Two Americas

Remember John Edwards? When  he ran for President in 2004 (and before  his sleazy personal behaviors caught up with him), he ignited a good deal of support with a speech in which  he described  “two  Americas.”  Edwards blamed George W. Bush and the GOP for two Americas he described thusly: “One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. .. . One favored, the other forgotten. … One privileged, the other burdened.”

There  are, of course multiple ways of “slicing and  dicing” an electorate. Edwards’ categories are, unfortunately, still pretty accurate.  But in  the intervening years, we  have seen an even  greater chasm develop. As Charlie Warzel put it in a recent  New  York Times newsletter, we have a meaningful percentage of Americans living in an alternate reality powered by a completely separate universe of news and information.

Because it was a subscribed newsletter, I don’t have a  link, but I’m copying  and pasting a couple of observations that resonated with me,  because they go a long way toward explaining the informational environment inhabited by those of our fellow Americans who continue  to support Donald J. Trump.

He began  by explaining that  there are two types of “reporting” by the rightwing media: outright fabrication, and a more sophisticated  approach that “rearranges shared facts to compose an entirely different narrative.”

There is little consensus on the top story of the day or the major threats facing the country. You will have noticed this if you’ve ever watched a congressional hearing and flipped between CNN or MSNBC and Fox News. The video feed is the same but the interpretation of events is radically different.

As he noted, we got a clear demonstration of the phenomenon at the Republican National Convention.

For three nights, in an shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, the party has conjured up what my colleague Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world. Theirs is a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic is largely in the rear view (on Aug. 25, 1,136 Americans died from the virus) and where, according to Representative Matt Gaetz, radical Democrats threaten to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” A universe where the existential dangers of climate change pale in comparison to those of cancel culture — even as the West is ravaged by blackouts and wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by adevastating hurricane.

We can each pick our own examples of what has come to be called “gaslighting.” and what  I prefer to call chutzpah.

For example,  when Mike Pence addressed the Convention, he spoke movingly  (ok–Mike  Pence is incapable  of speaking movingly, but that was clearly his  intent) about the death of a federal officer in Oakland.  From his remarks, viewers were led  to believe that he was likely killed by Black Lives Matter protesters. 

“People like Dave Patrick Underwood, an officer in the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California…Dave’s heroism is emblematic of the heroes that serve in blue every day,” Pence said.   
 
As multiple media outlets later noted, although what Pence said was true, what he clearly wanted to imply was  not.

Yes, Underwood was killed while defending a federal courthouse in Oakland in May. Yes, he was serving as part of President Trump’s effort to crack down on the protests inspired by the death of George Floyd. What Pence failed to mention, however, was that Underwood was  killed by two men who’ve  been linked to right-wing extremism, not by protesters.

Americans who reside entirely in the  rightwing media bubble–who get all  of their news  from Fox or Sinclair or Breitbart or Rush Limbaugh, who don’t leaven those  outlets with non-propaganda  sources, occupy a very different reality.

It has become increasingly difficult to stay accurately informed, to  determine which media sources are reputable and which are not, to recognize “headlines” that are really click-bait rather than accurate labels of a story, and to identify the sources that  “spin” even factual articles.  

Until we somehow get a handle on the Wild  West that  is  our current information environment, we will continue  to inhabit two dramatically-different Americas. And until that informational chasm is spanned, we will be unable to work together to eliminate the two Americas identified  by John Edwards.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Two Americas

  1. Sheila,

    “Until we somehow get a handle on the Wild West that is our current information environment…..

    First, we have to admit to the transformation that has taken place: We’ve gone from Bush’s THEOCRACY to Trump’s FASCISM in 20 years. It has created millions of what for a better description might be called, like the movie of the same name: “The Bad Seed(s).”

  2. Two books that should be read as a starter are: “James Dobson’s War On America” by Gil Alexander-Moegerle (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1997) and “The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Cultural War” by Dan Gilgoff [Senior Editor, U.S. News & World Report] (St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, 2007).

  3. Pushing crazy shit is making Billions in profits for FOX. As long as that is the case, they will not change. As long as our big corporations continue to advertise with the crazy news people, this will not change.

  4. Start by reinstating The Fairness Doctrine of the FCC AND expand it to include the Internet. Don’t tell me it can’t be done or that it will kill jobs. That’s just more bullshit from the fascist right.

  5. “Yes, Underwood was killed while defending a federal courthouse in Oakland in May. Yes, he was serving as part of President Trump’s effort to crack down on the protests inspired by the death of George Floyd. What Pence failed to mention, however, was that Underwood was killed by two men who’ve been linked to right-wing extremism, not by protesters.”

    And Dave Underwood’s death deserves our grief added to that of his family and friends; Dave is ONE death, how many black and white deaths have we seen and read about since May? Books 23 and 13 years old cannot possibly hold answers to today’s escalating violence which we could not imagine or foresee four years ago…even in a Trump administration. In books and movies such as “1984” and “Soylent Green” we read and watched science fiction level presidents and their administrations be the leaders in killing our own countrymen and women and children. Never in real life in America! Yet; here we are in a foreign country while never leaving our homes.

