After more than 40 years in the news business I awoke this morning to find that Donald Trump is still our President-elect, and I remain in disbelief. Stunned, actually.
I told my wife that as a white male I feel I owe her and all American women an apology for putting a mysogynist in the nation’s highest office. Even though I didn’t vote for the guy. He publicly objectifies women – refers to them as nothing more than sex objects – and he’s about to become our president? And half the country voted for this man? How are we not supposed to be stunned and in denial? Who will apologize to the rest of the world for this one?
After all those years occupying the priviledged position of being an eyewitness to history, perhaps I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Anything can happen and it sometimes does, if you aren’t careful. And still, this is pretty damn surprising. Are we not living in 2016? Did we fall backwards through the looking glass, down a rabbit hole and into another era?
My mind keeps going back to 1981 and Ronald Reagan, great and all-knowing sage of the Republican Party and his devastation of the American union movment, as he threw unionism to the wind with a proclamation that members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization had two choices, and one of them was not going to the National Labor Relations Board to iron out their strike against the federal government. No, their only two choices, by Regan’s royal proclamation, were to return to work on Monday morning or to be fired.
It was a whole new way of handling union-management disputes, a new gameplan that American business would adopt wholeheartedly and use repeatedly to devastate unions and American workers, along with its bastard brother and sister of offshoring jobs and “merger madness,” both of which burned into middle America like a white-hot wildfire fanned by the winds of Reagan-era deregulation. I remember feeling at the time that it was wrong. That is was unjust. That it shouldn’t be happening in America. But there it was.
In the years that followed I watched what has come to be called the the “corporatization” of America while so many our politicians stood silently by, bought off by lobbyists for big business or adhering to the philosphy of the “free traders,” and thinking it couldn’t be happening here.
All the while, most of us in the mainstream media knew what was going on and where it was likely to take us. Some of us in the west spoke privately about how NAFTA would turn the United States into another Mexico, a two-class society with a few very wealthy individuals and families at the top and everybody else on the bottom. We let it slide. Not because we wanted to, but because we were supposed to keep our opinions out of our journalism. To attack what was happening would at best involve injecting opinion into our reporting and at worst, crossing the line into conspiracy theory. No, it was much safer to keep our heads down while sticking to the “Five W’s.” It was all we were required to do. All we were supposed to do, until an army of consultants arrived promoting a decline in broadcast journalism and the birth of “Infotainment,” as tv news got on the corporate bus driving hard and fast to satisfy Wall Street’s credo that whatever drives “shareholder profits” is the greatest good, journalism be damned, turning a sometime dog and pony show into a full-time circus, the ringmaster blind to the big buyout in Washington, D.C., as multi-nationals, wallowing in their new-found deregulation, bought off the federal government, giving us “the best governmet money could buy, culminating with the horrible “Citzens United” decision by the Supreme Court of the United States thoroughly removing any impression that the high court is anything but a political tool.
Big media was an unknowing and unnamed co-conspirator with big business as American democracy was co-opted and finally neutered. Don’t take it personally, it’s only business.
What is good for the corporate bottom line and those wealthy few who hold big chunks of stock is what’s best for the country. Middle America, be damned. We saw it happening but didn’t feature it as we should have on the tv side. The newspapers did, but by then the dumbing down, America’s celebration of ignorance and abhorrence with intellectual elites, had kicked in to the point that most Americans had stopped reading. With tv news homing in on crime and entertainment, nearly anything hot, sexy, carnal and meaningless that would drive the ratings, there was nobody left to connect the dots for millions of Americans who are expert on who won the World Series in 1957 and how, but can’t name the three branches of government and have no idea who represents them in the Senate or the House. It was an information gap that only grew worse as the nation slid further and further into corporate control with media consolodation, political bribery and nothing more than the illusion of a free people being honestly represented by their elected public officials.
In concert with all of this came the introduction of what would eventually be the presidency of Donald J. Trump, a creation of the far-right Republican Party and possibly the most outrageous candidate for president in the nation’s history.
The underpinnings of the “Trumpist” movement go back to the technique of employing outrageous acts of telling big lies and getting away with it while projecting your worst characteristics onto your opponent, creating so much smoke that vast swaths of the American electorate were left blinded and clueless, with no one to provide adequate guidance other than the newspapers that were going unread as one after another they went out of business with advertisers leaving traditional print media for the new outlets of cable, satellite and the Internet.
With the traditional serious news “filter” once used by tv outlets mostly blown away by corporatization and infotainment, millions of Americans were lambs to the slaughter as the Republican far-right made political lies, deception and outrageousness acceptable on a massive scale, turning genuine war heroes like McCaine and Kerry into goats with lies about their private lives and government service, paving the way for the unbeliveable to be taken as fact candidacy of Donald J. Trump.
It was a truth be damned, the end justifies the means poltical rampage, that left much of the public, many of them desperate for change, uninformed, confused and ignorant, and we let it happen.
Out of this came a candidate who admits to not reading, but getting much of his information from tv. A man who became popular through the instruments of self-promotion and reality tv and rose to political power through the use of intimidation, racial division, fear, anger and the objectification of women. His common methods of demagoguary, racial hatred and fear mongering had all been seen before. And they were working.
Rather than alert the nation to the approaching danger, the media reported some of what was happening but not all. Mostly we were told about who, what, where and when, but far too little about the “why,” and what it might do to us over the long-haul. It was a truth vacum that resulted in millions of Americans turning to Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” for honest information. The mainstream news media was negligent to a point that an entertaiment show had become one of the country’s most trusted sources for news and information.
The delivery of news was now inside-out and standing on its head, with the broadcast media narrowcasting a sliver of deeply meaningfull information to a narrow band of viewers while millions upon millions of others who had long since stopped reading anything were condemned to ignorance. Newspapers, tv news, the Internet and entertainment news programs had now all been lumped together into one category called, “the media.” Some of it was reliable, but not all, leaving much of the public dazed, confused and looking for someone to lead them out of the darkness and into the light. Older folks, who went to bed before Jon Stewart came on, were out of luck.
It was a potential political nightmare in the making. Now it is here, and it will be up to us to deal with it.
The founders gave us a Republic. Hopefully we will be able to keep it by understanding that this is really happening, that we did it to ourselves, that it will be up to each of us to perform our own due dilligence, making ourselves better informed, more understanding of others and God willing, intelligent enough to see through the political smoke that threatens to destroy us.
It took years for this to happen. We won’t be able to fix it overnight, but we are better than this. America, is better than this.
The midterms are two years away. Put down your remote control, subscribe to a real newspaper like the NY Times, the LA Times or the Washington Post, and start reading. If you can’t afford a subscription, the Guardian is free online.