Soundtrack “An American Tune” by Paul Simon.
Does copper rust? I sure hope not, because the statue of liberty is crying. Democracy has taken a wrong turn, and all of the soldiers who fought and died for such ethereal things as justice, equality and freedom have been betrayed. Our democratic foundation was built on the belief that all men (and woman) are created equal, but the outcome of our recent election has revealed cracks in these tenets that we once held as self evident. We have been mislead into an “us against them” world, creating a myopic America where those with different cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and racial heritage are no longer welcomed or tolerated. In fact, they’ve been singled out and blamed for our financial, social and national woes.
Our president elect has exploited these divisive beliefs in order to single himself out as the only person with the power and knowledge to solve our problems. He’s gained power by preying on our weakest of emotions—–fear! This is a primal emotion that causes us to dehumanize those that are different from us (please see Hitler and the Jews as an historical reference). This is the antithesis of what Hilary Clinton had proclaimed “We are stronger together.” Hate is the stepchild of fear and hate separates us and makes us politically weaker. Striking a single match of hate can ignite a firestorm capable of burning down the noblest of palaces.
I guess I thought we were better than this. Better than the hate spewed by an authoritarian fascist. It seems as though our blessed pledge of allegiance and our beloved “God Bless America” our merely flimsy words we’ve chanted until they’ve lost their meaning. And now, I sadly see the difference between pledges and actions, ideology and reality, democracy and rhetoric, integrity and malevolent tweets. Our covers have been pulled back to reveal something ugly and hate driven—–hypocrisy and bigotry.
Those that our weak and fearful give up their power to authoritarian leaders who will make decisions without their consent. After all, it’s easier to have someone give simplistic black and white answers in a kaleidoscope colored world. Those that want simple answers to complex social issues are willing to suspend their belief in decency, empathy and fairness in exchange for a catchy soundbites like “Make America Great Again”. Such slogans feel good to shout and fit neatly on bumper stickers. They’re emotionally potent but anemic in details and substance. What has always made America great has been its ability to create opportunity for all of its citizens, not just the ones who fit into a narrow minded definition of “American”. The American melting pot has morphed into a sifter, allowing only those of a certain pedigree to call themselves “American——enough”.
Donald’s “Trump card” has always been to delegitimize his opponents. Eight years ago he attempted to delegitimize President Obama by claiming that he was not born in America and therefor not eligible to be president. He tried to delegitimized Carly Fiorina by exclaiming “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for a face like that?” He tried to delegitimize Megyn Kelly by insinuating that she was asking tough questions because she was menstruating. He tried to delegitimize a reporter by mocking his disability. He tried to delegitimize Mexican immigrants by lumping them into a single group and claiming “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapist”. He followed this up by stating “They’re some bad hombres”. He delegitimized females by objectifying them and claiming that because he’s rich and famous he can kiss whoever he wants and grab any woman by their privates. He tried to delegitimize a judge who was presiding over his case by claiming that because he was of Mexican decent that he would not be impartial in doing his professional duties. He attempted to delegitimized Hillary Clinton by repeatedly addressing her as “Crooked Clinton”.
I’m still trying to comprehend why folks would vote for someone as caustic as Trump. I’ve come to believe that his inflated charisma is due to what I call the “Kardashian Effect”. We live in a culture that’s hypnotized by celebrity worship. Individuals become celebrities simply from their incessant media exposure. Their sole talent is in extending their fifteen minutes of fame by being a provocateur. If you’re trending, you’re winning. If it smells it sells. And, if it spins, repeat it again. Being civil and polite is so pedestrian, while being inflammatory and irreverent is sexy——and more importantly, it entertains and it sells.
And with fame there comes many benefits. Fame allows one to manufacture counterfeit truth. It then offers a megaphone so that this truth can be broadcasted far and wide. Fame provides celebrities with a teflon conscience and an alzheimer’s memory. And finally, it comes with a get out of jail free card, “I’m rich and famous, so the rules and laws don’t apply to me……”
Trump once claimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” I can only imagine Trumps twitter feed after such an incident “Today I shot and killed an individual on 5th Avenue. I believe he may have been an illegal Mexican immigrant rapist who practices the Muslim faith and was most likely an operative for ISIS.” His millions of twitter followers would read the tweet, nod their head and respond with “Good job”. As the saying goes, the only bad press is no press and the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. The media is the message. It no longer matters what someone says or does, what matters is if they’re accruing media time by creating drama. The individuals who dominate the media landscape and exploit their notoriety, are the people who are mapping the future of our culture.
