WORDS: 2,882 — Pretty much the one thing the nation can universally agree upon at nearly 100% is that the nation is in a mess. The difference remains, the degree in where the mess is, who/what caused/is causing the mess, and what parts are actually the messiest. Given we can’t seem to agree on that much it’s no surprise we can’t agree on how to fix the mess… which in itself compounds the mess even more.
From the pandemic, science denials, political conspiracies, false realities, real falsities, bonkers economy, civil strife, terrorism, extremism.. just pick your “mess”. But given all the turmoil seeming to have come to a head within the last 5 years I find myself wondering how much of this divide hasn’t always been with us to some degree, at the least since just before the Civil War. But maybe we can look back even to the beginning a bit.
Our Break From England Was Not Quite A Majority Undertaking
I recall somewhere in my past history lessons inside academia that some social scientists extrapolated from the early writings of the nation’s Founders, and of contemporary authors of the day, and other sources… that support in general for declaring our independence from England was NOT some wide majority but far closer to 50%. Many in those days may have felt fondly of the idea yet were just plain cautiously apprehensive in understanding that such a declaration would result in a rebellion war and many lives wound be lost in the process, on top of farms and property being destroyed. Going up against a world power didn’t seem like a winning proposition. Still others in that independence-dissenting 50% were just loyal to the Crown in general given the protection that offered in keeping France and Spain at bay. I mean, we can sit back today and admire those early folks as patriots to freedom.. but thinking from those days, breaking from England was a damn long shot in hell from ever succeeding. Even if it were possible… it had to have been a bit scary thinking France or Spain would take advantage of any fledgling new government in the colonies and just go in and take over in the vacuum created from the off chance the Brits ever departed.
My point is that just as we lament the concept that we have 325 million Americans with 325 million different opinions on the way things should operate… back then they had an estimated population of 2.5 million and we can say they had 2.5 million different opinions on whether to separate from England or not. So I hesitate to suggest that our current… “mess”…. is totally that unique politically from any other time in American history. What DOES make our current situation unique is our technological breakthrough in instant communications over the last 100 years (from the advent of radio, TV, right through to the internet) allowing for even the smallest of opinions to have a large megaphone by which to make themselves heard. The result of that has been even the smallest of ideas.. opinions.. no matter how valid or even factual, can now find an audience inside those millions of people, literally within minutes, willing to agree and accept such notions without the filter of time or media reporting. It can turn an off-the-cuff exasperation in a blog post into an issue driving people into the streets across the country, sometimes the world.… and context be damned. In the end we can (and do) essentially choose our own reality based on these trends, fads, rumors, and propaganda.
Just recently I was reminded of the French technology philosopher, Paul Virilio, who quoted the following regarding the advancement of technology…
“When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.”
We’ve all come to embrace the benefits of the Internet but at the same time we realize, pretty much with each passing day, the drawbacks across our entire society. In fact, one might hold to the opinion that the Internet is one of life’s necessary evils. The entire point here being that much of our current national divide relates entirely to our ability to exchange ideas, good or bad, truth or lies, right or wrong, across the country and around the world, as easily as talking with someone face-to-face in the same room.
My Yin, Your Yang (no, not that one)
But to reference back to Virilio’s statement about technical progress, we can also extend that to anything humankind creates. Returning to the early colonists split over pushing for independence from England.. they already were aware of all the “good” things about being under the King’s rule, which of course fed those colonists wishing to remain loyal. Yet the Monarchy also had substantial drawbacks which was the whole idea feeding the push for freedom from British rule for other colonists. We regard democracy.. even “American” democracy.. as being the utmost answer toward exercising our personal freedoms. Yet even the average American has a healthy comprehension of many of the drawbacks of living within a democracy. Personal opinion comes from both sides of that thought. Some folks see great problems other folks see those same problems as worth it for freedom. There’s the proverbial Yin-yang in most all things in life and that difference is often close to a 50/50 split as it relates to public opinion.
Harry Enten is CNN’s numbers and polls guy (“The Wizard of Odds”) and I encourage the reader to watch this 3 minute clip regarding recent polling showing the relationship between Trump supporters (specifically those who support Trump’s “Big Lie” regarding the last election results) and a reluctance from that same group to take the Covid vaccine, in spite of the current hospital outbreaks and deaths across the nation among the un-vaccinated.
