Pundits are the weatherpersons of our times.
We need them to be so much more...
Just over 10 years ago, then-Unilever CEO Paul Polman observed that “Climate change is sometimes misunderstood as being about changes in the weather. In reality, it is about changes in our very way of life.”1 Or put more conventionally, “The difference between climate and weather is the length of time that is looked at. When we talk about climate, we look at periods of years, decades and centuries, and the weather that occurred over this time. When we are looking at the weather, we are looking at a period of days or weeks.”2
This clear distinction between weather and climate provides us a very helpful metaphor to consider the efficacy of our pundrity class3 and their role in the defence of democracy. I am on the record as a centrist, humanist globalist. I last voted for a liberal, but before him conservatives too. I have even voted socialist. I watch CNN, BBC, MSNBC and the CBC. I read the NYT, Washington Post, Globe and Mail and the Guardian. I attentively post on, and follow posts on Twitter and LinkedIn. And I follow with respect scores of pundits, from Robert Reich and Anand Giridharadas on the left to George F. Will on the right. I am most comfortable with the Fareed Zakaria’s and Heather Cox Richardson’s who I consider pretty much dead centre. I confess that the podcasts I listen to most are any produced by the Bulwark team.
While it is generally unhelpful to make a generalization of such a large cohort, I will offer one now: with the daily ebb and flow of news and news analysis, the pro-democracy punditry are together nothing more than performative weatherpersons, rating each day as good or bad, rainy or sunny, cold or hot, trending up or down. Each on the hamster-wheel that is the 7/24 breaking news cycle, competing for eyeballs, clicks, likes, comments and of course money.
It has taken decades for humanity to start to take climate change seriously, seeing it as a challenge of gordion complexity that simply must be addressed. To look out our window may or may not confirm the reality of climate change, but most of us now accept the scale and scope of climate change - and the existential threat it represents -even if we don’t see it in the moment.
Somehow, the thought-leaders we follow need to stop reporting on and analyzing the viscera of the daily news only. “Roe v. Wade defeated” is cause for despondency - with deep introspection. “Gas drops below $4.00” evokes euphoria - with deep introspection. One day up, the next day down - a roller-coaster of emotion taking us faster and faster, with greater and greater urgency. Conflating the ride too often as action. But as with the roller-coaster we keep finding ourselves at the same place.
Our pundits need to consider the noise pollution that they are collectively creating. I argue that in a time of peril on so many fronts, we need them to take some agency in actually addressing the challenge for which they want you to buy their book, or subscribe to their newsletter. Please understand that I totally get the need to make a living. Of course people need to earn a decent living. But surely there is balance between exhorting us to do something, a different thing, every day, and taking 5 or 10% of their time and resource to say “I will own this solution. Who will join me?”
Our leaders and the institutions they lead are proving themselves to be insufficient in addressing the many existential problems we face, from war, education, social justice - take your pick. Not that they are failing per se, but we can’t count on them to deliver what needs to be delivered in the next 10-20 years. Logic suggests that that help needs to come from new sources. I believe that a new, historic connection, empowerment and mobilization of globalist centrists needs to occur. And I believe that the pundit class must assume a position of some leadership in catalyzing such a movement. To help forge a new world order, rather than simply report on it.
To paraphrase Polman, to redefine and reassert democracy, to reimagine what succeeds capitalism, to end war, injustice and inequity means that we must “change our very way of life”. Our pundits are positioned to help us do that - but by leading from the front, not from the rear. They will argue that their ‘objective independence’ needs to be maintained. I will argue that if democracy does in fact succumb as so many suggest it will, then that objective independence is moot.