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No, there is not a meta-story of Biden’s first year

Not everything is clearly on the right or wrong track.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

I know that I’m an old scribbler, past my prime. I began my now-48-years as a professional journalist in 1973, when the main thing was to get your facts right, then to present them in descending order of importance, and to talk to both sides of a matter in dispute (which, in terms of political stories, often meant someone from both major political parties).

If you did that right, you could turn in your copy and walk away, trusting the readers to decide for themselves who or what to believe about the items in dispute. At least that’s what we (sort of) practiced and preached.

Those days are over. Nowadays, I fear, we start off assuming that one side (the one we favor) is telling at least a reasonable approximation of the truth and the other side is pretty much lying.

I don’t mean to over-romanticize the glorious past. But it seems that now we, more than previously, are locked in partisan bubbles where all the truth is on one side and all the lies on the other side (which is composed almost exclusively of lies).

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I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that way about the recent ex-president. But I have a nostalgic appreciation for a time when we thought neither side was full of crooks, liars and the idiots who believed the lies.

Brian Stelter, host of the weekly CNN show “On the Media” opened a segment of his latest show by asking: “What is the meta-story of President Biden’s first year? The meta-story. Meaning, the all-encompassing narrative of Biden’s presidency. What’s the takeaway? What’s the story about all the stories? What’s the main impression you get from all the daily headlines and hate tweets? Is it America rebounding or is it America on the wrong track?”

Stelter, whose show I generally appreciate, certainly has a right to ask that question, though I hate the question.

There is no meta-story. Not everything is clearly on the right or the wrong track. And even if we could say that America is “rebounding” or “on the wrong track” it wouldn’t be all about Biden.

Still, I understand why Stelter frames it that way. We are, perhaps, a nation divided along party lines between those who think Biden is on the right side of almost everything and those who believe the opposite (although even that would be an oversimplification).

I’m so old (I was born during the Truman administration and grew up under Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ) that I sort of recall a time when more Americans were willing to set aside partisanship after the election — at least for a while — and root for the guy who had the big job.

Nowadays, the story of the meta-story is more about whether you watch Fox or MSNBC or CNN. It often seems like a dialogue of the deaf.

There is no non-partisan “meta-story” on which Fox-watchers and MSNBC-watchers can agree. They don’t share a common set of facts on which to base such a conclusion. Perhaps both audiences have not only chosen to get their news from a biased source but to ignore any contrary indicators.

Again, I don’t mean to over-romanticize the 1950s. And even if I did, there’s no going back. Nor do I think Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for the hyper-partisanship, although I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around.

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But I do remember, pretty clearly, that during the first year in office, there was a traditional “honeymoon” period when the two parties cooled their jets for a few months. Or maybe that’s a myth that I believed back then because I was just a kid who, even though my parents were FDR-worshipping liberals, still liked Ike and wished him well in a vague understanding that his success and America’s success could not be separated, at least until the next election.