A commentary delivered by Tucker Carlson on his show Thursday night is one I suggest all people concerned with the degraded state of political conversations set aside nine minutes of their time to hear. If you find yourself longing for civil discussions, the kind that connect people to each other and the community, then you might find yourself listening to Carlson’s words a second and third time.
As the rain outside came down in sheets all day Thursday, I found myself inside the house with my thoughts and a few books. At some point I clicked through on my iPad to locate an email I was expecting. That’s when I began seeing headlines indicating many nationally prominent Democrats had been on the receiving end of what was thought to be “pipe bombs.”
Despite a few early calls for calm and patience as authorities investigated, it didn’t take long for the political steam to build pressure. Some news channel commentators were antsy to begin pointing fingers, and they were sure, as they often are these days, that they needed no evidence beyond what they already knew.
As the finger pointing began and the news channel chatter intensity rose to a fever pitch, the self-righteous television talking-heads hardly bothered to gather or report facts for viewers about the timeline, delivery methods or details regarding the threat — neither did some of them acknowledge that President Trump had already made a strong statement condemning the threat and asking for the country to unite to support one another while the investigation was completed. But, the media was already too engrossed in pointing out what they determined as the real underlying cause of the threat.
As the media relied on rationalized anger throughout the day, the attempted attack, they judged, could only have been carried out by someone acting on President Donald Trump’s relentless focus on the media as dishonest purveyors of misdirection and #FakeNews. His constant chiding of Democrat detractors had to be the reason this happened, they concluded. After all, look at the recipients of the threatening packages: former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, former CIA Director John Brennan, and CNN among others, all critics of Trump. The media had settled on the target and they weren’t budging from President Donald Trump as the suspected instigator.
At some point, I checked one of my lists of media feeds. The first 7 pages of the feed were loaded with clips about the controversy, a small number were clips of President Trumps statement, as well as reinforcing statements from Vice President Pence and First Lady Melanie Trump condemning the action as an attack on the people of the United States. However, the overwhelming majority, 185 of the total 224 clips I located, were of the media feeding its own frenzy and pouring gas on its own outrage.
All were pointing the finger of blame at President Trump for his “incendiary rhetoric” that supposedly caused these attacks. CNN, MSNBC, NBC — every one of them were jumping at the chance to lay it all in Trump’s lap, despite the fact that his statements had been clear and to the point.
Not one out of these big-name chatterers alluded to Trump’s statement without quickly taking exception and then following with accusations and defensiveness. Many times they also introduced guests who would help reignite the media’s ego-driven frenzy.
Absent any conclusive evidence these self-proclaimed stalwarts of a strong and independent press, these champions for an informed public, ignored every known fact and statement regarding the known timeline and a description of what exactly occurred. Instead, they stacked conjecture and whiny accusations on top of assumption an innuendo, eventually building their own wall of disgust and dejection. The moments that offered the possibility of reflection were too brief for any one of the lot to grasp how completely berserk they all sounded.
The least flattering result — could they have stopped and listened to themselves long enough they would have realized how their reactions only served to provide a perfect example of what Trump has frequently criticized, much of the media simply can’t be trusted. Despite the media’s attempts to project blame elsewhere, the media’s actions often show Trump to be right about much of the media much of the time. They know it, too, and the aggravation of knowing it leads to more desperate behavior to disprove. The media at some point has to accept responsibility for their role in turning basic news reporting into another overly commercialized tabloid scandal and overproduced drama. This push towards the theatrical hasn’t just happened in the past two-years of Trump’s presidency. Although he has caused it to devolve faster than previously was the case.
When media begins with moral self-righteousness, then we can all expect that we likely may never get the specific details of a story or get the facts of an incident correctly confirmed. That’s because mundane facts quickly become unimportant in a story that’s moral implications are heightened to a fight between good and evil.
Integrity in the media may not be completely dead. But it’s sounding more everyday like it’s in dire need of emergency procedures to save it from self-inflicted trauma.
The media today traffics, at best, in half-truths; at most, in political attacks and puffery.
Tucker Carlson provides several examples in his commentary of how this political puffery has evolved into a much more dangerous sectarianism. This in turn paves the way for one to easily dismiss those with whom we disagree, eventually no longer recognizing them as a person of value with a difference of opinion, but only seeing evil. Once this designation is made a person loses their worth as a complex individual in the eyes of others. The most basic level of human respect eventually becomes uncertain.
