The Inauguration and the marches are behind us and now the work begins in earnest. On the radio earlier this week I heard a Russian journalist warn against being distracted by “chaff” news, and the example he gave was the inaugural crowd size kerfuffle from the weekend. In Russia, ridiculous lies about non-essential news is a tactic used to distract from significant news that consequently gets underreported. To paraphrase, he said that they deliberately draw attention to what they are saying to distract reporters and the public from the things that they are doing.
My new mantra: We cannot allow things that are tangential or invasive to distract us from what is important, nor can we ignore the glimmers of good even as we expect the worst.
I am totally guilty of pouncing on the snark currently dominating Facebook, even though I also try to share substantive news. Recently I shared numerous pieces about the departing First Family, the stark differences in style and manners, the copycat cake, and signs from the march. I didn’t march myself, but all month long I wrote emails and made calls about cabinet appointments and pending legislation. I am grateful to those who did march, and I try to be sensitive to those that felt the march was not as inclusive as they had hoped. Can you appreciate enthusiasm and check privilege at the same time? I hope so. I’m trying.
No amount of fire could challenge the fairy tale he had stored up in his heart. – F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby
I keeping picturing the green light blinking in the fog across the sound in The Great Gatsby. The careless carnage of the Buchanans is playing out in front of us and sometimes it feels like we are helpless to stop it. The voters are Gatsby, who thinks the billionaires club is itching for us to join when really we will just be taking the fall for them. If we let the pomp and the parties distract us – if we let the real news sink under the weight of the confetti – the careless couple (Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, to be precise) will blithely continue to put their interests before ours and we will end up face down in the water.
Meanwhile, the media will chase the confetti. NBC has plundered FOX News’ anchors not to improve its journalism but to improve its ratings. In 2015 Trump hosted SNL playing a candidate and now they have Alec Baldwin coming back to host SNL playing Trump (February 11). CNN is only “discovering” now that broadcasting lies upon lies with real-time coverage is tacitly endorsing those untruths. For 18 months Donald Trump got all the live, unedited, un-factchecked coverage he could ask for at his rallies and only now is CNN delaying broadcast of a White House press conference so they can decide whether it is newsworthy. I’m hard pressed (pun intended) to believe that the only reason they are doing that now is that it won’t cost them much in terms of ad revenue – the people who ate up Trump’s rallies with a spoon will not give the same attention to a White House press conference. But if a conference is deemed “newsworthy” they can take the juicy bits and tart them up for prime time, right? Talking about what they say and giving short shrift to what they do. Putin will approve.
All last fall we heard the allegedly liberal media speak admiringly of how brilliantly Kellyanne Conway was taming Trump and keeping him on message. They looked on her lies and deflections with bemusement, thinking surely the sideshow would never make it to the center ring. They must be rubbing their hands with delight now that the Kellyanne and Donald show will go on and on, right up to the impeachment, which will also be fantastic for ratings.
And Congress wrings its hands and explains wanly that what we thought were checks and balances are actually gentleman’s agreements: it turns out tax returns, blind trusts and anti-nepotism rules are not codified, really, just suggested. Who knew? And Mitch McConnell has proven that even the rules that are codified in the Constitution, like those governing Supreme Court appointments, can be completely ignored as long as you have a big enough majority.
But it was the targeting of the President’s young son on social media that made me stop short and reassess my own social media priorities and boundaries. There is a lot that could be said about this young man that might be insightful and helpful, but the fact is it’s really not our business to speculate about how the fishbowl of the White House might affect him. The best we can do is leave him alone and hope that he never has to feel alone.
So from now on I am going to try and be more careful about how I use my accounts and platforms, drawing a more thoughtful line between fun and news. I will be bypassing pussy hats for corgies in the snow, posting fewer retweets and more legislative alerts, and sharing the kinds of art, food, and literature that keep me optimistic. I will continue to emphasize news about disability and autism (saving Medicaid and the preserving the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and trying not to overshare the “chaff.” I hope people will share my posts that matter to them without my asking.
This post is my way of holding myself accountable: to keep my social media eye on the ball and pay less attention to what people in power are saying and more attention to what they are doing. Words matter. Actions matter even more, and sharing and retweeting alone do not count as action.