Desperately Seeking a Sanity Clause

In just five short years, this republic — "if we can keep it," to paraphrase Ben Franklin — is destined to mark its sesquicentennial: 250 years from the day that “We the People” was signed into the Declaration of Independence, to assert that we wanted to free ourselves from the tyranny of a monarchy.

The nation's Bicentennial is etched in my memory because it was in the summer of 1976 that I arrived at the newspaper with its roots to 1792, three years after the United States came into being. There was tremendous pride as The Greenfield Recorder published a special six-section edition with multicolor, specially-commissioned paintings of the American Revolution. It was an impressive, ambitious compendium of entirely local history from 200 years ago.

We might see such a display of national pride from a mainstream newspaper five years hence, but I certainly wouldn't count on it. Especially since newspapers may be entirely gone by then.

And as for the nation, I predict we'll still be reeling from the 2024 presidential election, regardless of who's won, since the sore, diabolical loser-liar from the last election is still stewing in a self-induced fabricated controversial delusion. The sad part isn't that he seems thoroughly absorbed (or at least has his subjects absorbed) in this fantasy unlike anything this nation has experienced in its history; it's that despite having presented absolutely no real evidence of any grounds for his baseless claims, his followers seem to believe a man who told 16,241 lies during his four years in office, according to The Washington Post.

And his eleborate fantasy, as loony as it is, is being used as the premise for blatant attempts to restrict voting rights to citizens around this nation? That's absolutely deplorable.

What began with the culture wars -- first described in sociologist James Davison Hunter's 1991 book "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America" in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War -- the fracture over hot-button political issues like abortion, guns, church/state separation, homosexuality and whether real men could eat quiche -- was seized upon by social conservatives, especially evangelical Christians and the FOX News propaganda machine, during the 1992 election and the impeachment scandal of President Bill Clinton in the years that followed.

Those were the days of raging talk-radio jockeys who became cheerleaders at political pep rallies on the airwaves, in the pre-social media days when we still had air to breathe.Now that those pep rallies have gone full bore, aided by algorithms built not on reason but around inciting emotional engagement and robots posing as humans, truth itself has become a commodity as rare as the lightning bugs powering Diogenes's lantern. (Fact Check 1: There is no evidence that the lantern Diogenes supposedly used to try finding an honest man was lit by lightning bugs.)

There was a time a few years back when I was offered a job as a magazine fact-checker. It was a job that I turned down, fortunately, because the magazine went belly-up shortly after I would have taken the position, which involved trying to ferret out falsehoods from articles. Sniffing out those falsehoods was like finding needles in haystacks, I knew from poring over my own articles for errors. And those were errors, not deliberately placed "alternative facts" commonly known as lies.

We're living with lies that have become so pervasive that we feelwe're being driven insane as a nation. Which may well be the desired effect of those who once upon a time at least pretended to favor ethics over profit as a guiding principle.

How, I ask myself, do these conscience-deprived beings sleep at night?

How is that some people profess outright, bold-faced lies with a straight face and clear conscience?. Is it that we've entirely abandoned the notion of shame, the concepts of remorse and conscience and have substituted those with hiring the sleaziest lawyers to eradicate any distinction between right and wrong, innocence and guilt, between truth and lie? Or have we simply abandoned that aspect of our humanity in favor of outright expediency and profit alone?

Over the past couple of days, we've read of the Senate's rejection of a bipartisan inquiry into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol assault to score political points rather than address legitimate concerns, as well as a survey finding that nearly 15 percent of Americans believe in QAnon. That's an astonishing finding.

As Philip Bump wrote in The Washington Post, "When we’re talking about 15 percent of Americans, we’re talking about nearly 50 million people, the populations of California and New Jersey combined. It’s a lot of people. ... This is a really surprising level of support for fundamentally baseless or anti-democratic sentiment. But, as you might expect, it’s also not evenly distributed. Republicans, for example, are more likely to agree with the statements above than are Democrats. Those who say they have the most trust in Fox News as a news source generally agree with the statements about as much as Republicans do, (but) the media consumers who stand out the most, though, are those who give the most trust to far-right networks like One America News or Newsmax. Among those respondents, at least 4-in-10 agreed with the idea of a satanic cabal and nearly half believed that a storm was coming."

We’re also living in spooky times when the world has been left reeling by the COVID pandemic: a packet of genetic material surrounded by a spiky protein shell one-thousandth the width of an eyelash that in a matter of months, disrupted virtually all human activity on Planet Earth. More than 3.5 million reported deaths have been reported globally, with nearly 170 million reported cases – and the number of U.S deaths is approaching 600,000 -- has devastated the global economy and changed daily life for billions of people.

And yet the Corononavirus was labeled "a hoax" by BOGUS himself, an "alternative fact" that's still among the delusions believed by followers of this master of mob manipulation.

This Twilight Zone that's become our national landscape led me to wonder whether it wasn't way past time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

Remember the Federal Communications Commission's policy that existed from 1949 until 1987, requiring broadcast license holders to present issues of public importance in a manner that was"honest, equitable, and balanced." That might have helped in the days when there were essentially three broadcast television networks and regulation of federally licensed broadcast media was so much simpler.

Now, with media outlets like One America News or Newsmax making Fox News almost appear like the "fair and balanced" outlet it once pretended to be, it feels like we're experiencing the fraying of the truth like a ball of yarn is pulled upon by barrel of monkeys. (How's that for mixed metaphor?)

But better hold onto your helmet, because the fray's going to get much worse. Just ahead is the mayhem of midterm election.

Will our common respect for truth (or decency) ever return?

How would we even recognize it?


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