As our emotions ranged from exuberant and poignant highs to harrowing and tragic lows, a wise observer sent out a reminder of how the world works.
“One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our ‘others’ have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.”
We have all been through great leaps of emotion just over the past seven days. There was a transition of power in the U.S., although it was less than fully peaceful and featured pettiness and spitefulness right up to the end. Two recent occurrences took me back to last Monday’s More to Come post and thoughts of how far we have to travel to rebuild trust when we have political leaders in one party who are not serious. And yet we also saw historical firsts and great moments of grace and eloquence.
Let’s begin with two events — the firing of a truth-teller and the faux outrage over a decent and moral speech — that show how far we stand from transparency, truth, civility, and trust.
First, Fox News announced that it had fired Chris Stirewalt, the veteran politics editor who was an onscreen face of the network’s election night projection that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump in Arizona. Later Fox News’s longtime Washington bureau chief announced his retirement after facing criticism from network executives as well.
Fox — which bills itself as a news network — was the first network to call Arizona for Biden, and they got the call right! But instead of sending kudos to the news division and decision desk, the owners and top executives at the network decided to punish those who told the truth. Their viewers, most especially Donald Trump, didn’t like truth mixed in with their “news.”*
Beyond firing the individual who was right, Fox also responded to this turn of events by cutting more news positions and hiring more opinion pundits. Just one day after Biden was inaugurated Fox had a “Breaking News” chyron that read: “Biden’s Disastrous First Week.” Clearly Fox’s business model of telling lies and tricking its viewers makes more money than telling objective facts and news, which is the point made in last Monday’s post:
“We cannot build a more trusting time…unless we also recognize that there are those who benefit from the discord and distrust, and who will work hard to undermine any efforts to reduce their influence over others. Their role in our society needs to be diminished and controlled.”
That news item was followed by faux outrage to President Biden’s call for national unity. We all expected Biden to urge a coming together in his inaugural address, as he’s been talking about it for two years. What surprised many of us was how he moved beyond feel-good language to note that “our prospects for much-needed ‘unity’ are threatened by various political forces. Among them, he said, are racism, nativism, political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism.”
President Biden looked at the 2017 events in Charlottesville and the insurrection of January 6th and saw what any objective viewer saw.
Unfortunately, objectivity wasn’t the goal in the reaction by the professional political class on the right. As Greg Sargent notes in the Washington Post, “Republican officials and their media allies are now widely condemning these words as an attack on themselves and their voters. The obvious trick,” Sargent noted, “is to game the media into saying Biden is already reneging on his unity promise by being divisive. Republicans,” he added, are also “working to reframe the national debate over how to repair the damage done during Donald Trump’s presidency on terms favorable to them.”
The faux outrage, just like Republicans pretending to care about the deficit again**, was widely anticipated.
The predictability of these responses shows why we need to stop listening to this professional political class on the right as if they are part of a rational, functioning political party that cares about the future of democracy and America. After four years of supporting every whim Donald Trump wanted to inflict on America while turning a blind eye to the unnecessary deaths of 1 in every 1,000 Americans under his mismanaged coronavirus response, they have lost their chance to be taken seriously until they clean house.
I generally do not read the conservative columnist George Will. As noted in other posts, I won’t buy books — even books on baseball — where Will has written a jacket blurb. But part of the title to a recent column grabbed me. The snippet was, “So the people need to grow up.”
When I was a young boy in Tennessee, I would, on occasion, do something foolish or moronic, leading my father to say, “It is time to grow up!” I know that reprimand from personal experience.
Will wrote in his column, “Five days before becoming president, (Biden) spoke five blunt words that would have been discordant in an inaugural address but that the entire nation needs to take to heart. Commenting on Republican members of Congress who refused to wear masks while crowded into protected rooms during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Biden said: ‘It’s time to grow up.'” Charlie Sykes, another conservative who has also had enough, agrees with Will and calls out the GOP as an unserious party.
Writer Anand Giridharadas looks at the events around us and has suggested that we are “living through a revolt against the future. The future,” he insists, “will prevail.”
Which brings me back to hope, potential redemption, and the things that matter. In her weekly note to readers of the On Being project, it was that wise observer Krista Tippett who noted that we all fall short in this life. “This is an uncomfortable truth to take in, a fact not about life as we wish it to be but about life as it is,” she begins. And then she continues with the thought that began this post, a thought that has been turning in my mind since it came across my screen.
“One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our ‘others’ have become.” Yes, we all strive. We all fall short. We are full of contradictions.
And yes, there is “a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.”
There is hope and there is potential redemption. While a great many of these people who need to grow up are middle age or older, many of us met a 22-year-old young woman for the first time last Wednesday who is clearly a grown-up and who speaks in serious, yet lofty language. Amanda Gorman reminds us of what’s at stake if we give in to those who…
“…would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.“
Much has changed for the good. When a woman of Black and Indian parents can be sworn in as the nation’s first female Vice President by the nation’s first female Latina Supreme Court Justice just before hearing another woman of color, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, lift our hearts with her soaring words and images, we know that things have changed. As Amanda Gorman said, “We lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us.”
The future will prevail.
Young people, women, people of color, immigrants, and many others not in the traditional corridors of power are showing us what matters. How to be our best selves. Yes, we need the public to get serious, recognize what we almost lost on January 6th, and grow up. But that will only happen as we see the essential contradictions in ourselves that we so easily see in others and work toward a reconciliation with those who are willing to be serious about what matters.
It is past time to get to work.
More to come…
*Here’s the reason why.
**The Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman sets them straight.