I have a rambling confession. Please bear with me.
This last week has been one of the most personally traumatic weeks of my life. What made it so traumatic for me was that I felt betrayed by the media. When I say “media” I mean mainstream media, and I mean generally. I mean the big news sources. I mean The Media as a business.
Some mainstream media have good journalists, and I have respect for them. However, I would often get exasperated with them. I knew I was responsible to hear and read between the lines. I supplemented what I was watching by reading news online from other big name media sources as well as from independent journalists. I personally understood their struggle, having been clergy for years. I sympathize that they walk the razor’s edge of doing their work with integrity while at the same time pleasing their employers. I empathize with people who are scolded when they apparently succeed and ridiculed when they apparently don’t.
But when the actual election happened, I was left absolutely stunned. I was in shock. It was the same sense of betrayal I felt from the church, actually. I had been mislead, misinformed, and misused. And I was complicit. I had let myself be duped! This is what bothered me. As I gave the church too much power, so did I the media.
Now, I understand the confusing dilemma journalists face. How do you report lies and innuendo? How do you interview someone who has scant or no relationship with facts? How do you have a conversation with someone who plays loosely with truth? I’m not just talking about Trump, but about his surrogates as well as many other politicians, pundits, and pollsters and all sides.
I felt like I was living in a Kafka novel and couldn’t get out.
Salena Zito summed up her research into Trump:
“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
She’s received a lot of praise for this take on the Trump phenomenon. It’s a good line. But even though she may be right, this for me is crazy-making. It suggests that nothing means anything anymore. It validates the proverbial double-talk of the powerful, the politicians, and the press. Politicians will use this lovely poetic prose to legitimize their deceptions. I hate it.
Many of my friends felt like they were victims in an abusive relationship. I too felt verbally assaulted while the perpetrators would try to convince me to not take what they said literally. Or seriously. Or whatever. They’d assail me with their lies, leave a wound, and then tell me it was my fault for feeling that way because they didn’t really say it, or mean what they said, or that I was just hearing things, or it was the microphone.
We saw it every single day all day. Someone would say something, they’d be questioned about it, and even when it was on tape they would say they never said that. Wait! I heard you say it. I watched you say it. But now you say you didn’t say it? What? I watched person after person deny that those words ever came out of their mouths. Was I supposed to take them seriously but not literally? Or was I supposed to take them literally but not seriously? It drove me crazy to watch people, when challenged on the facts, say that they never said it or that they didn’t mean how we took it or that we heard them wrong or that there were technical issues. And the interview would just move on as if nothing happened. I get it. When one rain drop lands on your glasses you dry it off. But if you’re stuck in the pouring rain, what’s the point?
The fact that Trump apparently lies more than any other politician, and the fact that fact-checkers couldn’t even keep up, simply doesn’t matter anymore. It really doesn’t. Fact and truth have been benched. Sometimes the media seem to seriously care about the facts, but unaware of the greater fact that facts don’t factor in anymore. We’re moving into a new paradigm and trying to understand it through the old one. The mainstream media were the perpetrator, the victim, and the enabler. So was I for entrusting them with my job.
We are the victims of gaslighting. That is, we are pressured to question our own sanity, our own ability to think, to discern, and to decide.
I’ve always believed I should take someone at their word. This is supported by a saying of Jesus, that out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. In other words, how people talk betrays how they think. When someone says racist things, they think racist things.
I said earlier that the betrayal felt the same as the betrayal I felt from the church. I had been duped. My complicity was that I trusted something and someone to give me what I needed. I trusted in the lofty idea of an institution and its leaders, which Saint Paul called “powers and authorities”, to give me the truth. They failed, and it was my failure to trust them. I let them do some of my thinking for me.
