I’ve often said the biggest threat to humanity is a dangerous idea. We’ve seen it throughout history, and the cycle has repeated itself for millennia. Over the last two decades it has come in the form of Islamic extremism, and it can jump borders and navigate the globe with a YouTube video. In truth, these threats are often isolated and localized, but the emotions that resonate within us make us feel they are more lethal than cancer, heart disease, and domestic gun violence. All of which occur exponentially more often, but we are either desensitized to them, or have come to accept them as part of life.
Our latest threat, however, goes beyond dangerous ideas. It is so insidious, that it attacks humanity’s own immune system for combatting the very source. Turning the traditional defense mechanisms into parasitic attacks that spread like a virus. That threat is the inability to discern facts from reality. It has become so egregious that those without evidence scream “fake news” in the face of evidence to the contrary. Those that bring verifiable proof that goes against the narrative are branded snowflakes, liberal, or the extreme Left. In reality, the opposition to the Trump administration goes far beyond the Left, and well beyond our borders. The list includes the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Mexico and beyond. That should tell us something.
We have reached a point where Donald Trump can publicly insult our intelligence agencies on his Twitter feed and then stand in front of the stars of the fallen at Langley and tell agents that the media did it. Literally, the only place I can think of where this happens today is North Korea. A place where media is replaced with the voice of a dictator who determines what is “real” and what is not. That may seem like an extreme example, but is it? Donald Trump has declared CNN fake news, removed members of the Associated Press from the White House press corp., and lies routinely about the plummeting ratings of the Washington Post. He’s done this while simultaneously claiming he had the largest inauguration crowd in history, and even staged a press briefing to emphasize it (without questions of course).
This is the world we are living in now. A few, very powerful people, are systemically removing centuries of checks and balances and exclaiming the only place where credible information can come from is them. There is a reason that a free and independent press was explicitly stated in the First Amendment. The greatest check on the press is the press. Each outlet competing to find the truth, calling others out when they have it wrong, and while there are flaws in the process, they always, always self correct due to the presence of other outlets. In fact, the only times the press doesn’t self correct is when a government suppresses the information in the first place (e.g. Weapons of Mass Destruction).
Whatever your view of Edward Snowden is, we know about surveillance of law-abiding citizens because he was able to take it to the press. If his only option was to take that information to White House, do you think we would have learned that our own government was spying on us? Every president since George Washington has been held accountable by US citizens through the mechanisms the press provides. Is our country really willing to summarily give that up in a matter of a few months? It certainly seems that almost half our country feels that way. In a sense, Donald Trump is deploying the strategy of every pope prior to 1500. For those that aren’t aware, prior to 1500, all bibles were printed in Latin, Hebrew or Aramaic. As a result, only a few elite scholars could read and interpret the bible for the masses, and needless to say, what they “translated” as the word of god was often in the best interests of those elites. In the early 1500s, a guy named Martin Luther, at great personal risk, translated the bible into numerous common languages. Within just a few decades, hundreds of versions of Christianity were spawning. The reason is that for the first time, every day people had access to information they never had before.
Fast forward 500 plus years, add all of the nuances of our advanced information systems, speed of communication, and so forth… do you really want to trust a small group of elites to translate all of that information for you? Instead of having hundreds of media outlets to choose from, you’d have Donald Trump’s twitter feed, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway. The subset of which coined a term that never existed prior to 2017 – alternative facts. The literal translation of which is, not a fact.
In a sense, our new battle isn’t immigration, religious freedom, the economy, jobs, or any other issue that we consider fundamental to our society. The new battle is our ability to productively and openly discuss facts. It is such a rudimentary and essential part how society has advanced through the millennia and it is now facing an existential threat. If we cannot protect that most essential part of how we evolve as a human race, we leave our future in the hands of a few at the risk of many. I, for one, plan to pick that fight above all else. To ensure the future of productive, fact based conversations. If after all of the facts are reviewed, and we collectively agree to make a decision that I disagree with, so be it. The best argument won, and I’ll go back to work and swing again.