    Yesterday we watched as the Electoral College appointed president supported the 17 year old killer of two protesters and called the killer the victim in the situation. An out-of-state Trump supporter who was transported fully armed by his mother who should also be charged with felony level crimes. The latest report from Jacob Blake’s father on his condition is that he is weaker and fighting for his life while one of his paralyzed legs is handcuffed to his bed. Trump has taken back his offer to meet with the Blake family because they will only meet with him if their attorneys are present at the meeting.

    This is but yesterday’s “crazy shit” patmcc referred to. What will today bring; and it is only Tuesday, 64 days before the General Election.

  6. I have often wondered what a “Bill of Responsibility” would look like, aligned with the Bill of Rights. Yes, the 1st Amendment gives us the right of freedom of speech, but do we also not have the responsibility to ensure that our speech is also true and honest? Of course that would cut down the profits that come from fear mongering pundits like Limbaugh et al.

  7. Patrick,

    “Start by reinstating The Fairness Doctrine of the FCC AND expand it to include the Internet.”

    I totally agree, but FIRST, you have to present the evidence as to why it has to be reinstated at once. Overcoming the bullshit from the fascist right is a monumental task, but it has to be done in order to save what democracy we still have left.

  8. Ms Suess-Kennedy: on February 29, 1968, the Kerner Commission Report was given to President Lyndon Johnson. The opening sentence was: “there are two America’s. One Black. One White. Separate and unequal.” What has changed?

  9. Dennis,

    “What has changed?”

    Nothing. And it never will unless there’s a LEGITIMATE organizational effort to do so, which appears, so far, to be impossible.

  10. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”
    ~Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem “An Essay on Criticism”

    After all these years, why should we be surprised by having the likes of a Donald Trump as our President?

  11. No, Marv, the Civil Rights movement was NOT a sham. The outcomes were earth-shattering at the time. Meanwhile the Republicans have chipped away at everything from that era because the somnolent public let them. Voter suppression and persistent Jim Crow II actions pushed many of the advances – even in the national intellect – just as the government failed to institute real, honest and Constitutional laws during Reconstruction. The common thread? Abject racism.

    It is the racism in the DNA of weak, hateful and lazy minds that fuels everything else.

    Another book, not mentioned today, but of equal value to “1984” is Sinclair Lewis’ prescient novel, “It Can’t Happen Here”. He wrote it in 1935-36. It is so spookily realistic you’d think it was ripped from today’s headlines. Of course, the style isn’t as sensational as most books today, but the story and the characters should give pause to us all. Lewis saw Trump and Trumpism coming from 85 years ago.

  12. Vernon,

    I disagree with you Vernon, many of those votes in Congress which allowed for the Civil Rights Movement were directed at the Russian’s moves in Africa more than goodwill toward men in the U.S. Hillary Clinton started to bring this up in her run for the presidency, but decided to stay away from the mess that it would cause.

  13. @James spoke for me big time. Fulfillment of personal freedom is full acceptance of personal responsibility and accountability. I like very much James’ idea for a Bill if Responsibilities coinciding with Bill of Rights. Tyranny of a King from far away from once upon a time in our history is now tyranny in our own homeland. Thank you, Sheila. Another thought provoking post.

  14. Sheila, again with more food for thought> Just thought I’d add a snippet of an interesting article from the “Atlantic”
    ” America seems mired, its very ability to rebound in question. A new power has emerged on the world stage to challenge American supremacy—China—with a weapon the Soviet Union never possessed: mutually assured economic destruction.”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/06/america-image-power-trump/613228/

  15. MLK, Jr. was allowed to speak about civil rights, but once he used his power to discuss the Viet Nam War and our flawed economic system, he was terminated. He also talked about his dismay over the vast silent majority of whites who chose “comfort over justice for all.”

    I’ve noticed on Facebook that the far-right is sharing posts about all the “angry white women” marching with BLM protestors. Once again, shaming their participation to keep white people from joining protests aimed at racists, the police, politicians, leaders, and fascists.

    Unlike the 60s, a larger percentage of the younger generation understands the role our economic system plays in all the discrimination. Capitalism is the root cause of all evil in society. Everything else we point to on this blog is symptoms.

    What we see in the streets are protests against our classist system — an Oligarchic hierarchical power structure which enriches the wealthy and their political class while forcing the working classes into modern-day serfdom. And once again, who has joined the oppressors?

    The comfortable white majority chooses the status quo over justice and economic freedom for all. These comfortable white upper classes are accomplices with their silence.

  16. More on the Civil Rights Movement from Vox.com:

    “George H.W. Bush was not the first nor the last to use coded language and veiled racist appeals in his campaign messages. As Vox’s German Lopez points out in an interview with Ian Haney-López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, “the Republicans’ Southern strategy following the 1960s thrived on this idea.”

