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Sunday Op-Eds in Two Major Virginia Papers Attack Opponent of Dominion Energy, Engage in Classic “Concern Trolling,” Leap to Defense of Slimy “Virginia Way”

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Most editorial pages in this state are a mixed bag at best, abysmal at worst (see here for more on *that* topic). And today – with Democrats last week finally taking power in the General Assembly after years in the political wilderness – is certainly no exception to that general rule. Two op-eds in particular jumped out at me as exhibiting several characteristics that reflect Virginia editorial pages at their worst:

  • Deep cynicism towards anything progressive, environmental, or really any change at all to the (cue Gollum voice) preccccioussss “Virginia Way”
  • Relentless “false equivalence” and “both sides-ism,” almost always to the detriment of Democrats
  • Concern trolling” against progressives and/or Democrats, in which someone who is actually an opponent of progressive change fakes “concern” over the direction Democrats are heading. Not coincidentally, these “concern trolls” are almost always “concerned” that Democrats, progressives, and/or environmentalists will Go Too Far™. Or ironically, that Democrats, progressives and/or environmentalists Are In Disarray and Are Getting Massively Outplayed by Republicans™! Needless to say, “concern trolling” is tiresome and almost always total bull****, but unfortunately it also can be effective to those who are not on guard as to what’s actually going on.

The two op-eds that exhibit some or all of these characteristics in today’s papers are: 1) Gordon C. Morse: Virginia’s shifting political landscape makes progress tricky in the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot; and 2) Schapiro: Democrats learning it’s easier to grouse than govern in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Morse’s column today is typical of his oeuvre, which is basically opposed to anything progressive, environmental or that might challenge the cozy/corrupt “Virginia Way.” In fact, Morse’s bio is actually an excellent example of the “Virginia Way” in action: “wrote speeches for Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, then spent nearly three decades working on behalf of corporate and philanthropic organizations, including PepsiCo, CSX, Tribune Co. and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Dominion Energy,” and now writes columns for the Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press. So…yep, pro-corporate all the way, including the almost-obligatory stint at Dominion Energy, plus strong elements the “revolving door” between various worlds – government, corporate, “philanthropic,” etc. And his op-ed today certainly reflects that worldview.

