On the second day after the 2020 U.S. General Elections, before the final counts and recounts have been certified, it is clear that American voters
delivered a resounding message to our leaders. Not, of course, the message either the reds or the blues were hoping for. It was the clear,
unequivocable sound of deep polarity. America responded to the endless political maneuvers, the leaks, the scandals, the bombshells, the promises, the
rhetoric and the accusations with a single message: we are divided. Never in this writer’s experience has e pluribus unum
been so distant.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy went before Congress to propose that the United States should commit to landing a man on the Moon. In September of
1962, at a speech on the campus of Rice University, he made an appeal for public support of the project. America came together behind the idea, and
only seven years later, after trial and error, tremendous hard work, and even loss of life, Neil Armstrong created the first human footprint in the
lunar dust at the Sea of Tranquility.
Such an achievement seems beyond the capability of the once-intrepid, boldly ingenious America. We have now become sodden with our technology,
fascinated with minutae and the superficial drama of the day to day lives of celebrities. Our children dream of the next generation iPhone or console,
or the next version of their favorite first person shooter. We seem to think that if we just get that new car, or that new house, life will be better.
But it’s the other side that is ruining everything. It’s those evil Republicans, or those corrupt Democrats that are the problem. The unity across
the villages, towns, and cities of America that took up arms against the terror of Adolf Hitler, that rose to President Kennedy’s challenge, even
that united to sing on the Capitol steps after 9/11 seems gone, lost in a haze of partisan bickering, self-righteous indignation, and political
Ironically, Mr. Kennedy said the following in his speech that sunny September afternoon in 1962:
“For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill
depends on man…”
In the latter days of the 1990s, shortly after unpacking the first PC I ever purchased and eagerly spinning up the state-of-the-art v.90 56k modem to
“get online”, I was confronted with the reality of technology’s dependence upon man for its moral and ethical use. Discovering the ease with
which photos were altered and the lighting-fast progression of the technology, it occurred to me that at some point in the future we may not be able
to distinguish true photos from fake photos, that with the right software, anyone with enough skill would be able to alter a photograph to show
whatever they wished.
Yes, it is possible to detect artifacts and anomalies in digital photography files that point to a fake, but the vast majority of people using the
internet are not capable of such an analysis on their own, instead having to rely on other authorities for that kind of verification. And photographs
are but one type of information prevalent. There are documents, emails, websites, audio and video files - every single one of which can be altered or
manipulated and passed off as authentic. We live in a world where “evidence” is like those YouTube videos purporting irrefutable proof of a UFO,
which upon watching is a shaky cell-phone recording of a tiny dot of light, constantly in and out of focus. The “evidence” could be anything.
The result of the constant barrage of the cycle of “bombshell evidence!” followed by “complete debunking!” has been a steady erosion of trust
in all authority. No authority goes unchallenged, no authority goes unstained for long. We do not trust the press, different ideologies, different
cultures, or even our own elected officials.
I remember hearing a proponent of social media eagerly advocating its use as a vehicle to connect people into cultures that transcended geography, to
form unity where there had been none. It proved to be true in certain ways, and was hailed as an achievement not possible before social media came
along. However, its evolution has been to connect like-minded people with relative exclusivity, such that the evidence for our convictions resonates
loudly inside our own echo chambers.
The prolification of echo chamber cultural bubbles has driven civil discourse to the brink of death. We no longer have to be confronted with ideas
that challenge truth in our personal universe. We can spend all day, every day perusing and reading and educating ourselves in endless variety on
things that challenge none of our beliefs. To disagree, even vehemently, is natural. But in our desire to be right we have destroyed courtesy to
opposing views, demanding certain viewpoints are so wrong they should be silenced. We have lost the ability to focus on solving the very real problems
in our country through reasoned thought, vigorous debate, humble objectivity, and simple respect for human dignity. We have lost the quiet pride in
our ingenuity and competitiveness that placed three Americans on the moon in July of 1969. Our activities at home and abroad seem to have eroded any
moral and ethical standing that once caused other nations to look upon the United States as a bastion of freedom and justice.
Senator Hiram Johnson, in an address to the Senate in 1917, said “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” Today’s politics have been
likened to war, with stakes just as high as they were for the two World Wars. However, the real casualty of America’s polarity and division is not
truth, it is trust. Trust in the press. Trust in our elected officials. Trust that other political parties have America’s best interests at hear.
Trust that the truth will out. Trust that the system of self-improvement the founders of the United States put in place will result in steady
progress, an ever-better nation that will endure.
I believe that in their hearts, most Americans want the country to succeed, to progress, to get better and move forward. But the way to move the
country forward is not to convince half of the country they are wrong and you are right. It is not to drown out their voices with partisan rhetoric,
hyperbolic drama, and character assassination. It is not to manipulate and curate the story, to wordsmith facts so make yourself look better and your
opponents look worse, to suppress any valid questioning of the narrative.
Instead, I believe the way forward is to take a humble, objective approach to each problem, to look at all evidence and all opinions, to consider
other perspectives, to focus on solving the problem without poison pills, childish name-calling, suggestions of impropriety, or buried favors to
friends and donors. The way for us to advance the country forward from this place of division and chaos is, in short, to act like adults
edit on 11-5-2020 by PrairieShepherd because: Ut forma