I was raised under autocratic rule. Which gives me some insight into the perilous political moment we in the West now find ourselves in.
During this modern era of abundant if annoying acronyms, I blame TMI—too much information, bombarding us at every turn—for our current troubles. Making truth difficult to discern.
Let me back pedal for a moment. Growing up in a deeply observant, even radically religious household there was one truth, even if it wasn’t my truth. I was told to disbelieve my lying eyes, ignore all evidence that refuted claims made by higher authority, and stay in step with the regimented corps. Information was delivered top-down and I, a mere child residing at the bottom, received it in palatable trickles; an inundation would certainly flood my senses, and likely drown my faith in the system. So I was spoon-fed a specific set of beliefs. Oftentimes I could barely swallow so much absurdity, but it was my main meal and only nourishment. When I finally rebelled I was left hungry, silently shunned, and eventually discarded.
This is how religious cults work—and dictatorships, too. Both keep would-be sinners and strayers in check by instilling fear of reprisal, familial policing, even ex-communication. “My way or the highway,” or so the saying goes. Truth is easily toppled. Few waver from the party line. Those who do must seek their own, separate versions of reality.
Interestingly, the dogma that shaped me also forged my rebellion from it. The cult of Christian Science—a doctrine of 19th-century origin that teaches every malady, from cancer to broken bones, is cured through prayer alone, even as medical intervention is deemed the devil’s work—strokes its followers with praise. We are the deeper thinkers, the faithful are told. We read between the Bible’s lines. Being of special intellect, it is we, then, who truly inherit Heaven.
The seed for my breaking free of authoritative rule, therefore, was planted, however inadvertently, from the beginning and by design, like an accidental, inherent flaw in the Death Star's structural DNA. My mother raised me to be a thinker, after all, one who remained independent of mainstream ideas. Later, when I grew up to think independently and differently than she did, how could she possibly be surprised?
This is where I begin to mix my metaphors, and maybe even muddy them. Because I see parallels between the rebelling U.S. electorate and my younger, less fully formed self, the one who first broke free from what I considered religious tyranny. Only in this scenario, mainstream media serves as autocratic ruler with top-down communication. And Trump voters are the repressed and persecuted—in their own minds, anyway—yearning for liberty and a sense of the “truth.”
You resist this positioning, I know you do. But hear me out.
On my new, anonymous Twitter feed, which I launched in January 2017 with the sole aim of trolling the new Trump administration while speaking truth to power, I keep encountering and engaging with an unsettling specimen: the Trump Voter as True Defender of America.
This vaunted self-perception is, of course, exactly how we liberals and members of The Resistance view ourselves: dealers in facts who are out to right the wrongs created by the spread of so much state-sanctioned propaganda. The difference, of course, is that rebelling Trump voters have come to view CNN, The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, and other mainstream media—#MSM, to employ the parlance of Trump’s Trojan Twittersphere—as stiff-collared deacons of the church of misinformation, proselytizing at the bully pulpit of the powerful press. And they do have their reasons for thinking it.
Trump voters are not stupid—well, not all of them, anyway. Over the years they, along with all Americans, duly noted how CNN, once a widely respected news resource, has been hijacked by entertaining travel shows and silly editorializing, with blokes like Anthony Bourdain peddling his cloying rogue wanderer in a sexy global adventure series, and Anderson Cooper testing his comedic skills with disastrous stunts including “The RidicuList,” not to mention his frequent un-newsy stints with funny women Kathy Griffin and Kelly Ripa. It seems Anderson & Co. wants it both ways: to be esteemed and to be applauded. How can they expect both?
Equally incredulous, we’ve all simultaneously watched truncated network evening newscasts, competing for disappearing ad dollars, aim their soft focus on baby pandas at the zoo and sweet kids overcoming afflictions rather than delivering the hard-hitting ideas of the day. Just as we’ve witnessed serious journalists such as Wolf Blitzer and Martha Radditz, to name just two of many such transgressing journos, crossing the line between fact and fantasy when they appear as themselves in various films and television shows. (Blitzer, who’s done cameos in everything from House of Cards to Skyfall, is actually listed as “an actor” on his official imdb profile. Radditz, who co-helmed the second presidential debate last October, still self-identifies as a writer, yet she just appeared on the latest episode of the CIA-themed series Homeland interviewing the pretend president-elect, played by actress Elizabeth Marvel. It must be mentioned that Radditz delivers her dramatic lines with scene-stealing aplomb.)
