Educators might not be teaching civics as well as they used to in middle and high school, but cable TV is doing a good job of it. Viewers are getting a firsthand lesson this week with coverage of Tuesday’s Senate runoff vote in Georgia and the planned challenge Wednesday to the certification of Joe Biden as president. And some mainstream cable channels like MSNBC and CNN have been doing an outstanding job teaching, as well as covering, the news by explaining the Constitution and how government is supposed to work — something too few Americans seem to understand these days.
If you don’t think we have become a country seriously deficient in a basic understanding of civics, consider Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s failure to name the three branches of government correctly in a November interview.
“Our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three branches of government, wasn’t set up that way,” the former college football coach said in November. “You know, the House, the Senate, and the executive.”
Who needs the judiciary anyway? And this from someone who is a member of what is supposed to be the most august legislative body in the nation. The three branches of government is something a child should know by the seventh grade.
The driving force behind the civics lessons on cable TV has been the increasingly desperate attempts by President Donald Trump and his allies to try to overturn the Nov. 3 election, which was won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Court after court has thrown out long shot lawsuits alleging widespread fraud, with judge after judge citing a lack of evidence. Other efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies have sought to change constitutionally-mandated roles and procedures to keep votes in certain battleground states from being counted.
On Friday, a federal judge dismissed an effort by Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert and Republicans from Arizona that sought to radically change the largely ceremonial role of Vice President Mike Pence in certifying the Electoral College vote Wednesday in Congress. Mr. Gohmert wanted Mr. Pence to be granted the authority to effectively overturn votes that had already been certified by certain battleground states and declare Mr. Trump and himself the winners of another four-year term.
The longest of the long shots is expected Wednesday when Congress engages in the process of certifying the Electoral College vote. In one of its many civics lesson over the weekend, CNN’s John Avlon explained how it’s likely to unfold.
“The fatally flawed fight to keep Donald Trump in office … is now focused on Congress and its meetings next Wednesday to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory,” Mr. Avlon said in a segment over the weekend on the challenge.
“President Trump tweeted just moments ago that evidence of massive voter fraud will be presented. He also has a bridge he’d like to sell you,” Mr. Avlon continued. “Nonetheless, 140 House GOP members are expected to object and here’s how it works. The objection is presented in writing by one House member. One senator then joins. That suspends the joint session. The Senate and House then debate separately for two hours over the objection. The House and the Senate then each vote on the objection. Finally, both the House and the Senate would need to agree on the objection for the votes to be thrown out.“
I’ve had quite a bit of education on American politics, and I didn’t know exactly how that process works. Did you? Be honest.
MSNBC had Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar on the “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart” explaining the process in more detail and promising the challenge will ultimately be unsuccessful no matter how many legislators representing how many states object.
All good journalism involves some education of its audiences. But it should not be the job of commercial news organizations to do what schools aren’t doing anymore. You do not have a functioning democracy if you have voters, let alone senators, who do not even understand the three branches of government. But there he is, Mr. Tuberville, one of the senators pumping more toxic distrust of government and our elections into the body politic and American life with their promised challenge to Mr. Biden’s electoral victory.
Cable TV is giving us the chance amid all the chaos and discord generated by Mr. Trump and his allies to become better educated about how our government works ― or doesn’t. But I am guessing most of us will miss that lesson entirely and only wind up more angry and polarized by week’s end.
David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @davidzurawik.