In the United States during a critically important election year, we are seeing a flood of lies and distortions unlike any in the past as many citizens seem hungry for dirt and conspiracy theories while apparently unconcerned about facts or lies.
Back in 1982, Don Henley released his song, "Dirty Laundry," which lamented the news media's (and public's) fascination with dirt, gossip, death, innuendo, rumor and darkness of all kinds.
I make my living off the evening news
Some see the current hunger as more intense and more dangerous than ever before.
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry
We can do "The Innuendo"
We can dance and sing
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing
A long history of distortion
Political leaders and advertisers have been distorting the truth for decades, whether they be trying to convince the public that we are winning a war or selling them snake oil.
Democrats have done it, and Republicans have done it.
President Johnson kept saying victory was within reach in Vietnam. After him, Nixon kept up the same myth until we finally withdrew our forces without any victory at all.
President George W. Bush famously declared "Mission accomplished!" from the deck of an aircraft carrier long before any such claim was justified. After him, President Obama and his military advisors kept claiming victory in Afghanistan was within sight, but years later, President Trump hoped to withdraw our forces without any victory at all before the 2020 election.
As the election of 2020 approached in the USA, we saw distortions and false claims proliferate.
Did anybody care? Are facts and evidence no longer important? Can candidates say whatever they wish, making false claims and accusations while tossing truth out the window?
Even after the votes were counted and Biden was certified the winner, the losing candidate denied the outcome and spent weeks falsely claiming that the election had been stolen. His legal team lost 48 lawsuits claiming election fraud.
Is it getting worse?
Some commentators think social media have not only encouraged the production of falsehoods but have fanned the appetite of the general public to dine on hateful feelings, rage and divisiveness:
“The shareholders of Facebook decided, ‘If you can increase my stock tenfold, we can put up with a lot of rage and hate,’” says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“These platforms have very dangerous profit motives. When you monetize rage at such an exponential rate, it’s bad for the world. These guys don’t look left or right; they just look down. They’re willing to promote white nationalism if there’s money in it. The rise of social media will be seen as directly correlating to the decline of Western civilization.”
Citizenship education for times of rage
As part of preparing students for citizenship, schools are expected to equip them with the thinking and questioning skills so they can separate fact from fiction and determine who might be twisting the truth or lying.
It has been that way for decades, but citizenship education failed to confront the perverse hunger for conflict, acrimony, rage and rumor-mongering that has come to warp civic life in these United States as some groups have come to feel disadvantaged and wronged. Perhaps this failure occurred because such behaviors were once somehow unthinkable, the kind of mob behavior and anger exploited by Adolf Hitler. It could not happen in the USA!
What is generally considered practical, correct, sensible and honorable may be unappealing to some during times of turbulence and disaffection. Those who are alienated and aggrieved may take pleasure in doing the opposite of what is sensible, actually embracing and applauding the antics and misbehavior of a clown or fool. Mendacity is seen as a form of rebellion and cleverness, a courageous refusal to conform or play nice.
What is the cure?
Our best chance to restore a sense of decency and truth is to replace rage, alienation and disaffection with hope and the promise of a better future fueled by an economy that offers well paid employment for all.
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