Increasingly Blurred Partisan Lines Offer Hope for Journalism in 2018

2017 has been a strange and disturbing year for the United States in so many far-reaching ways. Long, well-researched books will be written about this year’s impact (or lack thereof) on income inequality, government corruption, gender dynamics, the justice system, immigration, suffrage, healthcare, civil rights, the First Amendment, foreign policy, war and climate change. I’m hard pressed to think of a major issue facing humanity that hasn’t been stress tested to the point of breaking spirits, cultures, families, the economy and the nation in the seventeenth year of the 21st Century.

For liberal political journalists, it’s been especially hard to dissociate the self from the reporting. 2017 has been an unusually challenging year for investigating topics unemotionally. At least tangentially, we have a stake in the story by virtue of sharing space with other people affected by a policy, decision or revolution.  I don’t live in Puerto Rico, but I don’t need to in order to feel helpless anger over fellow Americans failed by every possible government system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People are still dying from the ripple effects of disease, water and power shortages, not to mention the callousness of a President who believes a paper towel tossing photo op is #MAGA – because brown people are takers.

As a writer/human hybrid, there have been many days and weeks this year when the power of the pen hasn’t felt forceful enough. That the exercise in information sharing that is journalism falls impotently short of the action needed to right a country that has popularly lurched toward heartlessness at the highest levels of government. Isolationist xenophobia, backs turned to war-torn refugees, a place where Nazis are labeled “very fine people,” black lives only matter when it comes to kneeling in protest and female reproductive health is a political bargaining chip for the dominant hierarchy of middle-aged white men. It’s easy to become disoriented and confused to the point of inertia. Should I be writing about this? Should I be in the streets? Am I supposed to be deliberating? Hand me another scotch in the meantime.

I do not pretend to be a moderate. Never have. I can’t be less than all the way when it comes to constructing government and social systems that support and offer opportunity equally. I do not believe we go it alone. Call me a socialist, a radical, an angry intersectional feminist or any of the more colorful epithets offered by my (typically male) Twitter trolls. When the leader of the country governs by pandering to the ignorant 35 percent, rather than representing all Americans, displaying the kind of divisive, threatening behavior and rhetoric well known to despots, I’m happy to be branded an enemy of the state. As lonely and frightening as it can be to sit outside the circle, the air is a lot less toxic.

All of this is to say that as the end of the year approaches, I and many other exhausted journalists in my acquaintance are still trying to find our footing. Just the facts has been replaced by fake news, many of the policy threats are deeply personal and after all, wallowing in the muck of the Trump era is spiritually exhausting. However the work continues in a bi-partisan way, and if there’s comfort to be found in the crusade, it’s the unexpected shared experience with an increasingly large number of conservative writers and pundits. If you’d told me just 18 months ago, that I’d find myself aligned with the thoughts of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center – in the same week! – I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But here we are:

“The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation…Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.”

“The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”

“[Republicans], have faith. Not everything comes down to an immediate election that is this coming Thursday. Think long term, philosophically. Be true to your own political principles, but have some faith and don’t make decisions that are not ones that you’re really comfortable with.”

Suddenly it seems conservative to stand against cynicism, pedophilia, party before country and the corporate raiding of the American people. I and other liberals may disagree with these writers on “everyday” policies. But in 2017, normalcy has been supplanted by Constitutional crises and the end days of representative democracy. The journalistic blurring of party lines may offer small 2017 comfort. But as a writer, it gives me energy to take on 2018.

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Beyond the Helpers

There’s a popular Facebook meme circulating that quotes the late, esteemed Fred Rogers advising us to “look for the helpers” during times of tragedy.

This well-meaning trend re-emerges just when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to a lack of transparency for the social network’s advertising policies and display algorithms. Specifically, the ads allowed foreign (Russian) companies to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars into circulating divisive, often false information. These ads were paid for in Russian rubles, from an unclear source that Facebook has not been required to disclose…yet.

In addition to the negative political sway Facebook has exhibited through ad sales, there has been a barrage of content relative to kneeling NFL players and interpretations of Trump’s (in)actions in Puerto Rico. This is the backdrop against which the “look for the helpers” philosophy has re-emerged. 

With these events, the construct of “helpers” is considered in different ways.  With the NFL protests, we need help clearing the misinterpretations of protests against police brutality, as well as an understanding of First Amendment rights. In Puerto Rico, significant humanitarian efforts from celebrities and everyday people have taken the place of significant government action. Helpers seem to be in short supply with too many challenges across the nation and the globe to attend to at once.  The aid needed is varied as well: hearts and minds (NFL) versus a physical requirement to rescue and rebuild infrastructure (Puerto Rico). 

The renaissance of the Mr. Rogers meme, however, is overwhelming applied to the  mass-shooting that took place in Las Vegas weekend. While there are ways to help our fellow Americans  through every crisis (and there is abundant evidence of Good Samaritanism in Vegas), now more than ever, we need action from our duly elected government representatives.

I’m looking for the helpers to address our many challenges on Capitol Hill, and across the board, I’m finding them lacking. The obvious leader in failure is Mr. Trump, who benefited from the Russian attack ads, greatly exacerbated the NFL protest’s momentum, made a mockery of assistance in Puerto Rico (he wanted to throw cans of chicken a.k.a. metal projectiles into a crowd of people without water or power) and has already deflated efforts for gun control reform, because white male “lone-wolves” are his people. The President of the United States, rather than being our central helper is instead the Instigator in Chief.