Shhhhh… They Are Listening!
While I’ve noted that the nation having a split opinion is not new to this generation alone, it has most definitely manifested itself by being amplified through the Internet and instant media coverage 24/7. This amplification has been in the form of the daily (almost minute-by-minute) repetition of fake news, myths, and un-factual, unsubstantiated information being sold as “truth” to those Americans finding reason to accept it. But why are as much as 50% of the population accepting the falsehoods? Let’s keep in mind that these are just not all ill-educated Americans, economically challenged (poor), or otherwise incapable of critical thinking skills and/or average common sense. While there is a political and regional demographic to some of this, there seems to be a bias toward those people who simply do not trust government and tend to believe in conspiracies to satisfy, and justify, their doubts.
- “Politicians are, by simply the nature in being a politician to elected office, all corrupt and want money and power.
- “Government wants to control us all.”
- “Government eavesdrops on all of us.”
- “The Military Industrial Complex controls the Pentagon.”
- “Intel agencies act on their own agendas, start wars, make people disappear.”
- “Lobbyists and special interests run Congress.”
- “Pet pork projects, bridges to nowhere, just to stay in power.”
- “The rich never pay taxes.”
- “Public money is spent on lavish living.”
- “Perks of office at public expense galore.”
- “Evading legal scrutiny because of powerful friends.”
- “Smoke-filled rooms where secret deals are made.”
- “The strings are all being pulled by the Illuminati, Freemasons, and/or a Deep State star chamber calling the shots.”
- “If science (meaning “scientists”) support undesirable or unpopular policies then the politicians and/or big business has bought the results.”
- “Government mandates of any kind, for any reason, at any level, at any time are meant to take away personal freedoms and liberty and control the population and/or assert rule for greater power.”
- “If I don’t like it then it’s someone’s grab for (more) power or a coverup conspiracy to explain it.”
- “Mainstream media is in the pocket of the elites”
That’s an illustrative list of many of the justifications (some with arguable levels of validity to them) often given to explain the more radical, certainly cynical, and seemingly ill-informed opinions that feed those folks having what boils down to a lack of trust in government.. and with people in power and with authority. It’s rather a condition where many people feel helpless to make change to “fix” certain situations of abuse that always seem to pop in the news. It’s a suspicion that someone else has an advantage in life or a privilege of position on the public’s dime that the average American does not have. One might say that half the population accepts that as the cost of practicing our American democracy (with the hope and faith in the justice system to keep abuses in check) and the other half of the population defines it as a point of grievance from an inequity in a real or perceived entitlement they do not have. It’s really more complex than that, but it illustrates the overall difference.
The Fear Of Change
There is also another aspect feeding the cynicism from a large number of Americans toward government and that is “simply” the effect of inevitable change. Rapid changes in technology, evolving social mores, but essentially it’s a feeling that the racial makeup, the population demographics, has shifted and continues to shift away from the traditional white dominated America. To whites that’s not necessarily perceived as a racist perception but rather a relative fear of a shifting cultures taking hold on our daily lives that now require of all Americans a greater sensitivity to our melting pot diversity like never before. This shifting of course is presumed to be entirely centered on poor immigration policies going back decades and decades, and of course, the capitalist idea of globalization. From there the cultural and political angst spreads to loss of traditional jobs as a result of, yes, mostly automation, but to some degree certain traditional businesses, industries, going offshore to cut operating expenses in order to maintain profitability in a competitive marketplace. No question… quite a cascading scenario. So it’s not too difficult to assign a disgruntled segment of America finding some Right Wing dominated nationalistic political voice through Trumpism.. which then translates to nearly 50% of the voters. In spite of the nation’s exceptional economic growth progressing up to the pandemic, and now resurging, the average American.. the middle class… hasn’t been feeling all the bennies from this growth, and all that translates to some as America losing it’s greatness, hence MAGA…. Trump’s dream of going back the the 50’s and early 60’s.
Harry Enten suggests in his video clip that Americans have always been susceptible to believing in a “good” conspiracy at some time or another. The Kennedy Assassination, the Apollo Moon landing, 9/11, the Deep State, the Illuminati, Jetliner chem trails, Area 51.. and the list goes on from there. The Covid pandemic origin itself is wild with conspiracy possibilities. I might add a speculation that as our senses and “intellect” become more sophisticated over time that we tend to want to believe in more outlandish alternatives to occurring events that might seem a bit “fishy” to some. Add to that the distrust generated by past governmental idiocy programs and policy boondoggles.. and things done in the name of intelligence gathering.. it’s sometimes no wonder so many believe in conspiracies. Also include in the mix the tantalizing fictional plots Hollywood depicts on the silver screen that can add to our already fertile imaginations. Generally speaking we believe in conspiracies because the truth itself can’t be believed.
