I am still mulling over the attack that sent Paul Pelosi to the hospital.
You will note that I have not characterized that vicious assault as an attack “on” Paul Pelosi, because that would be inaccurate. The maniac who invaded the Pelosi home was clearly intent upon finding and injuring or killing Nancy Pelosi. It was only because she wasn’t home that he turned his fury and hammer on her 82-year-old husband.
It’s bad enough that the crazy media outlets have responded by doing what they do–inventing weird and exculpatory stories entirely remote from any evidence whatever. (One “explanation” making the rounds suggests that Nancy Pelosi attacked her husband and the entire episode as reported was a cover-up. Other rightwing fantasies are equally bizarre.) But coverage from the sources we like to believe produce legitimate journalism hasn’t been much better.
As several pundits have reminded us, this was an attempted assassination of the Speaker of the U.S. House–the person who is third in line for the U.S. Presidency. Think about that.
In his newsletter, Robert Hubbell minced no words, asserting that the attack “has struck at the heart of America’s political dysfunction and mass delusion.”
Major media outlets are going out of their way to caution that “the assailant’s motives are unknown” and limiting their description of what occurred to “an attack on Paul Pelosi” without acknowledging that the intended target was the person third-in-line for the presidency of the US. Right-wing media is in full conspiracy mode, trafficking in wild and baseless claims that are insulting, defamatory, and offensive to a grieving family and a severely wounded victim. Elon Musk inflamed the situation by tweeting and deleting a bogus “opinion” article from a media outlet known for peddling bizarre conspiracy theories, e.g., that Hillary Clinton died before the 2016 election and her “body double” debated Trump
Apparently, Elon Musk tweeted a link to an “opinion” piece that was admittedly pure speculation about what “might” have happened. According to Hubbell, Musk deleted the tweet shortly thereafter, “but not before it was exposed to his 120 million followers.”
The damage was done. No amount of truth-telling or retractions by reckless Fox affiliates will overcome the momentum created by Musk’s tweet. See NYTimes, Elon Musk, in a Tweet, Shares Link From Site Known to Publish False News and WaPo, Paul Pelosi attack prompts Elon Musk and political right to spread misinformation.
In short order, Elon Musk and a reckless Fox affiliate converted a near-miss national tragedy into a cesspool of disinformation and delusion. In the process, the Pelosi family is being subjected to a second trauma that may be greater than the original assassination attempt and injuries suffered by Paul Pelosi.
So here we are. An estimated third of American citizens get their “information” from sources so distant from fact and reality that the term “propaganda” seems inadequate. If, as the Founders’ believed, democratic self-government requires an informed citizenry, the United States is in big trouble.
A commenter to a previous post on the state of our information environment pointed out that the ability to spread disinformation and confusion has grown with each “advance” in communication–newspapers, radio, television, movies, and now the Internet. True. The question we face is: what do we do about it? No serious person wants to abandon the First Amendment–and for that matter, we couldn’t totally suppress manufactured garbage if we tried.
And to be fair, it isn’t just America.
We are at a place in human history where a substantial portion of the population simply cannot cope with the realities, constant changes and uncertainties of modern life. Those humans are a ready-made, eager audience for the purveyors of hate and division–and so long as there is an audience, there will be self-promoters to prey on that audience, either to make money (Alex Jones) or acquire political power (Trump/ fill in your favorite example).
My middle son has a theory that the reason we haven’t detected evidence of superior alien civilizations “out there” is because, at a certain point in the evolution of a civilization, it self-destructs. I hope he’s wrong, but the trajectory of humanity right now sure lends weight to that theory.
In less than a week, Americans will go to the polls and choose whether to continue down the path of conspiracy and theocracy–a path that will continue to facilitate the fascist fantasies being spread by Elon Musk, Fox News and their ilk, and will likely signal the end of the American Idea as we have understood it.
Even if we manage to avoid that result, we will be left with a conundrum: what do we do about the prevalence and appeal of invented realities–lies– and the people who believe and act on them?