Sure, there’s a select few representatives pushing for changes in gun laws, but the political gridlock turns it all into lip service. An insufficient proposed regulation of gun stocks rather than gun sales. Over 500 injured and 58 dead demands more than compassion and partisan time wasting. It demands positive action across the aisle that will actually save lives.

I offer up a new meme: Guns don’t kill people. Cynicism does.

What’s American Anyways?

In the past week, we saw the resurrection and death of another GOP healthcare bill, as well as massive failures across the board for the Trump administration in terms of focus and constructive action.

One obvious example of the discord is yet another social media war launched by the President, with tweets railing against the NFL. The rising political consciousness of athletes has been  assailed since former quarterback Colin Kaepernick  began a peaceful on-field protest a year ago. Some of the loftier discussions involve definitions of what constitutes patriotism. The Trumpbots advocate blind allegiance to tradition, with minimal consideration of different sociopolitical experiences of our country. Others view Kapernick’s kneeling as an expression of First Amendment rights designed to advocate change.

What does it mean to be American? The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and the public and the office of President have been tested to back up their patriotism – with trial by fire, rain and torrential winds. Hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters have recently devastated states, territories, and communities.

Trump and his America have failed to be inclusive in their support of crisis operations. In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Texas is slowly on the path to recovery and the Florida Keys are opening up next week for tourism, despite 25 percent of homes being destroyed. News of progress has been muted, eclipsed by other trending topics, including the devastation of non-mainland American territories.

Texas and Florida have electricity and supplies. Puerto Rico does not. It took nearly a whole week for public outcry to turn into a collective roar, demanding that Donald Trump and his administration take action, rather than ignore the increased degradation of daily life for Puerto Ricans.

I’m sure your social media, news feeds and offline conversations have been filled with both NFL news and hurricane updates. But we need more media clarity regarding exactly who is being most negatively affected by the indifference: those whose skin tone is not found on the same color swatch as Mr. Trump (although in fairness, there aren’t many orange people).

It’s no secret that America has a race and “othering” problem. This administration is attacking sexual assault victims, non-christian religions, and pre-emptively filing waivers for the Jones Act in areas that support Trump and house his default residence.  Meanwhile, leadership held off on filing for a ravaged area full of brown people.

It’s time to hold authorities responsible and accountable for their lethal biases. People are dying from inaction and insufficient support. To be American isn’t a complexion, blind obedience to a ritual or speaking Midwestern English. Americanism used to mean welcoming and protecting freedoms, taking care of our citizens in times of crisis. It’s a shame that the occupant of the nation’s highest office needs constant reminders.

Wedding #5 (October 31, 2014)

Vieques, Puerto Rico; Coralville, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois; Peoria, Illinois

At first glance, as the old Sesame Street tune goes, “One of these things is not like the others.” The freak entry in my 2014 wedding travel log is a sunny paradise full of clear waters, scenic cliffs and exotic wild animals (in this Midwesterner’s defense, frogs and iguanas qualify as otherworldly in a landscape rife with pigeons, rats and squirrels). The other four stops are…flat and full of corn.

There’s a cute new television commercial airing courtesy of Southwest Airlines. In it, a perennial wedding guest is shown rocking a succession of attractive frocks, while throwing down some infectiously committed, if spastic, dance moves. In one scene, she is forced to adjust the overeager hands of a juvenile suitor. I am not saying this happened to me at the Iowa wedding, but if I did, would you be surprised? Basically, change the protagonist’s hair color to a deep red and put a few more years on her, and this advertisement tells my story.

When the invitations started rolling in around the New Year, I had a few concerns about my ability to rise to the occasions, above and beyond the ample financial and time investment required. A jam-packed wedding season is not normally the favored prospect of a two-time divorcee. Also, as regular readers of this blog know, I limped into 2014 fresh from the latest incapacitating romantic disappointment. I was emotionally bankrupt and attending up to six personal and group therapy sessions a month when the first invite was extended.

One must be comatose to find a summons to Eden unappealing, especially when it comes from a dear friend who’s become part of the family. And when that sister’s betrothed flatters a battered ego with a request to sing the wedding song, “Besame Mucho,” only a real fool rejects such an opportunity. I wrote about the experience earlier this year as a transformative one in many ways. It left me with the ability to envision myself, for the first time, as a contented retiree. Personal vistas expanded with time and freedom to celebrate life, committed love and a raw, achingly beautiful, undeveloped part of the world I rarely experience.

I kind of assumed Puerto Rico would be an anomaly. Upon a mid-April return, I tried to fortify myself for the coming onslaught of other people’s dreams coming true, and the bitterness I expected to wear as an accessory. The level of adoration I feel for these people would take priority over self-indulgent pouting of course, but no way could I just sail through a matrimony parade feeling fine, right?

As it turns out, once I got it right in my head that I have zero interest in a third husband, and am not totally sure there’s a commitment of any type in my future (at 36, the small talk associated with a first date feels like too much labor better invested elsewhere), I became a veritable reception MACHINE. I’ve clapped along because I felt like a room without a roof. I have done the Cupid Shuffle after drinking enough champagne to believe myself a channel for Eartha Kitt levels of sexiness. I have hit the buffet, asked for cake seconds and encouraged intoxicated men to do the Worm. Because why not?

One thing I have not done? Get in line to catch the bouquet. Let the other ladies take their superstitious turn. In my 20s, I caught myself a grand total of three castoff flower bunches and guess what? Didn’t up the odds of matrimonial success one whit.

So this weekend is wedding number 5. And I’m ready to Electric Side myself back onto the dance floor. Upon reflection, the coveted, raucous guest is where I always should have left it.

Cheers!