By Elizabeth Whitney
All news is fake news. There is not one version of news that is real and the rest fake. News is a subjective reality. We believe the news that conforms to our point of view. This applies to family squabbles, sports, international events and natural disasters. Reality exists in the mind of the observer. That’s a tough thought to digest.
The continuing turmoil around the election results is a very good place to examine all this. The followers of Donald Trump believe that the vote count is fraudulent based on the evident passion of their support. They felt their power at his rallies and in the caravans of hundreds of trucks and boat regattas displaying their enthusiasm. Biden campaign events struck them as lackluster in comparison. It is just as irrational to them that Trump lost as it is to Biden voters that Trump’s voters claim fraud.
Trump voters get their news from Fox News and the president’s tweets. He has at this moment 88.9 million followers. Watching Fox News or following @realDonaldTrump is where you can feel the pulse of the force rallying around the idea that the election was stolen. Facts that support this feeling are grabbed from anywhere and amplified. Facts that don’t are discredited. When we believe that we’ve been ripped off, righteous outrage is the emotion of the day. That echoes right back to the winners, who now worry they might get ripped off.
At the root of this divisiveness is potential for common ground. In one way or another we all feel a sense of powerlessness. A good portion of people from the liberal-progressive side feels powerless over the climate crisis to the point of projecting a sixth extinction. Plenty of us feel powerless in the grip of a cruel economy that favors a few haves over multitudes of have-nots. On a personal level, we feel powerless over illness and psychological breakdowns and experience generic despair for survival for ourselves or for our loved ones.
Then along comes the pandemic. The pandemic has taken us all to the brink of being able to endure escalating personal sacrifices. For some that means replacing its reality with righteous rhetoric about freedom. Others lash out against those who refuse to comply with the constraints to contain the virus. Those who deal with it firsthand beg for public cooperation while they endure non-stop heartbreak and “compassion fatigue.” An endless round of powerlessness perpetuates itself as we locate the source of the problem in someone else. Aren’t we all guilty of that?
We are going to flounder around in this state for a while, since Trump is still on center stage and this is how he deals with powerlessness. It has been his appeal from the beginning to identify the resentments of the unrepresented and position himself as their savior. Roger Stone is once again the dark wizard articulating and focusing generic unrest into a simple alliterative phrase: Stop the Steal. For now it is working to keep the base energized, but not forever.
The work that lies ahead has to address the powerlessness issue and avoid demeaning those who carry its message, even with distorted logic. Maybe we can agree that that there is absolutely everything wrong with the economic structure and the political establishment that rests on it. It may or may not be fixable without divine intervention—a prospect that is news in some quarters. Meanwhile, we can encourage signs of calming instead of inflaming. The spiritual voices ask us to stay heart-centered, not hardheaded, and bring consciousness to our emotional responses.
In terms of news and what to believe, time is a factor. We’ve grown accustomed to alarming news keeping us stimulated and agitated. When things settle, the view is clearer. There are honorable sources of newsgathering with standards and accountability. Reporters are trained and have depth of experience. There is editorial supervision and scrupulous fact checking.
Mainstream media used to mean newspapers, magazines and television, but these days the mainstream is cable news plus the Internet social media forms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Not much accountability there, but plenty of points of view. People today seem attracted to the excitement of sensationalism more than the rigor of intellectual scrutiny—a trend that supports the agenda of manipulating minds more than cultivating intelligence.
The bottom line is that we are now in the thick of phase transition mode, when all that was normal is being reviewed and judged, some for the best and some for the worst. We have emptied the repressed basement of the house of order and dumped the mess into the living room. The only way through is cleaning, sorting, rescuing and discarding until we have made it all conscious, including the fact that the responsibility for all of this mess is equally all of ours.