I Do Not Take the Future of the ‘American Experiment’ for Granted
It has been tested throughout its history and been found wanting from time to time, yet it has survived.
Born in slavery and having committed a genocide on its native population, the constitution upon which it stood held firm. Perhaps its founders were more dedicated than we credit them for seeing the possibility of greatness in governance beyond its rather shabby garments.
There is a Jon Stewart quote of which I am quite fond:
“That is the American experiment. An ethnic group arriving on America's shores, to be reviled and hazed, living in squalor, or if they are lucky Squalor Heights, working hard to give their children or grandchildren the opportunity to shit on the next group landing on our shores.”
Or Ben Franklin when asked by a woman as he left the Continental Congress about what kind of government they had given us:
“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Whatever the reasons, the American truth has held
All men are created equal was an expectation, rather than a fact. The uncomfortable fact at the time was that only white men of property held that position. While women and citizens of color may now share equally in the forming of government, a case can be made that white men of property still hold the reins of power astride the American horse.
But we work on that uniquely American truth and argue over it, some putting their lives on the line for a principle. And like any ongoing family argument, there are positions firmly held on both sides, each with the grain of truth that keeps bitterness alive.
So, is 2020 just another argument or are we in real trouble?
Somehow or another, we have become a nation of enablers and that sad fact holds equally true in our media as well as at the dinner table. As I wrote that, it occurred to me that we don’t really have a dinner table anymore and perhaps that’s part of our dilemma. We grab a bite between over-extended engagements, whether they be actual obligations or simply excuses not to gather. Either way, collective conversation is at risk and we become vulnerable to conspiracy.
Without a shred of evidence, 70% of Republican voters actually think Joe Biden stole the election. They’ve been set up for that contention by a sitting president who governs in and thrives in and promotes conspiracy. His fellow Republicans stand mostly silent, acquiescing by their silence.
It has the rancid taste of real trouble.
Television, the dinner table we once gathered around
In what seems a far away time and place, Walter Cronkite of CBS Nightly News was once the most trusted man in America. His commentary sparked conversation at the office coffee machine, as well as those dinner tables we no longer gather ‘round. In many ways he led the national conversation, both for and against but anchored in a common truth.
Walter’s calm and steady voice at the helm navigated us through some pretty tough times, including the Vietnam War and Kennedy assassination. He was with us when Neil Armstrong set man’s first foot on the moon. His sign off was "And that's the way it is," followed by that day’s date. We knew it to be true because Walter said it, just as we trusted Edward R. Murrow and David Brinkley.
Multi-media today is more multi and less trustworthy media
That really shouldn’t be a problem but, damn it, it is and we are to blame.
The internet (oh sure, blame the internet) is a gift to the world and beyond the dreams of a few short decades ago. It is in many ways everyman’s democracy. But America is not a democracy of everyman. It is, when it’s working correctly, a victory of the many over the few. Well, tell that to Black Americans 150 years after our Civil War, or the thousands of small companies fallen victim to Wal-Mart and Amazon.
The catch-phrase is when it’s working correctly and the wheels have just now come off a long-squeaking train of civil and national rights. Books have been written about this (and I have written some), so we need not trace the tracks of that train.
The fact is, the internet has given every man (and woman) a voice. Not only a voice but, depending upon their computer skills, an audience to attract. Therein lies the rub. We humans are drawn to the news of train wrecks and babies fallen down wells, rather than the deadly-dull progress of governance. We are, depending upon the length and breadth of our critical minds, all conspiracy theorists of a sort.
Which brings me (finally) to my primary point
Like birds oDonald n a wire, our feathers identify us. The internet smorgasbord is a truly widespread feast and never before have so few been able to attract so many. If you care to believe it, there are those who believe in a hollow Earth, filled with giants, Germans, and a little sun. Rush Limbaugh is not among them I’m told, but who actually knows?
More popular are Area 51, QAnon conspiracies and a research facility in Alaska that is actually a mind-control lab. But these untruths have a life in the minds of their adherents and the hollow Earth theory dates back to the 16th century and persists today. So much, I suppose, for blaming the internet.
Even so, the internet is an attractor and expander far beyond the Chicago Tribune’s famously wrong 1948 headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
(Time magazine) Now, the FBI says conspiracy theories “very likely” inspire domestic terrorists to commit criminal and sometimes violent acts and “very likely will emerge, spread and evolve” on internet platforms, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Yahoo News. The May 30 document from the FBI’s Phoenix field office—the first of its kind to examine the threat of conspiracy-driven extremists—also says the 2020 presidential election will likely fuel conspiracy theories, potentially motivating domestic extremists who subscribe to them.
That last line is now fact rather than prediction. We have (until January 20th ) a president who fans the flames of conspiracy to a degree that threatens our form of government. Perhaps more seriously, we have a media that follows his theatrics as if they were actually news instead of interferences with the legal and constitutional progress of republican government (republican with a small r, as it pertains to our form of government rather than a party).
A dangerous tendency in times of existential danger to our democracy
Yep, that’s what forty years of not paying attention to what the government was up to has brought us. America has been so split by the victory of the haves over the have-nots, that the game is all but over.
Joe Biden is tasked with a national 40 year failure in governance, amplified by a national pandemic and a probable economic crash. Among his problems is a citizenry lying wounded and bleeding at his feet and no clear mandate to work the levers still at hand.
Mainstream media has failed us badly
They have treated this outrageously dangerous president as if 20,000 lies and the ripping apart of government agencies and international agreements by Twitter is just a jolly newsmaker and isn’t it all fun. Well, it isn’t fun and in the days of Cronkite and Murrow it wouldn’t have been allowed. There is a place for outrage, a legitimate reason to take down a president and the cowardly and complicit party that allowed him to rage through American traditions, breaking all the china as he went. He draped the mantle of Fake News across their shoulders and they richly deserve that epitaph to a dead responsibility.
Can you kill a responsibility?
I think you can, but this is far more a murder than an accidental death. Murder needs motivation and there was (and is) motivation to burn on the part of both media and Congress. We are now left to the wolves of conspiracy to pick over the bones. Actually, we are not left, we have been left.
Bastards all; Donald Trump with his neurotic behavior, smirking Mitch McConnell with his destruction of the once proud Senate, Nancy Pelosi trying to act like an adult in her dotage, as well as Chuck Schumer and the entire ageing, gutless white men who traded away bipartisan governance for fear of retaliation.
There is not a statesman among them. They are paid pallbearers at the funeral of American politics.