Sometimes I fantasize about what I would do if I was really, really rich–Bezos or Musk or Gates rich, or even Bloomberg rich. I’d concentrate on the single most destructive aspect of America’s current malaise: our information environment.
I’d start by buying Fox News, Sinclair and the other propaganda outfits masquerading as “news.” Then I’d set up a foundation with a single goal: revitalizing local news organizations. Real ones, practicing professional, ethical journalism. Bezos had the right idea when he purchased the Washington Post and gave it serious financial resources, but that is only one newspaper, and it’s national.
It’s also not read by the substantial number of Americans who are insulated from reality.
David French is a conservative–one of the dwindling number of sane ones. He has a newsletter, and in the wake of the first January 6 Committee hearing, he explained why so many Republicans remain impervious to the truth, not only of what happened on January 6th, but utterly unaware of the sordid reality of the Trump Presidency.
French isn’t just a conservative and an Evangelical: he explains that he lives in a deep-Red state, and has friends and multiple family members who are devout Trumpers (a term he doesn’t use), and has engaged in numerous conversations with them.
I don’t know how to link to the newsletter, but here is the gist of his explanation.
Let’s put this all together and apply it to ordinary Republican views of January 6. First, they’re going to know a lot less about the Trump team’s misconduct than you might think. Mention the John Eastman memos that urged Vice President Pence to reject Joe Biden’s electoral-vote majority, and many will shake their heads. Never heard of it.
Bring up Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and they’re mystified. They simply don’t know that the president threatened Georgia’s top election official with criminal prosecution and demanded that he “find” the votes necessary to change the outcome of the state’s presidential election.
I could go on and on. They don’t know about Trump’s effort to create a slate of shadow electors. They don’t know anything about Steve Bannon’s “Operation Green Bay Sweep,” the plan he developed with Peter Navarro to leverage the objections of more than 100 GOP members of Congress to delay election certification.
It all comes back to information–or in this case, the lack thereof–and the pervasiveness of Rightwing propaganda. I am convinced that without Fox “News,” the cult that is today’s GOP would shrink considerably. Yes, we’d still have White Christian Supremicists and QAnon crazies and the like, but we’d have far few people living in an alternate reality.
So I’d start by cleaning up the information environment.
As important as it is to do something about the unprecedented levels of disinformation being spewed daily by the propaganda mills, however, citizens also need a context–an accurate context–within which to process facts and evidence. So I would also devote a lot of my imaginary money to the nation’s public school systems, and the development of curricula that would facilitate critical thinking–at least, the ability to recognize what constitutes probative evidence and what doesn’t. (And civics, of course!) I’d use my riches to counter those who are bleeding America’s essential public schools in order to send those resources to private–primarily religious–institutions that largely perpetuate tribalism and ignore civic responsibility.
And finally (remember, in my imagination, I would be very, very rich), I would create entertainments intended to influence the culture and reinforce human virtues–television shows depicting people being appreciated for traits like humility and integrity, comic books for young people showcasing admirable behaviors, music extolling friendship, inclusion and community…
Ah, well. A girl can dream…
There’s a line from Tevya’s song in Fiddler on the Roof that has always seemed to me to be a big part of our problems. Tevye sings that, if he was rich, all the men in his village would come to him for advice, and it wouldn’t matter if he answered right or wrong, “because when you’re rich, they think you really know” An embarrassing number of people thought Trump must be smart because he was rich, and simply ignored all the evidence to the contrary. Today’s rich–the one-percenters who are calling the shots these days– include both nice and not-so-nice people. Some are truly talented; others are blowhards and entitled know-nothings.
I wish a couple of the good ones would buy Fox “News.”