So, what do I do now? Here’s what I’ve decided:
- I will take people at their word. I will hold them accountable for what they say. I will confront every single lie that’s told me. Why let one lie go just to be inundated with another one thousand? Deal with that one first lie, because the thousand lies lined up behind it aren’t the primary problem, but the liar. I truly believe that how we communicate is important, and that lies have no place in the peace process. It’s like any relationship: one lie is a serious threat to trust, the bedrock of relationships. So I’m going to believe what I hear people say. When they say a racist thing, I’m going to hear a racist thing, and I won’t be persuaded otherwise. I will dignify the speaker by taking them at their word. It would be disrespectful of humanity to do otherwise.
- I will not be groomed to submit. If I was less independent, I’m afraid I might have passively participated even more in the now obvious agenda to lobotomize me and the public. I would have aided and abetted in the now blatant project of dumbing us down and shutting us up. Just like the church tried to subdue me, so do the authorities… the movers and shakers of this world. Much of the media failed to do its job to inform and warn us. It played along because it had to in order to succeed and even survive as a business. So, I will always be a conscientious objector and a critic. I will always be suspicious of power and authority. I will always question the lines of communication and their content because I suspect, as a result of my personal struggle for freedom and independence, that there is always someone waiting to control me. I refuse to become a slave of any power or authority. I am a rebel.
- I will not abdicate my mind. I will not surrender my intelligence. I’m going to trust my mind to discern and decide for myself. I will not throw out the rules of grammar. I will not shred my dictionaries. I will not compromise the legitimacy of language. I will not betray words. I will not forget that freedom and justice are for all people, not just some. Racism still means racism. If they say a racist thing, then they think racist thoughts, which makes them a racist person. Period! They won’t change my mind unless they change their attitude and their words and actions. I’m not going crazy, and they can’t make me think so. I will be suspicious of backtracking, explaining, waffling, excusing, and justifying. I will accept apologies but will look for verification. I have a mind… a good one… because it’s mine! I will not let them have it ever again.
Sarah Kendzior, tweeted today,
”There are individual journalists who get this. Media on whole will capitulate due to fear or favor. Research independently, be the media.”
With today’s circumstances and now armed with this information, I can do one of three things:
First, I can give up and become a passive subject. I can just let myself be totally ruled and controlled, surrendering my thoughts, my voice, my future, my life, and live out the rest of my days in servitude.
Second, I can quit and start somewhere else. I can leave a country, a marriage, a job, or the church, and find better ones. But I can never quit being governed, which leads me to what I think is the best solution.
Third, I can become a vocal, active participant in the way we, the people, are governed, so that we work together to improve the lives of everyone.
Thoughts manifest as words and deeds, and words and deeds manifest as policy. I believe that.
The thing is, words are only the tip of the iceberg. They are always a sign of things to come. I trust words to indicate what is within a person, and that there is something going on behind those words that I can expect to see at some point in the future. This applies to both promises and threats. Like Chekhov’s gun:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
I claim this applies to words used by those in power too. If a racist idea is thought in chapter one, it will be said in chapter two, it will be tested in chapter three, and will be implemented in chapter four. I think it was Slavoj Žižek who suggested that if purity of blood is talked about now, real blood will be spilled later. Romeo Dallaire would say and saw the same thing. If someone says racist things and they or their surrogates, defenders, and followers, say they weren’t serious or literal, then we have the right to challenge them on why they said it until the rotten root that motivated them is exposed. Racism is not okay, but they’re trying to make it okay by denying it or redefining it and confusing us to justify it. And I know enough now about human nature and the malignancy of evil that to tolerate racism is to promote racism. We are seeing the rise of something malicious, not just in America, but around the world. It is a movement that’s gaining ground. I live in Canada and we are starting to see signs as well. Be warned and wary! Stay alert!
So, I learned a lesson, all in a day! I need to become even more independent in my thinking. Just like I had to trust that I could take care of my own spiritual health, I have to trust I can take care of my own intellectual health. I will not relinquish my human right to be able and allowed to judge people based on their words and deeds. I will not put my trust in the powers and authorities again.
I will research independently. I will be the media.