No Serenity in the “Things I Cannot Change…”

Remember that popular, old “Serenity Prayer” where God is supposed to help us accept the things we can’t change, change what we can and simply be serene with the wisdom to define the difference?

Well, it’s not working for me now days.

I’m finding less and less peacefulness in a world where kids gunned down in schools is less newsworthy than the latest Kanye West, jiggaboo rant at the White House. It’s harder and harder to accept the fact that Neo-Nazis, white extremists and domestic terrorism is a bigger threat to Americans than the Taliban or Isis? There’s no calm when mass shooters echo the not-so-subtle, racist rhetoric of our (ugh) president. How, God, am I to be serene when I can’t stop newly empowered white folk from condemning and confronting citizens for taking their jobs or speaking their native tongue in public? Where is the tranquility when white people routinely call the cops on black folk for…well…simply being black folk?

The thought of cleansing Congress of a few rabid, Republican lackeys recently or the possibility of voting Donald Trump out of office in two years, should give me some level of comfort, right? Well, it doesn’t. Why? Because deep down I know that Trump is merely the most glaring symptom of an uglier, metastasized cancer in the bones, brain and organs of America. This untreated disease will run its God-awful course even if we somehow cut out the malignant tumor that is Trump.

You see, Trump didn’t just come out of nowhere. We Americans tolerated, abetted and enabled a toxic environment where an ill-informed, inarticulate, racist, buffoonish snake oil salesman has a national platform to spew hatred, division and white nationalism.

I am discomforted by the revelation that, in all honesty, the mainstream media, Trump’s ongoing nemesis, created our Frankenstein-in-Chief.

Hindsight can be a curse or a blessing. But if we look back a mere 20 years or so, we can see the genesis of the propagandist pathway that has invaded the hollowed halls of the once reputable 4th Estate.

Most of the established news media scoffed when the savvy Australian-American media mogul, Rupert Murdoch launched the FOX News Network. It started in 1996 with an estimated 17 million cable subscribers. Almost 10 years later, 2015, the network that specializes in Right-wing dogma skewed to validate the wacky, racist, extremist psycho-babble of its viewers had garnered an audience of almost 95 million.

In the early 2000’s, the heads of mainstream media outlets found themselves in a state of sheer panic. The phenomenon of the Internet, which gave the public the power to choose news that complimented their individual biases and beliefs had affected their bottom lines. This new form of “individualism” exposed through TV, radio and the Internet quickly dismantled old, established forms of public news-sharing in America.

The first victim of this new media onslaught was print media. With an estimated 80 percent of its revenues coming from advertising, it couldn’t compete with the up-to-the-minute, 24-hour programming offered by television, radio and Internet outlets.

I went to work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch around the time when newspapers were manically reacting to mass media competition. Across the nation newspapers initiated hiring freezes, downsized their operations or offered buy-outs to hundreds of seasoned, old-school journalists.

The long-standing tenets of journalistic objectivity and impartiality were undermined by money-making schemes aimed at attracting mostly younger audiences. In-depth, hard-hitting news stories were shortened for quick, easy cell phone or laptop access. Informative content was supplemented with more entertainment, more lifestyle and more personality-driven stories. Soon, not only newspapers, but left-leaning cable networks worked overtime to give news coverage that appeased the hordes of right-leaning readers and viewers who represented pure, unlimited advertising gold for conservative news organizations.

Political and social coverage and commentaries legitimized the woes of the “angry white American.” One 2011 study by Tufts University revealed that most whites felt that they, not blacks, were the new victims of racial discrimination.

How are those of us who “know the difference” supposed to peacefully reconcile the big, fat lie of a “post racial society?” We know that Donald Trump’s ascendancy directly correlates with the fallout and fanaticism associated with the election of America’s first black President.

The paranoid idea of rising anti-white racism coupled with the ludicrous notion that “liberals” had somehow orchestrated the election of an undercover Muslim became “real news” and not just on FOX. Major mainstream media outlets gave coverage to the wild notion that Obama wasn’t born in the US and had no legitimate birth certificate. This highly publicized claim, amplified by then businessman Donald Trump, ingratiated him among the legions of Tea Party followers, white supremacists and even so-called rational whites who had no sympathies, ties or allegiances to any political or extremist group.

I begrudgingly give Trump credit for accurately accessing the tone and tenor of many white voters. I use the term hesitantly because there should be no credit for benefiting from or accelerating racial animosity or division. Yet, the reality TV show King, waged his bets on just how ugly, uninformed and divisive his base was and continues to be.

Again, the mainstream media also played a role in codifying racial fears. There’s tons of research showing how it always has and continues to disproportionately depict African-Americans as criminals, and whites as victims. Even today, black or Latino gang members receive more public outrage and media scrutiny than the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of assault weapon-carrying white men shooting up schools, churches and synagogues in America.

Why do we feign surprise at people who support the callous act of separating brown, immigrant babies from their parents and locking them in cages? These are the same people who condone and justify the vigilante-style murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the police shootings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 18-year-old Mike Brown? They exhibited widespread callousness, inhumanity and disregard for brown and black lives long before Trump kicked off his presidential campaign.

This type of reckless reporting has bolstered the fears of whites who have no intimate connections with Latinos or blacks or their life experiences in a country founded on racism and the selfish “me first” philosophy of nativism.

The “Me too” movement and the “March for Our Lives” gun reform protests launched by women and affluent young people has received respectable media coverage. In fact, the “Me Too” movement has resulted in immediate redress with the outing, firing and ostracizing of high-profile celebrities, politicians and corporate leaders.

Not so with “the Black Lives Matter (BLM)” movement. It has been repeatedly positioned in the media as suspect, violent, terroristic or in direct opposition to more palatable slogans like “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.” Unlike the “Me Too” movement, there has been little respectful coverage, redress or collective action taken to hold cops accountable or deter them from unceremoniously shooting unarmed black people.

While on the campaign trail, Trump purposely positioned himself as the “law and order” candidate. Last year he encouraged a crowd of police officers “not to be “too nice” when arresting suspects. It’s why four weeks before the mid-term elections, Trump was out on the stump portraying Democrats as “anti-police.” All this and more are parts of Trump’s dog whistle to whites that all the people they fear, all the “others,” are to be placed in one endangered basket, be they Black, Hispanic, immigrant, poor or oppressed.

My lack of serenity comes from the fact the cat is out of the bag, that racism is again mainstream and that “stupid” is not only standard but profitable and inculcated in our society. There’s no peace in the idea that mass media has become neutered, manipulated and maligned to a point where it serves as a propaganda tool and source for anarchy. Trump’s madness has become mainstream and certainly there are other politicians ready to embrace and exploit his sensationalized, reality TV-based shenanigans.

So, yeah, God, I accept the things I cannot change. And, yes, I will continue trying to change what I can. But, I gotta tell you, having the wisdom to differentiate between these two parallel dynamics gives me absolutely no serenity.

Sylvester is a writer, former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, founder of the Sweet Potato Project and author of “When We Listen“

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