I like the fact that we, the anti-Trump multitudes, are being called The Resistance. My Moon in Sadge gets off on being anointed with this historically dignifying term.
All the same, maybe we shouldn’t capitalize it, just yet. It feels a bit presumptuous for American progressives, a relatively cosseted lot, to identify ourselves with the brave anti-fascists of the Greatest Generation.
But we have a grand fight on our hands, and could use all the morale boosting we can get. Thinking of ourselves as La Résistance, complete with a smart beret and a Gauloise hanging from our lips, could be a deal-sweetener.
Throughout history, the brown shirts have had the brute force, but the resistance movements have had the cachet.
Speaking of stereotypes, is it not stunning how closely the current regime is cleaving to the clichés of tyranny?
In our last couple of blogs we talked about how the new Washington cabal (1) is undermining our reality structures: the cultural reference points that used to give us a sense of what’s true and what’s false.
The central weapon in this reality meltdown is the media, at the moment thrashing around in confusion.
Keep ’em Stupid
It is a truism that the first step in establishing a successful dictatorship is the control of information. Americans especially should be alive to this idea: as every schoolchild knows, the founding fathers saw an informed public as the cornerstone of democracy.
Gents like Madison and Jefferson were realistic about the thin line between a responsible citizenry and a mob. They believed that without a free press and access to education, the multitudes would devolve into ignorant hordes.
We have failed to heed their prescient warnings.
At this point, the barbarians are not only at the gate. They’re inside the gate.
We live in a Golden Age of dumbing down.
Tabloid journalism has been a primary target of thinking people for a long time. Fortunately, since the early days of gossip magazines, we have become less naïve about published sensationalism; most fans of the National Enquirer and TMZ probably realize that their titillations are designed to sell ad space. We all buckle under to capitalism in order to cop a little entertainment.
The more insidious danger is the way junk info — which is now most info — is undermining our collective intelligence. A few decades ago, nonstop cable television took over as the primary agent of cultural brain rotting.
This was when fake news went mainstream, normalizing bigotry and fueling the revenge fantasies of the snubbed and snookered white underclass.
Now we have online click-bait, distracting the multitudes while it sounds the death knell of reflective thought.
Digital communication in general, with its reduction of all mental creativity to an ever-more-abbreviated word count and its sterile little emoticons standing in for individual self-expression, was never intended to enhance critical thinking. (2)
Clicks and ratings “are driving journalism to the bottom,” says Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones Magazine. Investigative reporting is an endangered species, as is the presence in American culture of an intellectual class.
Intelligent public debates, such as the one in 1968 between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, have gone the way of black-and-white TV. Dick Cavett’s classic interview of James Baldwin would find no place in today’s media landscape.
Today’s avalanche of media meaninglessness, combined with the freakish decline of public education in countries like the USA (the Betsy de Vos confirmation is only the latest signal of a long, steady decline), are more of a threat to democracy than any single politician could ever be.
Filling the airwaves with incessant and ever-shifting bullshit, our sentient circus peanut of a president represents the problem, writ large, of trying to have a democracy in the absence of critical thinking and clean information.
One CNN reporter, trying to explain why covering his pronouncements was so difficult, was reduced to asking, “What does he mean when he says words?”
To be continued.
1 Among the new cabal (in the words of Steven Colbert, Sam Bee and John Oliver): the Twitter-in-Chief himself; his spokes-cobra Kellyanne Conway; VP Mike Pence, who looks like “a minimally-poseable action figure;” Sec of State Rex Tillerson, which sounds like a farmhand porn name; and Jeff Sessions, who should be named “Man of the Year” by Wrong Side of History Magazine. (As Michael Moore and others have pointed out, humor will go a long way towards getting us through the months ahead.)
2 Historian Jill Lapore has written: “’Eventually, you’ll have an implant,’ Google’s Larry Page has promised, ’where if you think about a fact it will just tell you the answer.’ Now imagine that, after living with these implants for generations, people grow to rely on them, to know what they know and forget how people used to learn – by observation, inquiry, and reason. Then picture this: overnight, an environmental disaster destroys …the grid [and] everyone’s implant crashes… No one would really know anything anymore, because no one would know how to know. I Google, therefore I am not.”