We’ve become victims of the Stockholm syndrome. We’re willing hostages to a 24/7 media obsession. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the media is are our caretaker, our savior, our guardian of truth. If something is said long enough and loud enough it becomes reality. Perception isn’t reality, perception is propaganda. Truth and reality is no longer the message, entertainment and ratings are the message. We surf the internet or change channels until we find our preferred brand of reality. Where do you acquire your version of truth? Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Rush, Bill Maur?
The pundits and the professionals newscasters have become puppets to whatever or who ever gets the highest viewer ratings or the most clicks on social media. Being outrageous and offensive allows those who are skilled manipulators a platform to garner attention and followers. It makes them appear to be “The next big thing” If it bleeds it leads. If it smells it sells. If it spins, repeat it again. News and politics are no longer about facts or checks and balances, its about entertainment. Trump is a showman, an entertainer, a master manipulator. He knows all the magic tricks, the art of distraction, deception and misdirection. When life becomes complicated, we may choose to suspend reality—-to believe in magical thinking. It’s naive to believe that someone can snap their fingers and make a white dove appear——and it’s equally foolish to think that someone can wave a magic wand and make eleven million immigrants disappear or sprinkle magic dust on the ground and suddenly have a 2,000 mile wall appear—-paid for by the Mexican government. Some tricks are illusions, while others are outright lies…..I suppose “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. Abraham Lincoln
As our democracy slips into a downward spiral we must be vigilant. Our leaders will be looking for scapegoats to blame for our countries financial, social and national woes. First they’ll marginalize those that they want to exclude. They’ll say things like “They’re American, but not as American as us”. The second step will be to delegitimize those that they want to sequester. They’ll say things like “They’re not Americans and they’re not like us”. The third step will be to dehumanize those that they want to eliminate. They’ll say things like “They’re not American, they’re not like us——they’re subhuman”. This is a predictable pattern that has been employed throughout history by fascist authoritarian leaders who are seeking to gain and sustain their power.
I’ll leave you with some suggestions to consider as we enter into this new area of designer realities and malleable truths……
- Don’t allow yourself to be hypnotized by celebrity. Fame does not equal integrity.
- Advocate for your own education. Just because someone or something is on the internet or TV does not make what’s being represented accurate or true.
- Be extremely suspicious of someone who is offering simple answers to complex issues. Slogans, soundbites and bumper stickers are tools to encourage magical thinking.
- Do not fall into the trap of generalizing, stereotyping or profiling one group of people as being the sole reason that a problem exists. These prejudices need to be run through your bullshit detector.
- Never bargain away your freedom, liberty or justice as an end to justify the means.
- Don’t be manipulated by fear. The only remedy for fear is courage. Question authority, demand facts, stay on point, demand verifiable results not anecdotal statements. Repeat your question until you’re satisfied with the answer.
- If someone minimizes, delegitimizes or dehumanizes a person or group of people, tell them that this is America, a land where all men and women are created equal. Reiterate that our Declaration of independence guarantees all citizens life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remind them that thousands of men and women have fought and died to preserve these inalienable rights and that they’re not negotiable and will never be compromised.
- Don’t be fooled by a herd mentality. Just because a lot of people are saying something or doing something does not make it right or ethical.
- Don’t become emotionally attached to your beliefs. Do your research, pay attention to details and facts. Look at issues with an open mind and test your outcomes by playing the devils advocate.
- Get out of your bubble. Don’t rely on a specific news network, a celebrity or a group of like minded friends to be your only reference point when assessing ideas and information.
It’s impossible to legislate morality, but I pray for the day when we evolve to the point where compassion, empathy and acceptance are valued more than power, greed and intolerance.