Bearing witness and baring the wounds
Covering elections over my nearly two decades in journalism has become a practice in cool – being an overly opinionated person, my charge to remain objective in the face of what my personal sensibilities might deem unacceptable is often a tall order, so I detach that portion of my brain from the task at hand and churn out words with little attention paid to what they mean to me personally.
When a child is murdered, journalists don’t get to mourn, they report; when a slimy politician is hoisted into office by an electorate blinded by lies and distortions, journalists don’t get to react, they report; when a mayor refuses to do his job, when people go without food or shelter, when people die by the thousands due to a pandemic, when the state is more interested in building new prisons than providing people with healthcare, journalists don’t get to retaliate, they report.
It’s a difficult conundrum for a thinking and feeling person to execute a job that requires intimate connection with people and the issues that affect them and a simultaneous detachment from those people and issues – it’s as if one must constantly jump between human and robot brain in order to do the job properly.
Tuesday’s election, despite little requirement that I pay close attention to its waxing and waning, was no exception and it left me feeling dirty and compromised, as if the very people I’ve spent so much time learning about and reporting on were a contingent wholly unrecognizable to me.
To be sure, this has little to do with the results, which are still rolling in – it’s no secret that I wanted Doug Jones to trounce Tommy Tuberville in the U.S. Senate race, but I had no delusions that Alabama voters would cast aside petty ideologies in support of the more qualified candidate – and much more to do with our population’s willingness to accept outlandish fabrications as truth without even a second spent investigating the issue.
It’s only gotten worse under Trump, who feeds his gluttonous supporters a four-course meal of fictions several times a day, but it’s absolutely not reserved for conservatives only – Democrats and so-called progressives are just as likely to fall under its spell – and it represents a real and existential threat to the future of this nation.
To analyze each of Trump’s fabrications – even those delivered over the last 24 hours – would take up more space and time than I have to give, but each time he questions the validity of election results or asserts without proof that fraud is taking place, he notches away at the public’s ability to trust its institutions and more.
How did we become such an easily dupable people? How did it happen that a people constantly questioning, progressing, changing and advancing have become a nation of lemmings ready to lap up whatever toxic libation our partisan lords pour out? How did facts, supported by scientific documentation and evidence and data, become secondary to the assertions made by demagogues, misanthropes and propagandists?
It’s a long and slippery slope, which makes it all-the-more difficult to climb back from, but we must, as a people, find a way to rediscover our inquisitive nature and untrusting relationship with the powers that be – politicians, corporate leaders, tech giants and the like – if we hope to see real change in this nation.
I’m not talking about the change that elections bring, as there are only two sides to that coin that can be flipped in any given year, leaving the chance at real change and progress via that avenue a fever dream at best, but a cultural change that sees us doggedly pursuing the truth and ruthlessly rejecting all of those who might think us foolish enough to mindlessly consume more lies.
The truth is an endangered species in America and one that the majority of Americans have shown no interest in saving – no politician can do as much damage as we can do ourselves by remaining obedient partisans unwilling to seek out the truth and use its sap as a serum to cure what ails us – and once it has fully departed from our shores, hopefully to seek refuge in some more hospitable locale, there will be no hope for saving the democratic experiment, which alongside equity requires truth, and a public willing to seek it out, to survive and flourish.