Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Understanding Rage and Bringing Us Back from the Brink

Many people would look at the phrase “understanding rage” as an oxymoron.  To them rage is irrational.  It’s craziness.   And because it’s not a rational state, it cannot be understood, that is, there is no rational explanation.  

It’s true that there is no reasoning with rage.  The rational forces of democracy are not only helpless to hold it in check, the democratic process gives rage the opportunity to assume the ascendancy and control.

But while the emotion of rage is irrational and there is no reasoning with it, the experiences that trigger rage are very rational.   Those experiences can be countered with reasoning if combined with heartfelt mea culpas and action that counters the rational source of the rage.

What is behind rage?  Whether one looks at the white formerly middle-class now unemployed/underemployed worker or people of color, regardless of whether the country is the U.S., Great Britain or France, the cause of rage is exploitation.  People either feel that they have not been given a chance to get what they deserve or have been promised, or they feel that they have lost what they rightfully had.  In either case, an economic or political force is blamed as the exploiter.  

To some extent people in general feel used and abused, regardless of their color or status in life.  One could probably safely say that 90 - 95% of people in the U.S. feel exploited in some way.  Even those who are doing well often feel exploited by a boss or a colleague.  In a very important way, while circumstances among people vary greatly, most of us are all in the same boat … we just don’t know it.  We all want to be respected, but respect is a very scarce commodity.

Liberals often ask, “Why are people so devoted to Donald Trump; what has he done for them?  Don't they see what he is?”  They do not understand the economic plight of the white middle working class over the past 40 years.  They do not understand that while having heard political platitudes for years about helping the middle class the Democrats have not helped their plight at all.  These workers and their families felt they were shown no respect.  Liberals do not understand how neglected and exploited they feel and so when Trump came along and spoke to them, when he offered scapegoats for their problems, when he took up their cause with gusto, they responded to him with amazing fervor.

This is just one example. It’s only relatively recently that we have come to understand the submerged rage that many women feel.  And many still don’t understand why so many Blacks have simmering rage; if you don’t understand that, you need a reality check.  

So given this understanding of rage, how do we move forward?  How does the U.S. and the world come back from the violent, chaotic brink that we seem to be standing on?  The past is past.  We can’t change it.  However, every society/group can and must clearly acknowledge the past and be heartfelt in their mea culpas.  For issues as deep as race, some truth and reconciliation process, such as was conducted in South Africa after apartheid, is necessary.

But it cannot stop there.  Words or laws will not suffice.  The injury lies far too deep.  There must be palpable action that reverses past decades or in the case of Blacks centuries of indifference, discrimination, and exploitation.  What form that action takes will vary for each group or situation.  But until the white middle class, Blacks, Muslims, and all people feel that they are respected and treated as equals, there will be no peace.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Why Trump Won in 2016 - Fake News!

In the irony of ironies, it appears that the most important reason why Trump won the election was fake news.  He not only manufactured it, but it was spread as real news by several broadcast organizations, most importantly Sinclair Broadcast Group, not Fox.  

Yes, Hilary did not run a good campaign.  Yes, she wasn’t a very appealing candidate for many.  Yes, the white middle class was disaffected.  But that wasn’t why she lost.  She lost because an unsuspecting American public, especially in swing states, was fed an unrelenting diet of fake news.  And it is that fake news that secured the wins in Michigan, Ohio, and other states that made the difference.

This became clear after reading a truly shocking article in the New Yorker (October 22) about the growth and impact of Sinclair Broadcast Group  (“Breaking the News” by Sheelah Kolhatkar).  Here are the salient facts from that article:

Sinclair is the largest owner of television stations in the US, with 192 stations in 89 markets.  It reaches 39% of American viewers.  It’s chairman is David Smith, a radical Republican conservative and Trump supporter.

According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of Americans get their news from television.  And despite the general lack of trust in the media, 76% of Americans say they still trust their local news stations.  Because 20 million US households do not have cable or streaming television, they not only trust but rely on their local broadcast stations.

But guess what?  What often appears to be your local independent NBC, CBS, ABC, or even Fox affiliate is in fact owned by SInclair who has pressured them to be a mouthpiece for its conservative viewpoint developed at the national corporate level.  Because Sinclair often owns two or more stations in the same broadcast market, this version of the news has an even greater impact on how people view things.

For example, the corporate news department produces scripts that anchors are forced to read.  This became so egregious that in April 2018 Dan Rather responded by writing “News anchors reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it.  It’s propaganda.  It’s Orwellian.”

The corporate center also produces news segments that the stations are required to run, as well as mandatory commentary segments in which Mark Hyman spouts radical Republican fake news.  For example, in 1984, “Terrorist leaders would dearly love to see President Bush replaced by Senator Kerry.”

How did Sinclair manage to assemble this network when there are regulations that prevent a company from owning 2 stations in the same market?  It created companies that it said were independent, but in fact were staffed by Sinclair loyalists and were controlled by Sinclair.  Even when it told the FCC that it had divested control, in fact they hadn’t.  

To quote the article, “None of this would have been possible without the willful blindness of the FCC.”  When Sinclair went too far, arousing public-interest groups and media organizations to complain to the FCC, an FCC investigation in 2001 found that indeed Sinclair exercised control over these stations.  The penalty?  Not divestiture but a paltry $40,000 fine against Sinclair and the company it controlled.

By 2016 Sinclair was in a position to really make a difference in the election.  It’s stations were concentrated in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan.  These stations broadcast the Sinclair party line which was the Trump line.  According to the New Yorker article, the Sinclair CEO told Trump that “We are here to deliver your message.  Period.”  And Sinclair certainly delivered.

The Shakespeare line, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” certainly applies here, as well as the old warning, “Beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”  Trump and his conservative minions routinely complain about fake news.  This effective technique is a good example of “the big lie” strategy used by the Nazis in their rise to power.  If you call the real news broadcast by real news organizations “fake,” that lie renders the news that you broadcast by implication real, truthful, even though it is in fact fake.  

Having control over the media and its message has been an essential weapon of authoritarian regimes, regardless whether Communist, Nazi, or other stripe.   That’s why in this country the 1st Amendment’s freedom of the press has been so jealously guarded by both the press and our government institutions.  That’s why there are regulations preventing any one voice from having too much control over the news in any given market.  

That the FCC allowed Sinclair to assemble its network and when forced to investigate acknowledged the truth but only applied a fine of $40,000 is nothing short of scandalous; a total dereliction of the duty they have as regulators.  If the Democrats take control of the House after the midterm elections, one of their first orders of business should be an investigation into Sinclair Broadcast Group and the forced breakup of the network.