This can be seen in how people eventually treat candidates on social media in heated campaigns.
Think of the following zealous confrontation by a women on Facebook on the page of Senator Chris McDaniel as a dynamic real life conversation and it becomes easy to see how this behavior is antisocial and dehumanizing:
A lady by the name of Pat Rainey arrives at an outdoor festival in Ellisville, MS. The sun is shining bright and the air is crisp. It’s a beautiful day. As this is his hometown, McDaniel is there among a small group of several people walking around relaxed. As he is talking with those he knows and ocassionally meeting new people, others in attendance also familiar with the surroundings are striking up conversations with those they know as well. Many are laughing and enjoying the camaraderie that comes from being part of a community of people with a shared purpose.
Suddenly, Mrs. Rainey, unfamiliar with the place and personally known by few there, storms angrily toward McDaniel, bursts through the crowd and yells directly in his face, “We don’t like you!”
She turns quickly, tripping over a small mound of dirt and falling to the ground. She picks herself up, and runs towards her car parked at the other end of the street, hops in and drives away.
How do you think the dozens of people left standing there might react? Uncomfortable laughter? Confusion? Discussion that calls into question the ladies sobriety? Her sanity?
All of these sound like perfectly natural responses from people trying to gauge the awkwardness of what just occurred in their midst.
This story is actually representative of a real Facebook conversation that a Mrs. Pat Rainey jumped into the middle of on McDaniel’s Facebook page recently. Mrs. Rainey attempted to insult McDaniel absent any introduction or any question or stated concern. Unfortunately for her the awkward comment was also left as a typo, “Weare don’t like you.”
The use of the term, even if it had been grammatically correct, is childish enough to cause one to wonder about Mrs. Rainey’s mental state and possibly even her mental health. The time of night, after 10:00 PM, might also introduce questions of her sobriety at the time. Then again it could just be a typo. These attempts by our brain are a natural way we reach for understanding of the social situation in which we find ourselves. When we’re in person, and face-to-face it’s not nearly so difficult to translate. On social media, as in email, there is often something lost in translation. We have no body language to read or facial expressions to decipher.
Moving on to another Facebook page, a supporter of Cindy Hyde-Smith sees the exchange with McDaniel and Mrs. Rainey and immediately posts screen shots of the comments along with a message that is the same knee-jerk response by the media to Trump following the “pipe bomb” delivery. This supporter, Heather Fox, is absolutely sure she is providing strong evidence of McDaniel’s lack of respect for Mrs. Rainey, whose terse negative comment Fox interprets as innocent of any angry intentions. Fox in turn begins making all sorts of additional accusations about McDaniel’s character, his manners, calling him a bully, even suggesting a correlation to 12-year olds committing suicide!
She saddles him with far more ill-intent than his one simple comment, “it’s best not to drink and Facebook,” could ever possibly bear any responsibility for. She’s attributed all of this to McDaniel based on a short seven word comment, all of which she sees as poor treatment by him of the “well-meaning” Mrs. Rainey.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
We’re all in some way a prisoner of our unique point of view. Its way too easy to assume everybody gets it just like we get it. But it’s up to each of us to engage in ways that promotes understanding. And it’s certainly within the realm of our abilities to not blow things so far out of proportion as is done by Fox. Political campaigns are about drawing distinctions and revealing why a candidate wants to serve in that capacity. It’s when there are pompous claims of superior character from the outset without ever showing it by example, or when refusal to engage in an honest debate that could further instill confidence from others in an ability to lead or collaborate, this is hiding behind a facade, or a false presentation. It’s one of the ways the culture of outrage makes mountains out of mole hills, invents crisis and forces wedges of suspicion between people
Just like the media commentators and President Trump, making accusations against those we oppose or who stand in opposition to us, without first attempting to find common underlying facts is a recipe for resentment. Finding ways to honestly engage in a discussion of the type that reveals the sincerity behind our true intentions, our purpose — making this connection in an age of drifting individualism is one of the keys to regaining the social ground that’s been lost.
Here’s how Tucker Carlson describes the self-righteousness we see among political players who aren’t interested in working within communities, but who intend only on gaining and using power:
“What’s easy to know and foresee is what happens when the people claim moral authority they don’t have in order to compel you to obey.
“Resentment builds. Factions form. Craziness starts to seem normal.
“It is all bad. And if you want fix it, stop talking like this.”