  • According to the title, “Virginia’s shifting political landscape makes progress tricky.” Now, of course, a “shifting political landscape” could make *anything* tricky, but Morse’s “concern-trollish” focus is, of course, on how difficult it’s going to be for *Democrats*, and particularly how difficult it’s going to be for Democrats to move the state in a *progressive* direction. That’s kind of the dead giveaway right there as to the author’s point of view, but let’s continue with the op-ed and see how it plays out.
  • Morse’s second sentence emphasizes how “Virginia’s political culture” is “deliberate, resistant to change, fundamentally conservative,” and how “the traditional culture, for better or worse, is still stronger than many political ‘observers’ think.”
  • Morse then proceeds to really get into it, with this instant-classic example of “concern trolling”: “You cannot look at the State Capitol right now, with its frenetic levels of activity, manic ‘history’ thumping and constant assertions of certitude, without conjecturing how long it will take before the wheels on the new Democratic Party jalopy — its shiny new, happy-to-be-here legislative majority — go flying off in all directions.” That’s right, this long-time denizen of the “Virginia Way,” including a stint with Dominion Energy (natch), is VERY “concerned” that the Democrats are going Go Too Far™ and are In Disarray™ blah blah. Because, again, he’s really, truly “concerned” about this, as opposed to actually *wanting* Democrats, progressives, environmentalists and anti-Dominion-Energy forces to fail.
  • Morse proceeds to mock the entire concept that Democrats might have won a “mandate” with their huge victories in 2017 and 2019, not to mention the fact that Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in Virginia in over a decade now. But nope, according to Morse, none of that means that Democrats have a mandate to do what voters…elected them to do.  Fascinating how that works, huh?
  • We then get more mocking by Morse, this time about how Democrats have supposedly been “visibly struggling,” and supposedly have ” histrionically embraced the history-making glory of themselves.” The hell? You mean celebrating victory and taking charge, including historic firsts in numerous ways (e.g., the first female Speaker, the first female and first African-American Virginia Majority Leader) is actually “histrionic”  and “embrac[ing] the history-making glory of themselves.” I guess Democrats should have, instead, just plodded in to the General Assembly last week, possibly to the strains of Dies Irae or a solemn funeral march or something. Because, in the view of this “Virginia Way” representative, Democrats and progressives celebrating (or winning in the first place) is nothing but bad, bad, bad!
  • That’s followed by some cheap shots at Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax), who *totally* coincidentally is one of Dominion Energy’s fiercest opponents in the Virginia General Assembly. According to Morse, who gives us a quote by Keam without any context regarding what Keam was referring to, about how – gasp!!! – Democrat are “tired of business as usual” and are “going to revisit the way we’ve done things in the past and find a different way of doing things as a government.” So basically, right there, Keam committed the ultimate sins when it comes to the “Virginia Way”: a) implying that “business as usual” – emphasis on the word “business!” – should change, needs to change, or even should be considered for possible change; and b) that in any way/shape/form we should “revisit the way we’ve done things in the past,” because…you know, the “Virginia Way” has been and forever will be perfect in every way! Haha.
  • Oh, and just to drive the point home, Morse twists Keam’s words AND attacks his words for supposed “orotundity” and his “sentiment” for supposedly being “delusional.” Because…you know, changing the way Dominion Energy does business, in a world in which the utility business model is undergoing massive shifts due to economics, technology, etc. is…of course, “delusional!” In fact, in a world in which the climate crisis is the #1 threat facing humanity, and in which clean energy is starting to eat fossil fuels’ lunch/dinner/breakfast in terms of price, AND in which utilities can’t continue their old, outmoded, 20th-century model much longer, what’s actually “delusional” is to NOT change the way Dominion and others do business. But other than that, sure…attack Mark Keam, who *totally* coincidentally introduced legislation that Promotes the establishment of distributed renewable solar and other renewable energy, that pushes Community solar development pilot program; low-income communities, that establishes a Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, that promotes energy efficiency, that pushes for a Green New Deal in Virginia, etc.
  • Again, it’s just purely coincidental that the attack on Keam in today’s Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press is connected to any of those bills, or to Keam’s attitude about Dominion energy’s business model, or anything. Yep, total coincidence…don’t you believe that? Heh.
  • Finally, the op-ed concludes with more “concern trolling” about how “those seeking rapid change that their task may not be as easy as they think.” Just in case you didn’t get that point the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Or…

So that’s more than enough about Morse’s column. Just briefly, we also had the pleasure today of also getting RTD columnist Jeff Schapiro’s usual cynical, rambling take on Virginia politics – in this case, with the classic “concern trollish” headline, “Democrats learning it’s easier to grouse than govern.” Schapiro then proceeds to the usual nonsense about:

  • Democrats’ supposedly “left-leaning agenda.” In fact, if you look at the polling, Democrats’ policy positions have majority – in many cases, overwhelming majority – support on issue after issue, making them “center” by definition, not “left-leaning,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. Also, when was the last time Schapiro headlined one of his op-eds with a reference to the Republians’ far-right agenda? Hmmmm…
  • Democrats supposedly needing to “avoid the overreach that turns voters off to one-party government.” Because apparently voters didn’t send a clear message that they want positive change in a wide variety of areas. And because, apparently, we don’t *need* positive change in a wide variety of areas.
  • How, in the “early days…Republicans in the House and Senate badly splintered, which ultimately was good for Virginia, hastening bipartisan consensus.” Translation: Schapiro’s rooting for Democrats to splinter badly, because…it’s more fun to write about? it’s all a big game? he likes the “Virginia Way” just fine? he isn’t a big fan of environmental protection or progress in general?

So there you have it: two Sunday op-eds in major Virginia newspapers, both of which are classic examples of everything Jeff Thomas described in his excellent books on the “Virginia Way.” Books which, presumably, Gordon C. Morse and Jeff Schapiro don’t have on their reading lists…

P.S. It was pointed out to me by a close observer of Virginia politics that “Morse wrote the following Lost Cause lunacy in August 2019: ‘In Virginia, for instance, no one imposed racial segregation from on-high. Rather, it rose from the bottom-up. Democracies often act in unfortunate ways.’” And also, “One quintessentially Virginia Way thing I would mention is that just in case anybody mistook Morse’s plagiarizing speechmaking for Baliles as a meritocratic sinecure is that Gordon is the nephew of State Senator I. Paul Wailes, who represented Amherst County and Lynchburg in the old 4th district.”