I’ve devolved as a news-watcher over the last 25 years. If I waited until the evening to get the news, during dinner with my parents in the late 1980s, I hardly ever see broadcast news now. The promise of American 24-hour news channels never came to pass, in my opinion; instead of thorough coverage from news desks around the world, it’s mind-numbing commentary from uninformed talking heads who seem much more interested in their own product placement contracts than in communicating about our global goings on. Those news syndicates and news desks in other countries have dried up, but what was their other option after years of little funding or support from the channel executives? Now big name news outlets like CNN use amateur video–even solicit it openly–to serve as content providers. So it is that people’s backyards were frequent film footage sources during every large snow of the winter last year.
The GOP primary race has put me over the edge, though. On top of the sensationalized headlines, anemic interest stories, vapid policy analysis, and over-reliance on technology gimmicks (I’m looking at you, hologram interview), now there are countless stupid sound bites from what looks like little more than well funded bigots running to disassemble the Office of the President.
What’s been hardest is listening to all of the lies–not about President Obama, but about ourselves. Anyone can say whatever they like and those news channels replay the hell out of a statement like they’re a payola-receiving radio station with a hot new single from BMI. It’s true that these lies are founded on mistaken beliefs we’ve held for years, or at least beliefs that we allow to rumble around culture and don’t exile properly, like say, insistence that the Earth is flat. Here’s a sampling of the assumptions, bits of misinformation, stereotypes, and outright falsehoods that have been taking up too much space in our national conversation:
Undocumented immigrants are stealing our jobs–When Alabama installed the most stringent rules against undocumented workers in the county, in hopes that they would “self-deport” rather than live in a hostile environment, many unforeseen consequences hit the fan. Yes, there were photos about crops rotting in fields because there were no migrant farmers to harvest them, but now business owners and police gripe openly about their newly minted problems. Sixteen thousand police needed to be trained in the new enforcement rules, which cost a lot of money; jails have filled up with people who would have once received simple traffic citations, but who now can’t even be released on bail (it’s not permitted for undocumented workers). Latino children stopped going to school, fearful that they would be bullied or come home to find their parents have been removed by authorities. Businesses are depleted of their cheapest labor force and shockingly, citizens have not stepped up in droves to replace those employees, so industries from hospitality to farming and manufacturing. On two occasions, foreign automobile executives who were in Alabama on business were arrested for not having the proper paperwork to show police, and were jailed because the provision doesn’t allow for any other action on the part of law enforcement. State officials came out to explain that foreign businesses are indeed welcome in Alabama, but not before much of the momentum behind the law began evaporating. The effect of H.B. 56–the law in question–was surprising for many precisely because it was founded on erroneous assumptions regarding how much taxpayers were paying to support foreigners in the state and how much those workers contributed back to the system.
People on welfare are using taxpayer money to do drugs–Reagan’s creation of the image of the Black welfare queen has become so presumptive that many people don’t even know it’s only an image that’s been around since the 1980s. That characterization has had real staying power as it’s marked the working class and the poor with a very broad brush. They’re lazy, deficient, addicted, criminal. It’s interesting that in context of last week’s fight around contraception coverage and how the American Catholic bishops are so very very against birth control, poor people still are mocked for having too many children. Maybe we only worry about birth control when we’re focusing on the middle and upper classes. Florida spent $180 million to drug test everyone on its welfare rolls, and 96 percent of those individuals passed. A judge halted more drug testing but the governor, Rick Scott, stands by the law, even in the face of near-perfect Daily Show questioning. And still GOP candidates talk about people who receive food stamps as failures. That means that 45 million Americans are failures, according to folks like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Actually, 45 million sounds like a voting block to me.
Same-sex marriage is killing American morals–I’m not about to get into the fray on gay marriage (in this post, anyway) and deconstruct religion and the bible. But let’s take a look at states that have passed same-sex marriage and see how traditional opposite-sex marriage is doing. Southern states, none of which have same-sex marriage, had the highest divorce rates in the US in recent years, and the Northeast, with same-sex marriage supporting New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. the lowest divorce rates. Other signs of “moral erosion,” like say, abortion, have leveled off across the country, with no correlation to states that have or states that have banned gay marriage. But if increasing funding to curb anti-LGBT bullying in school is a sign of moral decay, then yes, states with same-sex marriage do have that effect on schools and children. Some of us think that’s a damn good thing.
We need to cut taxes to save the economy–This is a Republican mantra. Too bad there is no economic evidence to support the claim. Cutting taxes has, however, cut the revenue to the federal government, leading to lots of ideological posturing in Congress in the way of budget cut debates. And in these debates, the three aforementioned lies come trotting out: we have to cut funding to abortion providers, to entitlement programs, to welfare and food stamp recipients. Is it a financially driven cycle of hate? A high stakes game of smoke and mirrors? When three of America’s richest men come forward to call for more taxes from the very wealthy (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet), something is amiss. When Mitt Romney jokes about paying 15 percent tax–lower than the average office worker’s tax rate–the face of this lie is exposed. And yet, the tax and budget cutting rhetoric continues. Let’s cut the Department of Education. No, the Environmental Protection Agency. No no, let’s get rid of all entitlement programs. Seriously, what would happen if Republicans erased the support from Social Security? No more retirement program, no more disability support, no more supplemental security for people with mental illness or profound developmental delays, no more Medicare. Now we’re talking about more than 100 million Americans affected, or more than one-third of our entire population. It makes for a nice populist message on the surface, this tax-cutting campaign. But in the end game, will there be a country left?
Let’s hope we come to our senses well before then.