We have a lot to be thankful for this year.
Despite it being the worst year in recorded history for news media scaring everyone to death, ridiculous political shenanigans and economic disaster the scale of which is truly unfathomable, we’re still here, still standing, laughing even.
Donald Trump certainly made a lot of us guffaw and shake our heads, and no doubt will continue to do so now that he has the world’s attention. I’m afraid we’re doomed to be media subjects of Donald the Oneth ‘til his dying day.
Be that as it may, I think Mr. Trump’s reign brought a lot of issues to the surface, issues that need to be addressed.
Mr. Trump certainly taught us something about narcissism. Christpher Lasch called it right how long ago? 1962? (He still has currency.) We’ve learned that the spoiled child with an unchecked ego can, in the media saturated world of today, push his way to the front of every line. It’s the atomic blast of ego that scorches the earth all around leaving nothing but etched shadows.
Good to know. Hard to imagine how to reverse the trend.
Another important contribution Mr. Trump made was to point out the enormous and tragic rift between the educated liberal establishment and the… What shall we call them? Everybody else? Us?
His attacks on truth and those who claim a privileged grasp on it have been outrageous, terribly undermining, but I blame both sides. The professions time and again have shown themselves to be mercenary, serving the highest bidder; scientists and experts of all stripes have become so convinced of their correctness, they have altogether tied up intellectual thought; the liberal arts have dragged truth far into the impenetrable deeps of cultural relativism.
Where “truth” becomes “truths” always only belonging to this party or that party, a gap suddenly opens up though which anyone can slip anything, claiming it to be a truth as good as any other, better even because it is original, entirely made up. No one saw that coming.
It is very complicated how information is legitimated and becomes reliable, but the struggle right now is comic: a medieval farce in which knowledge knights wielding razor sharp science slash blindly in the general direction of stumbling, bumbling, mind-numbing ignorance.
Slightly less difficult to unravel, though no less troubling, was Mr. Trump’s attack on the media. Calling news “fake” was disruptive genius but not entirely without justification; our 4th estate is in disarray, needlessly pummeling poor readers with crisis after crisis, shamelessly in tow to undeclared interests and impossibly weak in terms of research and analysis. Repeating over and over and over again Mr. Trump’s blatant lies and vitriol served only him.
I have little sympathy for journalists however under-educated, underpaid and overworked. And less for their employers who have failed to capitalize on the easy money to be made in the digital economy.
You cannot cry “bully” yet give the bully the stage and expect anything except more of the same and worse. How can we as a culture not know this by now? Bullies and con artists must be disarmed.
It was absolutely within the media’s power to refuse to spread obviously false news, to boycott sham press conferences and instead just give the public honest information from reliable sources. I think we would have understood.
Mr. Trump helped us to see these problems. Millions of Americans identified with that, were refreshed by it and supported it. They were not wrong.
Mr. Trump did not create these problems and they won’t disappear when he leaves. We have homework to do:
- We must valorize humility over hubris, acting smartly to put artifice and ego in their place;
- We must search out and respect truthfulness, challenging truth claims openly but also respectfully and constructively;
- We must re-ground our institutions of higher learning and the professions; science, in particular, must come to terms with uncertainty and frankly admit the limits to what it can know;
- And we must rebuild the media from the ground up, reject sensationalism and demand thorough investigative, self-critical journalism.
So thank you Mr. Trump.
I, for one, had a feeling but never quite knew how bad things had got until you came along. Now we know. We have no excuses.
To all my American friends, a very Happy Thanksgiving.
November 26, 2020