    But it’s the anti-Dukakis ad that has become the reference point for such grotesque political advertising. Bush’s legacy, like that of William Horton, will always be tarred by the Willie Horton attack ad that elected him”

    Another example in the history of our “goodwill toward men, especially, African-American men.

  17. I would agree with Vernon @ 8:43

    “No, Marv, the Civil Rights movement was NOT a sham. The outcomes were earth-shattering at the time. Meanwhile the Republicans have chipped away at everything from that era because the somnolent public let them. Voter suppression and persistent Jim Crow II actions pushed many of the advances – even in the national intellect – just as the government failed to institute real, honest and Constitutional laws during Reconstruction. The common thread? Abject racism.”

    I would also agree with Todd @ 9:43

    “MLK, Jr. was allowed to speak about civil rights, but once he used his power to discuss the Viet Nam War and our flawed economic system, he was terminated. He also talked about his dismay over the vast silent majority of whites who chose “comfort over justice for all.”

    =================
    Racism and Steroid-Crony Capitalism can live comfortably together. Today, we have the demands that the US Postal System turns a “Profit”. Other Government Functions are Not required to turn a “Profit”, such as the FBI, IRS, the Police, Fire Departments, the Defense Department, the interstate highways, Secret Service, etc.

    Our Information Age, which began when newspapers and magazines could be mass produced, has not been perfect by no means. Radio and later Television and now the Internet has allowed us to be “informed”.

    As imperfect as this system is – I will take it over some “Ministry of Truth” that decides what we will hear, read and see. We have this to degree with For Profit Cable News. CNN, MSNBC and Fox market their slants to a particular audience.

  18. Monotonous,

    “I would agree with Vernon @ 8:43″

    “No, Marv, the Civil Rights movement was NOT a sham.”

    I will hold to my original statement. I doubt if the civil rights legislation would have passed in the ’60s, if not for our concerns for the riches that Africa afforded us and which we could not afford to forfeit to the Russians.

    I’m sure I’ve done more for civil rights than you ever imagined.

  19. In my sometimes seemingly endless “discussions” on line with authoritarians it’s become evident to me what personalities prefer bias confirmation over the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on entertainment and social media.

    Authoritarianism is only the first ingredient. They also tend to be racists controlled by the welfare queen illusion as typical of female non whites and the “thug” illusion for the males. They also may well be misogynistic.

    They love to hear implied that they are responsible workers and parents who lifted themselves up by their bootstraps through exceptionally hard work and taught their kids to be authoritarian as well. Now all that hard work is taxed from them by liberal, elitist, intellectual Democrats to support welfare queens and thugs avoiding work.

    They are angry and won’t put up with that anymore and won’t let the broken America that created them be taken away.

    Of course they also love to hear that they don’t have to change, only “others” do.

    Like all advertising there are examples of darker humans that are like what they believe all are and looting and burning and cop baiting and welfare queens and out of control fatherless families can be found. Loyal audiences can easily be created by showing only them with no mention of their white counterparts. It’s plain good business making more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever.

    Trump is merely the king of that belief system and Fox News’ biggest fan and the President’s only advisor.

    Nobody has a solution for that big problem but democracy offers a limited one time offer means to defang that cult.

    The one caution though that we have to prepare for is that the chaos caused by the facts of this cult will not be magically repaired by an election. In fact I expect that it has only just begun.

  20. Ditto with Patrick’s and Marv’s view of reinstatement of the FEC’s Fairness Doctrine, but only if it is enforced apolitically.

  21. Gerald,

    When I was General Counsel for the McLendon Corporation, one of my duties was to prepare the yearly Fairness Doctrine Report to the FEC. Gordon McLendon’s right-wing propaganda on his radio program was controlled by the possibility of being countered by another view, because of the Fairness Doctrine. Doing away with the Fairness Doctrine, opened the door for all the fake news that we’re having to encounter now from the Trump forces.

    As you pointed out, reinstatement would be useless if it wasn’t apolitical which probably is impossible, at this time in our nation’s history.

  22. Gerald,

    I’m talking about 50 years ago when I was the General Counsel. Removing the Fairness Doctrine, years later, was one of the first crucial moves responsible for creating the lack of a COUNTERVAILING FORCE to mitigate the attempted coup by the Religious Right/Far Right, now, in its late stages, being directed by Donald Trump and his advisors.

  23. Patmcc is right. Unless and until people in this country stop worshiping the dollar, it will continue. I’m assigning a very low probability to that outcome. Unfortunately, the founders of this country thought they had constructed a constitution that would somehow prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a despot or monarch, they didn’t anticipate the new despotic monarchs, big business, with the power to buy people. And now history is repeating itself. This country is repeating the the mistakes the German people made when they thought Hitler was going to save them from the poverty and inflation that followed WW1. They kept looking the other way, believing the lies until it was too late.

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