The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Monday, November 21, 2016

What to do about the "bubble" affecting the liberal elite


On Saturday Night Live this weekend, a popular skit was one of those mock-advertisements that the show executes so well.  This time, they were advertising a community of shallow, liberal-minded people, who can’t stand the oncoming reality of a Trump Presidency that’s bolstered by strong-enough majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.  The proposal is a hipster paradise in Brooklyn, complete with surface-deep character and Disney-development, corporate prices, all within the safe confines of a literal bubble that keeps out dissenting opinions.

This concept comes on the heels of nearly two weeks of the so-called “liberal media” chastising liberal people for living in elite bubbles and being entirely unaware of the “real world” around them.

At this point, let me take a little step back.  First of all, let’s not kid ourselves.  This “liberal media” that people keep talking about is nothing more than a marketing invention of those on the far right to try to explain why facts and statistics don’t support their claims.  The “liberal media” is why the Oxford English Dictionary has given us a disturbing new word: post-truth.

They define post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Post-truth is what happens when a candidate who is widely reported by independent fact checkers to be the most honest Presidential candidate in memory gets labeled as a liar, and a candidate who those same independent fact checkers discover to be one of the most dishonest candidates in memory gets a pass.  Post-truth is what happens when wide swaths of the populace decide that when a candidate says something they like, he’s telling it like it is, but when he says something obscene, he’s either being misrepresented, or shouldn’t be taken literally.  Post-truth is what happens when scientific realities are dismissed as ideology.  Post-truth is what happens when the insights of historians warning us about the similarities between our current politicalclimate and elected leaders and the rise of Adolph Hitler are ignored.

There is no “liberal media”.  The ones most widely decried as the “liberal media” are – to put real names to it – MSNBC and NPR.  While it’s true that MSNBC does tend to have a more progressive editorial bias than other commercial news networks, let’s not kid ourselves: their programming and news reporting over the past couple of years contributed mightily to the rise of Donald Trump as a serious candidate.  They loved the shock value that he brought to their network, and they capitalized on it to squeeze ratings out of us.  He was constantly covered, and rarely questioned.  Meanwhile, his main opponent, Hillary Clinton, was minimally covered in comparison, but nearly all of that coverage was devoted to questioning her and looking for scandals (which, let the record show, never materialized).  They bought in to the post-truth era wildly and eagerly.

NPR, on the other hand, has a reputation that is marred by the post-truth era.  Federal funding in support of public broadcasting is constantly endangered because politicians and members of the public on the right are quick to accuse them of liberal bias.  The problem, however, is that facts – real, tested, peer-reviewed, factual truths – tend to have a liberal bias.  If a network is reporting truth, and not just post-truth, those who only care about post-truth think they’re hearing liberalism.

It is a fact that the budget for the United States military is larger than the combined budgets of the next 9 largest militaries in the world.  It is also a fact that of those next 9 largest militaries in the world, 7 of them are nations that we consider to be our allies.  So, any reasonable analysis of the facts would suggest that we could drastically cut our defense spending, still maintain the most significant and powerful military in the world, and have funds available to provide much needed improvements to our failing infrastructure, support public education, provide a host of services that would strengthen and empower the struggling middle class, and still have room left over for tax cuts and deficit reduction.

EVERYONE can get what they want and live a better life.  But the military-industrial complex has defined the narrative through fear mongering to convince people of a post-truth reality that their lives would be endangered if we cut defense spending.  In fact, the only reason they oppose these cuts, however, is that it would cut into their exorbitant corporate profits.

These are the real costs of living in a post-truth world, and the “liberal media” isn’t doing anything about it.  It may be true (and I suspect it is) that most on-air personalities and behind-the-scenes content generators in the media do have a liberal bias.  Liberalism often accompanies education, and most people in the media are well-educated.  Even so, the bosses and shareholders benefit from post-truth broadcasting, and bosses and shareholders always win in the end.

So, enough of the “liberal media” and post-truth rabbit trail – let’s move on to what I’m really here to talk about: that bubble that I’ve been chastised for living in.

It is true that I live in a liberal enclave in the Northeast.  It is true that I am highly educated and have a decent job (though I’m not wealthy by any American standard).  All of this makes me a part of the so-called “coastal elite”.

But, when I say that I can’t believe that American would actually elect Donald Trump to be the President of the United States after the campaign of hate and division that he ran, that doesn’t mean that I’m a part of some bubble that I should get out of so that I can better relate to the “red states”.  I am educated.  I am a Southerner by birth.  I travel to and through those “red states” multiple times each year.  I have friends and family members who not only live in “red states” but who thrillingly embrace the post-truth reality.

I’m not in a bubble.  They are.

I understand their lives a lot more than they understand mine.  I can’t tell you how many times over the past two weeks I’ve heard my post-truth compatriots exclaim, “I just don’t understand why those people are so afraid!”  (Take a look at my previous post on this blog for some insight into that.)  When I’ve tried to explain it to them, or to explain why I’m angry that they voted for Donald Trump, I get talked down to, delivered phony rationalizations, and self-righteous ignorance portrayed as a virtue.

I understand them, but they show no interest in understanding me, my concerns, or anything other than post-truth assertions.  When I back up my claims with articles from reputable news agencies like the New York Times or the Washington Post, they think that a post from Brietbart is a fair refutation.  When I point to evidence from scientific journals and crime statistics, they fire back at me with the website, The Federalist Papers.

This issue here is not that we’re both in our own bubbles.  This has been the year of the false equivalency, and I’m on a crusade against them.  We’re not both in bubbles.  I’m in the world, and not just my corner of it.  I travel and read and talk to people who bring me new perspectives and learn and grow through the arts.  Meanwhile, they’re uninterested in anything BUT their corner of the world – as seen from only their perspective.  We aren’t just coming from two sides of the same coin.

And here’s the main difference between me and those people I know who are clinging to their bubbles: they want to trap me in their bubble – to make me live inside their narrow field of vision.  But, I want to make the experiences and opportunities that have so profoundly benefited me available to everyone.  I want everyone to have access to education and security.  I want everyone to be able to make their own informed choices, without being constrained by poverty or social standing.  I want everyone to be able to eat, and to have access to high quality medical care, and to be free from violence and oppression, and to have every opportunity that this world has to offer.

So let’s pop the bubble.  Not so “we”, of the “liberal elite”, can understand “them”, the “ignorant masses” – but so that understanding more generally can grow.  Let’s pop the bubble so that opportunity can be available to everyone, not just those of us already outside.

Like lancing a boil, it will probably hurt.  It’s already hurting me.  But it’s the only hope for our country to rid itself of the post-truth infection, going forward.