To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange year it’s been.
Electoral College electors met around the country on this Monday to ratify the win of a divisive and controversial President who finished second in the popular vote, trailing his opponent by nearly 2.9 million votes in an election that many now conclude is signed, sealed and delivered by Russian hackers and greased into office via “fake news” where rumour, innuendo and outright lies guided angry voters.
“The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue and with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there is little that can be done to constrict or control his power and unpredictability,” writes New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow in today’s edition. “It’s like seeing an ominous weight swinging toward a limb, sure to break it, while you feel utterly helpless to prevent the fracture.”
The New York Times recently editorialized that Trump is the epitome of a society where lies rule and truth is irrelevant.
Donald Trump understood at least one thing better than almost everybody watching the 2016 election: The breakdown of a shared public reality built upon widely accepted facts represented not a hazard, but an opportunity. The institutions that once generated and reaffirmed that shared reality — including the church, the government, the news media, the universities and labor unions — are in various stages of turmoil or even collapse.
“One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover,” writes Paul Krugman, a columnist I regularly read and admire. “But if there is any hope of redemption, it will have to begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are. American democracy is very much on the edge.”
Lies are a sad fact of political life.
Writes Ari Rabin-Havt in The Washington Post:
Trump and his talking heads didn’t create this world. It is a result of a decades-long strategy devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. Trump emulated some of these disinformation techniques, gleaned from big business, during his campaign.
Today, 82 percent of Americans believe that smoking is “very harmful.” However, in the 1950s, the industry’s efforts influenced coverage from journalists as revered as Edward R. Murrow. In 1994, the chief executives of the seven largest tobacco companies told Congress under oath that they did not believe their products were addictive; more than 20 years later, they have yet to face penalties for their apparent perjury. Vice President-elect Mike Pence wrote in an op-ed posted on his 2000 congressional campaign website that, “despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.” That year, his campaign received at least $13,000 from PACs affiliated with Big Tobacco.
Yes, we are coming to the end of a long, strange year.
Soon, we will start an even longer, and most-likely stranger, new year.
God help us all.
(Originally written on Dec. 19. Updated on Dec. 22)
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