Random notes and data points on the state of American politics and culture.
Cable news is, generally speaking, a cesspool of division, disgust and distraction. Therefore, “the Alec Baldwin shoots a person on a movie set” story was the perfect cable news event. A Fox News freelance photographer summed up this reality perfectly: “Baldwin, he’s as close to US/American royalty as we have in this country, so that put the British TV on the story … A lot of it is timing and what else is going on in the news cycle.”
Also in the news cycle: “Government leaders face two choices in Glasgow, Patricia Espinosa, head of the U.N. climate office, declared at the summit’s opening: They can sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions and help communities and countries survive what is becoming a hotter, harsher world, Espinosa said. ‘Or we accept that humanity faces a bleak future on this planet.’”
In 1985, academic and writer Neil Postman published a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Among other observations, Postman wrote: “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
A conservative, pro-Trump candidate won the Virginia governor’s race this week by defeating a former governor with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. In part, Glenn Youngkin won because of books, including controversial books by a Black female author. Youngkin’s victory was widely portrayed as a defeat for Joe Biden, even though the party in the White House has lost the Virginia governor’s race in 11 of the last 12 elections.
One Youngkin campaign ad “features an older blond woman, wringing her hands and telling a story about a book that her son had to read for school – one that was so upsetting, so explicit, that her ‘heart sunk’ to think of it. Internet sleuths didn’t have to look far to find out that the woman was Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County conservative activist; the son is Blake Murphy, who’s now 27 and works for the National Republican Congressional Committee; the traumatizing reading was done almost a decade ago; the explicit book was Toni Morrison’s much-decorated masterpiece, Beloved.”
“A Texas Republican lawmaker has launched an investigation into some of the state’s school districts’ libraries, demanding in a letter that educators say whether their schools own books named in a list of 850 titles, many of which cover issues of race and sexuality.”
Again, Neil Postman: “What [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
“Over the last several months, school board meetings across the country have become ground zero for contentious and destructive battles. The vitriolic political rhetoric and threatening behavior are posing a serious threat to democracy.”
“At a school board meeting in Illinois, a man was arrested after allegedly striking an education official. At another in Virginia, one man was arrested for making a physical threat, and a third was injured. And at other meetings in states such as Washington, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Tennessee, school board members have had to adjourn early after being confronted by angry mobs.”
“Violence and true threats of violence should have no place in our civic discourse, but parents should absolutely be involved in public debates over what and how our public schools teach their children, even if those discussions get heated,” according to a letter read by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Postman: “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
Meanwhile in a rural, medically underserved area of northwest Oregon, an all-volunteer school board worked with a not-for-profit health center to create a school-based clinic for middle and high school students. A local foundation contributed to the effort that aims to improve health care for youngsters leading to better educational outcomes. So far, the effort has received no media attention.
The former president of the United States attended Game 4 of the World Series in Atlanta and participated in the controversial – racist – “tomahawk chop” with Braves fans. He lied about being invited to the game by Major League Baseball. “Former president Donald Trump will attend Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday at Truist Park, Atlanta CEO Terry McGuirk told USA TODAY Sports. ‘He called MLB and wanted to come to the game,’ McGuirk said. ‘We were very surprised. Of course, we said yes.’”
Fox, carrying the game to millions, showed pictures of the former president, because of course they did.
More Postman: “Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”
The Associated Press: “The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 5 million on Monday, less than two years into a crisis that has not only devastated poor countries but also humbled wealthy ones with first-rate health care systems. Together, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Brazil — all upper-middle- or high-income countries — account for one-eighth of the world’s population but nearly half of all reported deaths. The U.S. alone has recorded over 745,000 lives lost, more than any other nation.”
Conservative commentator Tom Nichols latest book is called Our Own Worst Enemy. In his newsletter this week, Nichols wrote: “Of course, we’re still a powerful country. We have military muscle, from bullets to nuclear weapons, beyond measure. And we’re awash in money, with a GDP nearly as large as our next three competitors combined. We hold bags of patents and buckets of Nobel Prizes. The products of American institutions from universities to movie studios are exported across the planet. But when it comes to seriousness—the invaluable discipline and maturity that allows us to discern matters that should transcend self-interest, to set aside churlish ego and emotionalism, and to act with prudence and self-restraint—we’re a weak, impoverished backwater.”
Tomorrow promises to be worse.