“down on the corner of ruin and grace
…it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes.”
— Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction” (listen)
Somehow, I don’t think this is what she meant.
Eliza released Beautiful World in 2008. It was an audacious moment of hope after eight years of Bush, five years of an illegal war we fought so hard to prevent, 911, Halliburton, Blackwater, WMDs, the Patriot Act, you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.
I listened to that cd a couple of weeks ago, after the election. It sounded — I hate to say it—quaint, naive. THIS wasn’t the dystopia we had imagined.
Somehow the world was still upright then. And we were upright in it. There was solid ground beneath the empire. These times are disorienting. The ground feels not so solid.
We are living in a world in times when, for our own sanity, we have to choose between whether to take our elected President seriously, but not literally, or literally, but not seriously; when choosing either perspective lands us outside the truth of the whole situation.
And what is the truth of the situation?
I’m preoccupied with a couple of interrelated discourses that are trying to figure that out: 1) The attempt to put this thing in some kind of historical context that makes sense out of it; and 2) the analysis of the real time documentation and commentary on this history as it unfolds—i.e., journalism in the current context, under the supposedly democratizing influence of the internet and social media in contrast to the big money monopolized mainstream media and traditional journalistic institutions/corporations. And the one depends so deeply on the other.
One the one hand, you have brilliant interviews like this one on the Diane Rehm show with scholars of history describing how, objectively speaking, looking at things that actually happened in the world and not that long ago, we are living in a pre-fascist moment. The elements are all here. Really. It’s not just liberals calling people names. (My favorite exchange in the interview is when Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation tries to deflect the conversation asking why don’t we call Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez fascists? Well, because they aren’t FASCISTS, moron.)
On the other hand, you have landmark journalism institutions spending enormous amounts of time and space attempting to validate Trump/the institution of the Presidency by examining how his false statements, impulsively tweeted, were absolutely baseless on the face of it, but maybe, possibly, sort of could be seen as a little true, or at least attributable to some outside source, say, like Alex Jones. It’s absurd!
Trump denies the validity of the CIA’s report on Russian hacking by saying “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” The Washington Post spent more than 1700 words “fact checking” that statement, leading with this:
Trump’s complaint about this semi-ancient history is a bit odd because a) the intelligence analysts who worked on Middle East WMDs are not going to be the same as analysts focused on Russian cyber-behavior; b) the intelligence collection for hacking in the United States by overseas powers would be different from assessing illicit weapons programs in the Middle East; and c) reforms were put in place after the Iraq War to make it harder for suspect intelligence to bubble up to the top ranks without careful scrutiny. (For instance, a new procedure required heads of intelligence agencies to vouch personally for the credibility of any of their own agency’s sources that are used in a major estimate.)
Did they REALLY just go THERE? Is THAT what’s wrong with this “statement?” Trump is coopting the very valid criticism of the lie used to justify launching an endless war, the war that brought us Abu Graihb and ISIS, to shut down a crucial public examination of a very serious national security problem.
And then, Trump debunks the Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign with three tweets accusing the whole enterprise of being nothing more than a tax shelter scam to save Amazon, which, like the Washington Post, is owned by Jeff Bezos. Well… Didn’t we worry about the quality of the Wall Street Journal’s reporting after Rupert Murdoch bought it? It’s CRITICALLY important to analyze the political economics of corporate journalism. But that’s not what he’s doing. This is a deflection.
Yesterday Fresh Air and The Diane Rehm Show included segments on the fake news phenomenon and its influence on the election and culture at large. They have to! Because, in my mind, this morning, this rhetorical manipulation of facts, the truth, needs to be a factor in how we respond to this crisis and direct our energies.
What is “fake news?” It’s not simply the entrepreneurial genius of Macedonian teenagers or a 400-pound guy lying in his bed in New Jersey. Fake news works because it hints at something that feels just true enough, something plausible in this tautologically absurd era of “reality” tv, when we parse the difference between scripted and unscripted reality. We KNOW “reality tv” isn’t real, right? Dare I say, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength?
So, when Dr. Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University and an expert on the dismantling of democracy by fascism, discusses the similarities between pre-fascist societies just decades ago and now, many people find it too easy to dismiss the argument as histrionics and propaganda.
Don’t take that bait. Don’t go down that rabbit hole like the Washington Post did on Trump’s WMDs pronouncement. Don’t be distracted.
As I look back on just the last 15 years, I can see pretty clearly the trajectory we’ve been on. It has brought us precisely here. I see this abstract, word- level of reality as one critical battleground on which we must stand firm now more than ever. The other is in material reality — the actual real world.
This is NOT the great correction Eliza imagined. We have yet to get there. So when the fake newsers tell us to calm down, that it’s not so bad, that if it were, people would be rising up in the street in protest… look around and show them that we are. Be commited to what’s real.