Do you know the term “red herring?”
Dictionary.com defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.” The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.
But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.
That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts” have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.
This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:
- Where’s the update on Comey’s Senate hearing? At the moment, it seems like he’s just target practice for the right’s paranoid stonewalling.
- Did you know that the first (and probably not last) articles of impeachment against Trump have been filed? Although, one shivers to think about Mike Pence situated in the Oval Office, it looks like we’re distant from a full proceeding.
- There’s also the overturned amendment that would repeal transgender individuals’ right to openly serve in the military, as well as prevent any funds from being allocated towards gender reassignment procedures.
- The Commander-in-Collusion is also hell bent on getting his border wall (or at least parts of it). $1.6 billion has been allocated in a proposed budget, which lawmakers would see come from Planned Parenthood and cuts to SNAP (a large portion of program beneficiaries opted for President Orange, though the FDA definitely recommends more green on the plate).
- Local Chicago supporters recently marched to encourage Governor Bruce Rauner to sign HB40. Marchers dressed as dystopic handmaids a la The Handmaid’s Tale to protest Illinois’ altering its position on access to abortion should the Supreme Court’s revisit Roe vs. Wade. As of April, Rauner most planned to veto the bill.
- With no credible evidence of a pervasive issue, voter fraud panels are nonetheless becoming a real thing. Cheers to the 48 states refusing to comply with a turnover of records. This major, undemocratic privacy threat has prompted large-scale voter registration cancellation, which, honestly, is exactly what this administration and the GOP wants. By scaring the left, minorities and what is is left of the center, these campaigns ensure that remaining registered voters become the only voices heard.
These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well, as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.
This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.
As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable. We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.
Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.