Lyndon Johnson conjured up the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext to get Congress to authorize our involvement in Vietnam. Bush seems to have conjured up weapons of mass destruction in order for us to remove Saddam, which was simply a half-step away from Afghanistan. Government did it’s share to convey a lack of trust problem. Although I might add… the national emotion following the attacks on 9/11 tended to present a higher public opinion to send troops to the Mid-East “to fight terrorism there and not here”. We wanted to strike back at someone, somewhere. Which does bring to mind the finicky shifting sway of public opinion, which in itself is a conspiracy in how our national opinion might be manipulated one way or the other.
Here’s an example of just that kind of thinking I recently discovered regarding Gallup polling prior to our involvement into World War II. This illustrates the finicky tendency of public opinion to respond to emotional situations from events, based on perceptions over truth, bias over reality, to the point where it goes completely 180 degrees.
(Interesting.. it took Pearl Harbor and the subsequent public opinion to bring us into war. Any surprise why it was so easy for America to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11?)
[The above graphics found HERE.]
Keep in mind that the Greatest Generation formed their opinions based on news alone.. media presented on the radio and in the newspapers, content filtered through editors and the passage of time. This is NOT to suggest that there was a government conspiracy to misinform or a radio station looking to make more profit on content manipulation. In those days radio news was presented more to meet a public service requirement for FCC licensing, and news was presented in quick clip “newscasts”, edited for brevity… not like talk radio or 30-60 minute news shows of today. If you wanted more to a story teased by the radio you consulted the newspaper who in turn printed reporting filed from the wire services like UPI, AP, Reuters, etc. or reports from the major newspapers of the day who had combat reporters embedded with the troops. BUT.. having stated that, if one had a radio anywhere in the country everyone heard the same reporting at the same time. The message, however limited in content, everyone could hear… or read in the papers. The biggest difference between them and now is not so much the speed of the reporting but the introduction of personal “analysis” and opinion mixed in with the news reporting.. which then suggests the possibility exists of manipulating the audience, presumably to meet someone’s (some owner’s) political agenda or enhance profits, or both It’s a very thin line as analysis can serve to provide context, scope, and alternative thought when forming your own opinions… if that’s done objectively. Although these days one person’s “objectivity” is another person’s “bias”.
Returning to the title of this post, are we entering a time of a new normal where a public spilt separates one reality from another reality and this cultural and political struggle will be with us for a while? Or… is this just a normal shift brought about by social change that is more fad than a lasting effect?
Is Truth Itself On Trial?
At the risk of sounding a bit philosophically deflective, I think this entire “thing” is all about a struggle in defining what is “truth”, then trying to find what IS the truth. That seems to be the single common denominator to all this. If we subscribe to the idea that there can be more than one truth at any given time (a position we are currently in) then how do we decide who’s truth prevails in order to maintain social balance? In the very beginning of our country we had issues of “truth” being in question.
Take for example that all-encompassing phrase that established our independence from England… “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
How much “truth” is in this statement when it was written at a time of slavery, gender inequality, and white male dominance? Looks good on parchment but rather hollow in practice.. right? In fact, it was two separate worlds for them; two separate truths. For that matter, England itself was running on the “truth” that they were the masters of the 13 colonies… until the Founding Fathers decided on a different “truth”.
So can we draw any conclusions from all this as to or nation making it past this cultural gauntlet unscathed in some way, or will this divide linger for years to come, possibly worsening, even after the pandemic itself has withered and blown away? Judging from our past history these “flare ups” of released social and political tensions do seem to reach a point where events and passions ebb. This doesn’t mean to suggest the “ebbing” is related to any dispute being solved. History also shows that over time there’s an apathy that many times results in the proverbial can being kicked down the road.. leaving tensions simmering just under the surface, until someone like Trump pops out of nowhere, ascending to power and becoming a voice to amplify discontent. I guess it all depends on how we handle it now.. and the passage of time itself.