The old Chinese curse (yes, it was a curse), seems to have taken root in the modern day with the election of President Trump, Brexit, world wide terrorism, Christian persecution throughout the Middle East, the debate over gender and what it actually is, bathroom use, and the drug war that seems to never end. Add to all of that rampant conspiracy theories about virtually everything and it seems that the world is turned completely upside down. As a historian, it is a fascinating time to watch unfold. I keep asking myself what is going to happen next. Much of this awareness is made more prominent by social media, YouTube, the twenty-four hour news cycle, and cell phones with cameras. It may well have been that many of the aforementioned were going on, we simply did not know about it in previous generations as the news was on at five, six, and ten, there were only a few channels, and certainly no cell phones with instantaneous connections. The case can also be made that phones and social media have exacerbated the problem and made a small problem much worse as news of terrorist attacks, and police controversies spawned “look a likes” or incensed people and made a small problem worse. Whatever the case is, it seems as though we certainly do live in interesting times.
     Even more pronounced is the chasm between so-called Liberal and so-called Conservatives and the various degrees of each. The issue is so pronounced that iron clad sides have been taken with no compromise in sight. Liberals refuse to acknowledge that Conservatives may have a solid point on a topic, and Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the same for Liberals all in the name of sticking doggedly to their ideology and a fear of showing weakness.  Both sides refer to each other as stupid, non-educated, and delusional. The problem is made worse by a news media that has their slant on every topic imaginable, complete with partisan pundits hammering home their particular ideology as though it is hard news, cementing their ideological base and pounding their political war drums in order to energize that base…which, of course, results in ratings…and money. Any refutation of a point made by either side is considered excuse making in the extreme.
     Politicians are no different. At the current in the United States, the Democratic party is climbing the rope of power, having been knocked off the pedestal they have occupied the last eight years. They are fighting tooth and nail to regain it, using inflammatory rhetoric for no other reason than to regain what they had once had, power. The same was true of the Republican party only a few years ago as they were reeling, losing control of both houses for a time as well as the Presidency. Do not be fooled…this is nothing but a power struggle, not democracy in action. Neither side has any interest in mind other than placating the public in order to secure their position. Unfortunately, the people that support both parties are so ginned up by rhetoric and “news” channels tailored to their point of view that they will support their “side” no matter what. Programming at its best, and the population at large has fallen victim to it.
     Hollywood has gotten into the game as well, although that is nothing new. During the years of World War II, they were producing films to inspire action against Hitler and the Axis powers, and it worked. At the turn of the twentieth century, “yellow” journalism was used to ramp up support for the Spanish-American War, and was successful. Today, the Hollywood agenda is plain to see as characters that were once never seen are now seen daily in an effort to “reset” how the population at large thinks, and it working. This is not good or bad, but simply “is”. Where once it was just a television show (think Dick van Dyke, The Andy Griffith Show), now shows are themed with political slant, mostly to the left, Tim Allen’s show, recently cancelled, the exception, leaning right. As a result, Hollywood is manipulating the masses, practically setting an agenda, and laughing all of the way to the bank. While the Hollywood “elite” are bashing violence in all of its forms, they are producing films and television shows that contain nothing but explosions, gun fights, mass killing, and outright murder. It sells, and Hollywood continues its duplicitous manipulation of the population while talking out of both sides of its mouth, and banking the profits.
     None of this is new as propaganda has been used in various forms for centuries to get people to chose sides, Whether it was Shakespeare demonstrating that premise with Marc Antony’s speech at Caesar’s death, or Robespierre getting his “base” organized to further in the extreme, his ideas as to how the French Revolution should proceed (to disastrous results…the Reign of Terror), people have been manipulated for centuries. The difference is that now, all of the various media are immensely more powerful as ideas, news, and “commentary” are available twenty four hours a day and those on either side of the political fence can indulge and feed their appetite without end, making them feel good, and not giving a wit about the other side of the fence that may well have a good point, a point that is drowned in opposition partisanship so ingrained that the good point by the other side will never be seen or heard or considered as “they” are now the enemy to be defeated no matter the cost.
     Saturday morning cartoons, a staple of days long past, have been replaced by “news” shows, and political commentary. Cable news shows and commentary are ongoing and never ending. Is there really that much to say? By the way, how does one become a “strategist” for either political party? I have always wondered that. There seem to be a lot of “strategists” out there. They must be making money, right? I have also noted that many of the “journalists” are former attorneys. Maybe Dick the Butcher was right. There are also the “May produce”, “Could possibly affect” phrases which people often take as fact. “Unnamed sources” is another one. Really? Yet, many believe what they read when the statement or article begins like that, just like some believe television evangelist who asks you to touch your screen to be healed…after you send money, of course. Decades old friendships have been lost, the “generation gap” has been widened, and there are some that refuse to believe that the ’60’s are over with.
     I think that there is a lesson here someplace, but I am finding it hard to come up with one other than to exhort people to think for themselves, view all of the events of the world with a wider lens, and do not allow one’s self to be programmed by television news, print news, or any other outlet. The problem is that I am not sure how any of that is possible with the inundation and programming that is already in place. What we expose ourselves to consistently will ultimately come to influence us, that is fact. A simple google search will reveal that. See? Even I have fallen victim. So, what are we to do? Listen, to each other, to our own heart, to the other “sources’ even if it is painful. Neither side is always right, neither side is always wrong, but we are if we fall in line and allow ourselves to be led. Be not lemmings to the cliff. Yes, methinks we live in interesting times.