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Archive for January, 2021

Lesson 581 Words Matter

Yes, words really do matter... especially when they show a consistency over an entire lifetime. Sometimes they establish integrity and reliability. And sometimes they warn us of a potential tyrant.

Trump always substituted lies for his lack of knowledge. His language was always self-centered. His constant demand for loyalty was never reciprocal. His attacks on the news media were frequent. He made personal attacks on adversaries, even on his most loyal staff. He discriminated against minorities in many ways, and made it clear he preferred the white majority. Following his success hosting reality TV, he easily adapted and used entertainment-driven babble at his campaign rallies.

More recently he attacked people like John McCain and the Pope, apparently to make the point that he could get away with it much as he bragged about shooting someone in the street. He used words and references that encouraged white supremacists to feel empowered. He used outlandish daily tweets to get attention, dominate headlines, and create chaos. Before the election, he gutted the mail service and attacked mail-in ballots even though they had been used successfully for a long time. He charged that the election would be rigged by the Democrats, and tried to make it difficult for black people to vote. After he lost the election, he claimed it was stolen from him and continued to do so long after his claims were denied by the courts. He never lost his followers through all this, proving that repeated lies begin to sound true. As a last resort he challenged his followers to come to Washington to help him take their nation back. He ordered those who showed up to go the Capitol and did not call them off when the mob got out of control.

Most who participated in the siege were adamant that the election was stolen from Trump and that it could be overturned. Some thought it would give their career a boost if Trump won again in 2024. And it’s difficult to know what members of conspiracy groups, individual extremists, and militant militias were really thinking. Did they have something much bigger in mind for themselves? Only time will tell.

The combination of social media dynamics with Trump’s deceitful words and bombastic shouts have resulted in a tragic loss of truth. Make no mistake, the rule of law requires knowing the truth about everything… and so does democracy. Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, and all other autocracies, have already lost it. Now we must do whatever it takes to reject the possibility of an autocracy and save our sacred democracy.

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Lesson 580 A Social Media Tragedy

Social media empowers extremists

Hopes that these new tools would make society work better quickly melted away. Instead, lies, conspiracies, and personal attacks, became commonplace. Too many people no longer trusted experts, became confused about facts, and began to rely on information sources that reinforced what they wanted to believe.

What’s more, social media enabled a reality TV show host without character or ethics to become president… and to turn his long-demonstrated autocratic methods into a very large cult following. He told us both in words and deeds exactly who he was… but too many chose to ignore it.

Traditional news organizations, committed to finding and reporting truth, quickly found their influence declining. Some saw opportunities for commercial success. As a result, many television networks turned their anchors into stars, reduced hard news content, added more commercials, and increased “happy talk” segments. All this, while white supremacists and anarchists were using social media to become leaders inside their own violence-prone tribes.

Other news organization found commercial success by becoming a mouthpiece for a president whose tweeted rants helped increase their ratings. Ambitious politicians also were finding that weaponizing social media could be a pathway to satisfying their thirst for power. Former Republican leaders found the president’s autocracy preferences acceptable… especially when it put them close to power.

At the same time, foreign governments were using the Internet to disrupt societies and influence elections. Tragically, the U.S. President and others found that they could use this to their advantage. So Russia and other foreign governments began to increase efforts to generate confusion and social division… as well as to support the election of their favorite candidate.

Dictators love the Internet. We learned this with vivid clarity from a seditious attack on the U.S. Capitol… incited by the U.S. President, supported by his base, and led by known anarchists and Republicans who were willing to trade their dignity for visions of taking over control of the country.

In general, communication became so difficult in this social media-shaped and information-saturated world that we cannot count on journalists and other media professionals to advance our democratic republic for us. Rather, we must rely on public service-driven political leaders and their supporters to do that. Our next president therefore has a huge challenge ahead… and he will need all the help from us he can get.

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