Until now, I haven’t been reporting on the political situation in the United States because news on the subject has been ubiquitous, and many talented individuals and media outlets have been calling the situation for what it is.
Today, this changes. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for a person to stand on the sidelines and wait for others to do one’s duty in the midst of a matter this important. I’ve written on Canadian politics on this site in the past, and arguably US politics can have just as significant an impact on anyone living north of the border due to widespread export of American culture, values, and geopolitical influence.
At the same time, lingering concerns remain on the political and financial affiliations of some media outlets, the impact of compromised journalism in an information driven society, and the pitfalls of the ratings-driven system holding sway on most TV-based media delivery platforms which tends to capitalize on drama and suffering while often failing to deliver context and historical perspective.
While there are many media groups who are doing high quality work and providing in-depth journalism, the mixed nature of technology and its use (or misuse at times) means it’s wise to ensure information is regularly fact-checked and further research is conducted to understand context and establish a broader perspective of current events.
The unfortunate thing about politics is that despite having great importance in daily life, it frequently tends to be treated as a spectator sport. Media companies run round-the-clock news cycles and make money from it, people talk to family and friends about what’s going on in the world, some offices run pools on what they think the next big change might be, but how many of us are actually willing to roll up our sleeves and get involved?
When was the last time you talked with a Congressperson, Member of Parliament, or MLA? Have you ever read legislative documentation to learn the issues? When was the last time you fact checked a political statement? Ever been part of a public commentary hearing? Heck, when was the last time you voted?
Here’s why political engagement matters:
The media is skilled in echoing our revulsion at witnessing injustice, but this in itself doesn’t equal change. Our collective sense of disgust only has the power to make some sort of difference if it’s tapped to create lasting action.
And indeed, action is in short supply, or at least the right kind of action. The world seems to be going through the stages of grief as it comes to grips with the takeover of American politics by far-right populist, religious extremist, and corporate financed influences.
The current stage of grief? Denial.
On the road that got us where we are today, most people put their heads down, didn’t ask the right questions, put trust in the wrong people, and said ‘it can’t happen here.’ After all, how could a far-right takeover ever happen in the placid backyard of the United States, land of the free and last remaining global superpower?
I’d bet Germans asked the same question about their own country in the 1930s as political alliances changed and irrational state actors became the new norm.
Last year, many people said a Trump presidency was impossible, yet here we now stand on day 100 of a Trump presidency, staring down the barrel of constitutional crisis after constitutional crisis, violation after ugly violation. Many remain oblivious to what is happening, whether by choice or personal circumstances, and ultimately stand to make the problem worse through their lack of awareness.
Thanks to the media reporting on scandals and failed election promises, some have managed to break their lack of awareness of the political system and at least realize there is an emotionally unstable man with a shrinking vocabulary in office as sitting President — a man boosted by a party whose tenuous loyalties are only upstaged by its laughably unsustainable policy, a man opposed by a party whose compromised ethics and utter indifference to constituents were the final straws that jump-started this Kafkaesque shit show in the first place.
Donald Trump’s success has again highlighted some of the most important systemic issues in politics today: disenfranchisement, distrust of authority, income inequality, money in politics, military adventurism, and the failure of the political status quo to present a likeable and electable alternative. With these issues looming, the groundwork was in place for a demagogue possessed of extreme viewpoints to project a bit of superficial empathy for our woes and go on to score large numbers of believers.
Call it ‘any port in a storm.’
The world has been here before: demoralized by multiple crises, we give in to desperation and do irrational things. Each time these conditions have reared their heads in world history, it’s led to chaotic results and frequently hasn’t ended well for stable governments. The rise of populism in the west isn’t unique to the US, and it’s been discussed at great length prior to 2016 owing to a diverse variety of reactionary, xenophobic, and violent influences sweeping across Europe.
With the global stage set thus, with Trump skilled at pandering to a mob, and with Congress paralyzed by strife and special interests to the point it now seems extremely difficult to advance a progressive agenda (xenophobes and extremists flourish in volatile times), it’s not surprising Trump was able to ride the coattails of voter rage all the way to the finish line. His power base hasn’t wavered, as despite his bizarre behaviour, inexperience with politics, and repetitive flip-flopping on policy issues, he still enjoys solid support among his voters, regardless of whether those supporters represent a vote for Trump or a vote against the Democrats. That last detail is especially important to address, as it demonstrates both the contempt for the status quo and the major pitfall of having a de facto two-party system.
There’s no shortage of news outlets criticizing Trump’s policy decisions and temperament, which is par for the course given the 24-hour TV news cycle has a need for drama and ratings if it wishes to sustain itself. Some of this, particularly the content being put out by MSNBC, CNN, and other large corporate media outlets, comes across as excessively manufactured since, at bare minimum, the level of outrage on TV doesn’t translate to the level of outrage occurring off-air at the voter level.
Yes, there are a lot of people who’ve become upset at the change in the wind, but it hasn’t hit the kind of tipping point needed to effect major change. At least, not yet.
If support for irrational, right-wing leadership was really as weak as is being portrayed, we might have seen a very different narrative and set of events leading up to the 2016 US election, followed by the installation of moderate politicians and a progressive agenda at both state and national levels. Again, that simply hasn’t happened. To quote one news commentator, the Democrats have ‘had their asses handed to them again, and again, and again.’
There’s more to the situation than is easily visible on the surface, and that’s often one reason why many people don’t like the idea of getting into politics. It takes an incredible talent to sift through information in order to read between the lines. If one consumes only mainstream media news, for example, it’s all too easy to miss the deeper undercurrents as well as the historical perspective required to understand what’s happening.
This is why I’ll be doing periodic coverage of US politics going forward.
The fate of the future is too important for each of us to sit by, and I recommend to readers that you get involved to the greatest extent possible in your own lives. None of us is as smart or strong as all of us.
Take time to fact-check stories, find sources, and relay information from qualified persons … some examples that fall within the scope of this article are the human rights and civil rights groups speaking on policy matters, the members of the legal community who are addressing Trump’s attempts at circumventing egalitarianism and abrogating effective rule of law, and the members of the medical community who have been repeatedly voicing concerns about Trump’s fitness to be in office.
In terms of political reporting on this site, I’ll be putting in the time as usual to vet links and sources prior to posting, and will update with further information as needed. Each article will be issue-focused and self-contained, intended to explore topics in greater depth than we’re accustomed to seeing on a day-to-day basis. It’s not a new idea, but it’s something I dearly wish news outlets would try to do more often.