Aloof to the Truth: I’m Old and America Scares the Hell Out of Me

Posted: January 14, 2019 by Brian Johnston

One of the advantages to getting old, and there are very few of them, is having a wide range of experiences, successes, and failures to draw upon for guidance in any given situation. The naiveté and unbridled enthusiasm that would lead the younger me down any number of rabbit holes is eventually replaced with a wiser, more-seasoned version of myself that carries a certain amount of ‘been-there, done-that’ currency in my wallet to spend at my discretion. It’s the momentary pause in thought that prevents me from sticking my foot in my mouth. It’s the red flag in my mind that is immediately raised when a situation I’m presented with smacks of some other previous screw-up in my life. It’s the part of me that affords me the ability to successfully be silent and thought a fool where the younger me would surely speak and leave no doubt. It’s the little piece of me that has figured out that, when it comes to my wife, I’d rather be happy than correct. Wisdom from experience—it’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got, and we owe it to ourselves to own it.

Being as old as I am, I clearly remember a time before cable, before 24-hour news channels existed. There were three networks, each delivering virtually the same nightly news, just with a different delivery style and emphasis: ABC had a little more sports coverage, CBS had a focus on news items because they had 60 Minutes, Walter Cronkite and Charles Kuralt, and NBC typically spent a little more coverage on weather. Perhaps the most remarkable part of this three-headded news beast was the fact that the stories would frequently appear in exactly the same order on all three networks. This seems unusual today, but wasn’t at the time because the news was exactly that: It was just the news.

News coverage today bears little resemblance to its network roots. Infotainment programs that present themselves as news are the order of the day, and one can tell which network is broadcasting by the flavor of the broadcast itself. Further complicating the issue is the fact that, according to Pew Research, at least 45% of Americans claim to get at least some of their news from Facebook, with about half of those responding that it’s the singular social platform they use for news. Combine that fact with the fact that Facebook was full of fake news from Russian troll farms in the months leading up to the 2016 election, and it quickly becomes apparent that the truth isn’t merely under attack; it’s facing a full-on assault.

It doesn’t help when the President calls out CNN as ‘fake news,’ and threatens to pull the White House credentials for reporters who fail to, “…treat the White House with respect.” It gets much worse when the President tweets out his ‘Fake News Awards’ with the winners enumerated at the official website of the GOP.

Even talk around the watercooler is affected, as most public discourse starts with some assertion of fact by one side and then ends with the other side questioning the source of the fact. The validity of the information at hand is, sadly, never even discussed. It is this inability to move beyond the starting point of debate that ensures that American society never supersedes whatever bullshit we’re mired in right now.

In order for us to ascend to loftier philosophical goals, like diminishing racism, providing equality of opportunity, and solving issues of poverty, we must not only be able to SPEAK to one another, but we need tough enough skin to have uncomfortable conversations—uncomfortable conversations that STAY conversations and don’t devolve into invective and name-calling or physical altercation. The combined influence of the politically correct movement along with the general mentality that the worst thing anyone could ever do is to OFFEND another person or group of people has rendered our words inefficient and our society ineffective. Perhaps an example is in order.

When I was a child, it was socially acceptable to refer to a physically-challenged person as ‘handicapped.’ This was not a derogatory label; it was merely a state of being, and it was perfectly honorable. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that this word was an intentional attempt at taking the onus of one’s disability off the disabled person and into a larger, more world-oriented context. A handicapped person was no longer an invalid, an imbecile, or a cripple, all words that imply personal deficiency more than disability. Because society deemed this to be a valuable distinction, our language slowly evolved and the word ‘handicapped’ came into favor.

What wasn’t really understood at the time is that modifying our language is a slippery slope. Having been weaned off words like crippled and handicapped, we found ourselves even more sensitive as a society. Some people started becoming uncomfortable with the term ‘disabled.’ I, myself, used the term ‘physically-challenged’ at the start of this article likely due to this exact phenomenon. The most sensitive among us might choose the words ‘differently abled.’

Differently abled? Holy cow, not only is that miles away from handicapped, but it is completely nonsensical. The entire world is differently abled—there are things you can do that I cannot and vice versa for every last one of us on this planet. The word is a NOTHINGBURGER. In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s an awkward attempt at picking up the turd from the clean end. It is condescending and false.

Still, we keep on pushing in that direction. Where has it led us? While we bend over backward to turn our college campuses into ‘safe spaces’ free from words and ideas that make young people uncomfortable, it seems that the number of words and ideas that offend is growing exponentially, and that our penchant for outrage is boundless.