Seriously: is it really the Trump voter’s fault that #MSM has lost its credibility?
How can seasoned reporters, who’ve certainly done their time chasing down important stories all around the world and should be lauded for it, continue to demand unquestioned respectability as purveyors of truth when they simultaneously pursue faux Hollywood glitz and glamour whilst being discovered as the next hilarious talk show host, a la Jon Stewart? (I’m speaking to you, Brian Williams.) And what of the annual Correspondents’ Dinner, which in recent years has become just another red carpet event? Are these journalists or are they cat-walkers on parade, one can’t help but wonder? Blurred lines may be good for business, but when CNN’s producers are fixated on ratings more than investigating, uncovering, and sharing vital information, however boring it may be, it goes without saying the electorate, and democracy itself, both decidedly lose out.
Make no mistake: the #MSM has not had its mantle stolen from it by a cadre of right-wing radio talk show hosts and alarmist conservative websites—rather, it has gladly given it away to them. Like a priest who once mesmerized a rapt congregation with dark promises of hell and brimstone, but who was later found to be raping the alter boys, moral authority has been resolutely lost.
And what happened to the suffering print sisters in the process, the black-and-white, beleaguered nuns reporting out of habit? Guilt through association, that’s what. They might not be the abusive priests in this particular simile but they were passing around the same tithing plate to parishioners, just with less success. Patently unfair to lump them in with cable TV news, OK, but when Trump voters torched the church they took no prisoners. Everyone got burned.
Now we have “alternative facts” and "fake news." And we shouldn’t act surprised.
The proliferation of "so-called" news sites beyond #MSM is the end result. Just like my younger, searching self who sensed there was more to the story and questioned the absolute narrative being handed to me—even recognizing how much of it was total horse shit—the Trump voter looked for different analyses of the big picture. And plenty of unknown, wannabe pundits driven to build their own brands across expanding media channels were only too happy to provide it, carving out ever-more-extreme niches to distinguish themselves, filling the void and answering the demand for news that resonated as “real.” There are, after all, only so many baby pandas, so many guffawing news anchors one can stomach. People—all people, even pill-popping rednecks—want the truth.
These same Trump-supporting Americans are now sifting through a heady mix of TMI, and are experiencing the fledgling stages of freedom. I’ve been interacting digitally with them a lot lately, and I’m drawing a universal composite sketch. Many don’t know what, exactly, they believe, only that they’ve been driven to seriously question authority—and that it would take a lot to get them to return to the former status quo. I remember that exhilarating, vulnerable, drunken feeling, comparable to the Amish rumspringa: will I return to the safety of the restrictive nest? Will I simply cherry-pick and choose what I accept, what I reject? Will I go in a new direction entirely? Or will I just happily get shit-faced from so much amazing new stimuli?
Conversely, this time around it’s alternative media telling them how smart they are, how special. “You’re such thinkers!” they are congratulated by Breitbart, Drudge, Alex Jones, and the rest. “You know how to read between the lines.” Which is why they dress in American flag t-shirts and post odes to the new revolution, this one certainly to be bigger than 1776, so convinced are they that this “change” movement will bring us all back from the brink, even as they flirt with autocracy, whose familiar characteristics I can’t help but recognize with a shudder. They’re the saviors of this country, they’ll ardently tell you in 140 characters or less. And, for them, it’s the corporate-controlled press they need to fear. A lie our new president has happily promoted.
The autocratic, almost arrogant assumption of #MSM helped bring us here. It shoveled a whole lot of manure, and expected the electorate to swallow such droppings without complaint, before very recently beginning to clean up its act out of panic and perhaps a sense of patriotic duty. Only now is it beginning to assess its role in this terrible, stinking mess. It isn't lost on me that for some news networks covering the traumatic election and its ever more troubling aftermath, the ratings have never been higher.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am actively looking for it—the truth, whatever it might be, and the solution for merging so many competing echo chambers into what might be deemed consensus. If you have such information, please do share it far and wide, adding to the cacophony of so many overlapping voices; in this case I definitely wouldn’t classify it as “too much.”