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Columns

Make America read (and think) again

At the start of this new year, 2020, you’re probably expecting the usual comical column about how this year’s date sounds like an upbeat ophthalmologist’s diagnosis, or how my New Year’s resolution to lose weight will be accomplished by wearing lightweight linens rather than my usual woolen long johns and denim coveralls.

Instead, I’m going rogue by pretending I’m a serious columnist who takes on serious topics. You know, things discussed at the breakfast table when little Jackie spills his Cap’n Crunch. “Henry, that child of yours reminds me of how sloppy the Democrats were in the House judicial phase of the impeachment hearings.”

“At least they’re holding President Extortion & Obstruction’s feet to the fire.”

If you’re one of Donald J. Trump’s base, you won’t think a Senate trial should retire him from office. No matter how many times you hear he’s a lying, racist, adulterating, hypocritical, climate-change-denying, financially-fraudulent bully, you dismiss these accusations as peccadilloes. So I won’t try to convince you.

There’s an issue much more pressing than having a president who lives by the P.T. Barnum’s credo, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

In October, 2018, CBS reported 91 percent of “strong Trump supporters” said they trust the president to provide accurate information. This, even though “President Trump has now made 15,413 false or misleading claims over his 1,055 days in office, according to The Washington Post. That’s an average of nearly 15 every single day” (Daily Beast 12/16/19).

If you’re reading this, I don’t have to convince you that newspapers hold the fabric of society together better than any law. With investigative reporting, exposure of nefarious behavior and the twin blades of irony and satire, feature writers and columnists hold those in authority accountable and raise questions that need asking. When we stop supporting newspapers and magazines featuring research- and fact-supported information, reality will no longer be founded in truth, but in lies, hyperbole and an indifference to facts.

On New Year’s Eve eve, I watched the previous Sunday’s Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd interview the executive editors from The Washington Post and New York Times, Marty Baron and Dean MacKay. He asked them to respond to a letter printed in the Lexington Herald Leader: “…people have been trained from childhood to believe in fairy tales,…to accept things that make them feel good.”

“It’s our job to very aggressively sort out fact from fiction,” MacKay answered, citing an extensive fact-checking system.

“How do you address beliefs when they’re not rooted in reality?” Baron followed up. “How do you tell someone, ‘I’m trying to treat your fears seriously, but your facts don’t exist’? We live in an environment when people are able to spread crazy conspiracy theories and absolute falsehoods and lies…made possible by the internet and social media.”

The saddest—and most dangerous—part of this attack on truth is the president’s contempt for the mainstream media, calling it “the enemy of the people.” His bashing, bullying, and mocking newspapers and journalists, along with his false accusations of anyone opposing or exposing him, is splitting our country apart. Lincoln knew this well: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

A PBS Nova program (4/23/14) suggests that animal survival (including humans) depends on teamwork and group cohesion. An aerial video shows dolphins working “as a team…to get the better of fast-moving fish,” one dolphin creating a circular sand cloud as the other three sweep in, picking the frightened catch out of the air.

Does watching PBS and reading The New Yorker make me an elitist, a word anathema to the Trump base? If believing peer-reviewed scientific literature and fact-checked, double-sourced material in mainstream newspapers, magazines, television, podcasts and web sites makes me elitist, fine. At least I can distinguish fact from fabrication.

Wandering Half-Priced Books, I saw a tee shirt emblazoned with “MAKE AMERICA READ AGAIN.” May 2020 clarify the nation’s vision; most of us, I believe, long for 20/20 clarity.

• Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches high school English, and facilitates Geneva library’s writing workshop. His poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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