Be the change you wish to see in the world.
This quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, graced the entrance of a high school I entered recently. It’s a good reminder for all of us in these days of political firestorms.
President Trump is an easy target for finger-pointers these days. He’s making dramatic policy changes, including The Wall and an immigration ban, two related decisions in an attempt to keep potential terrorists out of the United States.
There’s collateral damage. Innocent people are affected. That’s all the rage these days.
The questions for me are: Why does Trump feel these decisions are even necessary? And if his policies are so bad, why did we elect him president in the first place?
The second question has a deeper answer than most of us are willing to admit. All of us are responsible for Trump, whether we voted for him or not. All of us created the atmosphere that has allowed him to take charge. Even those among us who oppose him.
The role of the media
One of Trump’s first actions as president was to attack the media, saying he would control the information that comes out of certain government agencies. His tweets bypass traditional media outlets. These are two separate but connected issues. He’s our oldest president, but also the most social media-savvy. He’s changing the rules.
As a (former) journalist, this worries me. The media are a necessary watchdog on government. But the media are among the groups that have created the atmosphere that allows Trump to thrive.
Television newscasts are little more than political commentary and reports on extreme weather, with an occasional feel-good story thrown in for good measure. Newspapers have – and continue to – gut their staffs to the point where they aren’t able to attend local city council or township board meetings, or ask the tough questions even when they do. The last newspaper I worked for is more concerned with winning peer-driven plaques and trophies than it is in writing and editing news that matters to its readers.
Beyond the fatal crash
On Jan. 24, a Cleveland police officer was killed while directing traffic around two previous accidents on Interstate 90 on the city’s west side. Once the officer died, emotions took over and that’s all the media – and everyone else – has talked about.
There’s nothing wrong with memorializing a fallen officer, of course. He was killed by a hit-skip driver who was arrested several hours later in a city west of Cleveland. If this driver faces trial and is found guilty, I hope they throw the book at him. Officer Fahey died a tragic, untimely death.
But no one talks about the beginning of his end.
There was a single-vehicle crash on westbound I-90 near Hilliard Road reported at 5:04 a.m. Jan. 24. Police responding to that accident requested medical assistance, so a Rocky River fire truck was dispatched to the scene.
At 5:33 a.m., a Chevrolet van crashed into the fire truck, killing the driver and sending a passenger to a nearby hospital.
Officer Fahey was setting up traffic flares around the fire truck at 6 a.m. when a white Toyota Camry hit him and fled west on I-90.
I saw one brief newspaper article naming the Chevy van driver who died. I never saw anything on the original crash, the single-vehicle wreck that started the whole thing.
And that’s my point. Details, people. No one cares about details any more. Including the media.
Once Officer Fahey died, that became not only the main story, as it should have been, but it became the only story, which it wasn’t. There were two other crashes that preceded it.
If either did not happen, Officer Fahey most likely would still be serving among us.
Because (presumably) no one died in that first wreck, no one cared about it. Even though it started an escalating sequence that culminated in the death of a police officer.
Small things often lead to big things.
Not only does the media miss details, sometimes it misrepresents them. Sports Illustrated in its current issue wrote an article about “The Super Bowl sex-trafficking myth.” The magazine presents evidence that sex-trafficking statistics have been skewed to showcase a problem that isn’t nearly as severe as the manipulators want it to be.
Sex trafficking is a major issue in this country, but it’s year-round in numerous cities and places, Sports Illustrated argues. It’s not a one-time problem that goes away once the Super Bowl hoopla ends. By misrepresenting the issue, proponents are actually undermining efforts to stem sex trafficking across the nation.
Why does President Trump attack the media so hard? Because the media, in general, is no longer doing well the job it’s supposed to be doing.
Instead of getting all emotional about Trump’s actions, how about a focus on details and accuracy?
Terrorism was a major issue in 2016. There were a number of attacks around the world, including on U.S. soil. Trump campaigned against this. We elected him. Here we go.
How do terrorists get into the United States? Is Trump targeting the wrong countries? Would a different strategy work better?
Instead of soundbites and one-liners, how about a little research to make your point?
Since the media aren’t doing much of that research now, and since the Internet has opened up the world of information to all of us, we each do our own research. Nearly all of it is slanted. We pick the sources that make the points we want to make. The other side picks the points it wants to make. Trying to sort it all out is a difficult game.
Rise above the firestorm
In this information overload and fact vacuum, enter Trump. He’s the result, not the cause, of what this nation has become.
Instead of firing off hateful one-sided diatribes, perhaps we should take the advice those high school students offer. Be the change.
I saw this LinkedIn post the other day:
Apart from the ballot box, philanthropy presents the one opportunity the individual has to express her or his meaningful choice over the direction in which any society will progress. (author unknown)
My comment on that post:
Philanthropy is throwing money at the problem, which is good. A better word is volunteerism, which is actually doing something.
We’re good at pointing fingers. Those of us who have money are good at spending it.
Let’s get off our rear ends, myself included, and get back in the game. Whether it’s through traditional media or other means, we need to discover the truths about life, why things happen as well as how. Let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s be more objective. More open-minded. More sensitive.
If Trump is a bull in a china shop, it’s because we are, too.
Too much destruction going on. Time to build up.
And I don’t mean a wall.