Clearly we’re no better off than we were before. Even after Hope and Change, racial tensions haven’t been this high since before the Civil Rights Movement. Our levels of addiction haven’t receded; they’ve increased. Americans are overmedicated, frequently opting to control the symptoms of our anxiety, depression, and pain with pharmaceuticals, rather than digging deep within ourselves and actually slaying the demons that are the source of our suffering. We are awash in narcissism, documenting our every move on social media, yet somehow we suffer from low self-esteem at the same time. Gun violence has become so commonplace that we’re nearly numb to it. It’s almost as if all the candy-coating and bubble wrap in the world can’t actually protect our young people from reality!

Meanwhile, old folks like me grow weary. We are not disrespectful people. We are not cruel-hearted. And we don’t really want to hurt your feelings, either. It’s just that trying to have a simple conversation leaves us physically exhausted all too frequently.

I am reminded of a progressive senior citizen friend of mine who posted a picture of Corporal Klinger from M*A*S*H in support of transgender military service, only to be rebuked by a half-dozen of her millennial Facebook ‘friends’ for her ignorance, with some comments so nasty they left her in tears. In her eyes, this was supposed to be an act of solidarity. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

And so we get a President like Donald Trump, who is seen as the antithesis of political correctness. He calls Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas, it DELIGHTS his fan base. He tries to institute a ban on Muslim immigration and promises to reinstitute waterboarding, his supporters say, ‘He’s just saying what we all are thinking.’ A tape surfaces with a decade old Entertainment Hollywood interview where Trump practically brags about sexual assault using the phrase ‘grab ‘em by the pussy.’ The interviewer, Billy Bush, gets fired by NBC for failing to live up to their professional standards. Donald Trump sloughs it off as ‘locker room banter’ and becomes President.

While it would be awfully convenient to lay all of this at the feet of one polarizing man, quite honestly, none of this is actually Donald Trump’s fault. In a world where the lines between what is fake and what is real are blurry at best, one singular fact comes clear: Donald Trump is merely a symptom of the problem, not the disease itself. It is up to all of us to elevate ourselves above this kind of nonsense and to provide a return to normalcy. So in this wave of political correctness, how do we turn the tide?

Being part of the solution only requires not being part of the problem. Offended by someone? That’ll happen. Check your outrage at the door. Or at the very least, reconsider whether the offense is truly worthy of response. It may behoove you to take a moment to consider the source as well. The words may have been offensive, but were they malicious? Was there intent to cause harm? It only takes a moment to gut-check someone’s comments for intent. Were the offensive words a product of ignorance? Perhaps we have become so rage-addicted as a society that we are actively trading away our best teachable moments for the kind of endorphin rush that can only come from letting someone know what you REALLY think.

Maybe the best thing we could all do is give one another a big break. I can’t help but think of Jeremy Kappell, the embattled meteorologist in New York who got fired last week for flubbing the name of Martin Luther King Jr. Park with an unfortunate slip that sounded like an ethnic slur. When you read teleprompter, you WILL make mistakes. This was this broadcaster’s first blunder of this nature. Nobody has come forward calling him a racist. Shame on the gutless NBC affiliate that bent to public pressure to fire this person for an honest mistake. Al Roker himself defended the man on Twitter, saying it was a mistake and that he should be allowed to apologize.

I’ll go one further: The News10NBC should reinstate the embattled reporter and THEY should apologize—to Jeremy Kappell and to their viewers. Why should Kappell have to apologize for a slip of the tongue? NewsNBC10 has a lot of explaining to do, however, not the least of which is how little they support the people delivering their news when they are exposed for simple human fallibility.

Yup, I’m an old guy, for sure. And this world? It scares the hell out of me. After all, we can’t speak to our truth if we’re unable to FIND it. With every passing day it seems that the world spins further and further away from anything resembling the one I used to know. Common sense and common courtesy are the two great misnomers. I can’t help but think we wouldn’t refer to them so often if they were actually as common as their name implies.

But maybe it’s time we take back a little bit of both. Maybe if we were just a hair bit more reasonable and just a skosh more polite toward one another like we were back in my day, perhaps we would find that little piece of Americana that we seem to have lost. Maybe we could take one step further away from Jerry Springer and one step closer toward Norman Rockwell. I know my America of old is gone, never to return, however we’d do well to reflect for a moment on some of the places we’ve been as a nation. Wisdom is hard-earned over time. Failure to draw upon wisdom forces us to relive our most painful mistakes of the past.


References

  1. The Transformation of Network News
  2. NYT Fake News Awards
  3. Fake News Award Recipients GOP Website
  4. Petition to Reinstate Jeremy Kappell
  5. George Carlin on Political Correctness
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