Some days I sit back from my selective scan of the day’s news and shake my head at the persistent, perplexing perceptions of my fellow Americans. At a time when media coverage of events — any event, all events — is not only ubiquitous and never-ending but usually completely redundant by the 24-hour mark, we remain an epidemically suspicious and conspiracy-driven culture that either doesn’t believe anything or, paradoxically, believes anything.
Depending on one’s allegiances, one’s belief system; one’s depth of distrust or disdain, there seems little that happens that isn’t ultimately ascribed some nefarious intent, from matters large or small, absurd or provocative, profound or ridiculous. Two stories today struck me as emblematic of the trend on several sides of that swinging spectrum.
Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona parking lot shooter who permanently injured Gabby Giffords and killed six people back in 2011, has now filed a $25 million lawsuit claiming that, not only is he innocent, but Giffords is a member of the Illuminati and her case against him has caused him “emotional distress,” warranting millions from the women into whose head he shot a bullet. Yes, he’s insane, but still… he’s actually put together the paperwork for this repugnant action and someone’s now going to have to spend their precious time dealing with it before it gets thrown into whatever trash bin it belongs.
Obviously that’s an extreme case, along with Loose Change, the Alex Jones-produced fever-film about a supposed 9/11 conspiracy, the Sandy Hook truthers, who believe the deaths of 27 people at Newtown were a hoax meant to further Obama’s anti-gun agenda (another “gift” from the heinous Mr. Jones), or even the generalized and persistent hysteria surrounding the moon landing or Elvis’ death.
Certainly there are some theories that persist due to a not-illogical incredulity with their “talking points” (Kennedy’s assassination the most prevalent of that category), but there’s undoubtedly a contingent of slightly unhinged humans who are prone to seeing dark secrets and dubious intent behind any events that don’t match their political or personal agendas, are complex or unusual enough to provoke suspicion, or happen to involve elements that lend credence to their preconceived beliefs. And some days it seems like that contingent is outnumbering the rest!
The other conspiracy angle I made note of today is related to the election (yes… the election), with a situation playing out in ways that is, frankly, disturbing, certainly from the standpoint of our ultimately having to find unity and solidarity as a country.
We currently exist in a political climate where Republicans are being bamboozled and bedazzled by a carnival barker charlatan, while Democrats are acting-out like Sharks and Jets over their two candidates, one of whom is a registered Independent, the other a woman. And while it doesn’t seem that anyone — even those trying — can sort out the three-ring circus over there on the right, we on the left are, unfortunately, having our own challenges.
It would be funny (well… sort of) if the stakes for this election were not so high, but we have Supreme Court justices to appoint, terrorism wreaking havoc on a regular basis; an immigration conundrum that requires serious and thoughtful solutions; civil, gender, and basic human rights that need immediate intervention. The list of heavy-hitting issues requiring focused attention is long, yet, instead of approaching this election like intelligent adults ascertaining who of the bunch is best equipped to deal with this prodigious and profound list, we’ve got one side cheering (and jeering) as their candidates insult each other’s wives, while the other, despite having two good candidates, is reduced to flinging insults at each other while some behave like cultists and hooligans.
I won’t speak to the GOP kerfuffle; personally, I think they’re all nuts and cannot fathom a world in which either of their two front-runners have anything at all to do with leading the country. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how disappointing and dispiriting it is to see those on the left behaving in ways that are equally counter-productive and fractious. I’d like to pass it off as “campaign fervor” (as some do), but when supporters of either Clinton or Sanders take to each other on Facebook like teeth-gnashing hyenas, when sexism becomes a defended tool of political “trash talk,” or when Sanders supporters frame every loss (either perceived loss of a debate or actual loss of a primary) as a conspiracy of malfeasance by the DNC, the media, the nebulous “establishment,” the Clinton campaign, or that ever-evil Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I have to take pause.
What is the point of all this finger-pointing and victim-mentality? Where is the integrity and intelligence we on the left are supposed to embody? Come on, people, we are better than that…right?!
When a line at a polling station is held up for hours, when other polling places run out of ballots; when any kind of shenanigans occur at any kind of polling place, we should all be deeply concerned. But why are those events immediately framed as conspiracies against Sanders specifically (a theme seen over and over again on social media)? Why are they not considered endemic failings of a system that is inefficient or poorly managed? Why on freakin’ earth would one Democratic campaign create a negative scenario that could impact their voters as much as the other candidate’s? There is no logic in the thinking, but then again, logic is rarely a factor for those who traffick in conspiracy theories.
I realize it doesn’t matter what I, or anyone, says about the way people comport themselves in this election. For whatever reason, and with whatever cultural explanation, this cycle seems hell-bent on being ornery, irascible, uncivil, and just plain nasty. Sure, all elections trip down some version of that rocky road, but this one has an edge of ugly with a stench all its own.
Maybe it’s because a woman is running and, much as Obama’s presence in the ’08 and ’12 races triggered the latent (or not so latent) racist tendencies of some, it seems possible a similar reaction is happening for those who get twitchy at the thought of a female president, particularly one called Hillary Clinton (that ball-busting, speech-screeching, non-cookie-baking harridan). I don’t know…but I’d guess that’s a good guess.
There are also many who blame the ugliness of this race on the “anger so many Americans feel,” but given my own observations of the most vitriolic amongst us (who are usually bouncing somewhere between the political spectrums of Sanders and Trump), they seem less angry about anything/something in particular and more immersed in the idea of being angry…and having a candidate who stokes and supports that anger. Call me cynical, but when comment threads can devolve into some of the most hateful speech you’ve ever heard over things as banal as pop stars or gluten, I suspect anger in this era doesn’t need much substance to create combustion.
But here’s the thing: for all the “Bernie or bust” cacophony, the campaign bullies; the fist-pumping “bros” (trashing Elizabeth Warren…really??); the “uneducated” mobs sucker-punching protesters, the sexist digs disguised as campaign rhetoric, the mud-slinging, misinformation-passing, lie-embracing, agenda-thrashing, conspiracy-theory’ing behaviors of far too many, there are millions out there who are quietly, sanely, smartly, and considerately supporting their candidates, doing their research, sharing perspective when asked, but, amazingly, not denigrating or demeaning those with another view. Those people? We don’t hear from them as much as the louder folks, but don’t think for a moment that the louder folks are running the show… they’re just louder. The rest of them are getting the job done with integrity and civility… and less volume.
We need more of that and less of the chaos. More action and less anger. More listening and a lot less yelling and screaming. More productive protest and less fisticuffs. More logic and less conspiracy theories. We need, at some point, to come together. How about we start now?
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