People have been warning about the “dumbing down” of America for a long time. In the confluence of the 2016 election and social media, it is glaringly apparent that this warning was not in vain. Internet trolls pepper the comments sections of the web with hateful, fact-free vitriol, betting that they will cultivate support among the many who operate with short-attention spans and an apathy toward research or critical thought. Oversimplified and uninformed memes are posted and reposted, hitting their mark of the vulnerable mind as they spread in perpetuity. Consider that in the digital era, we are absolutely inundated with information, yet many Americans lack the skills to apply critical analysis to that information–particularly those who are not colledge educated. While there is no way to truly control for the veridicality of information, there is an onus on the ones who are tasked with public trust to act with integrity. Unfortunately, over the course of this election cycle, many have not, for various reasons. There is a line in the sand. It is up to our politicians, commentators, journalists, interviewers and anchors–all those who hold our public trust–to cross over that line and choose to speak honestly and truthfully to the American people.
The Republican Party is in a particular quandary. Donald Trump is their nominee, and they are responsible for creating the environment that resulted in his popularity. Even so, there have been many Republicans who have openly not-endorsed Trump and called him out as unqualified and dangerous for our country. They hope that separating themselves from him will still allow them to win down-ballot. It is for that same reason that the other Republican politicians are continuing to endorse Trump. Instead of pointing out to their constituency that Trump does not represent Republican principles, they weakly agree with him and hope his popularity will translate to votes for them. The reputation of the Republican Party will no doubt remain damaged from Trump’s perversion of their standards, but as individuals, each one of them needs to choose whether they will maintain dignity and act with integrity, or go down in the history books as supporting a demagogue with ideas that they know won’t work.
Another battle for integrity is waging among members of the press. This is of particular importance, as they wield great power in shaping public opinion. Some news outlets are, of course, openly biased toward the Left or the Right. That is not what I’m talking about. My concern is with the members of the”mainstream media.” In an effort to appear fair and balanced, many have succumbed to false-equivalency. Some have admitted to “lowering the bar” for Donald Trump due to his lack of experience. In other words, they pretend that he is on the same level as Hillary Clinton, when they know that he is not. They know he is incompetent, but they go easy on him in the interest of ratings and readership. They know that the public finds Trump’s daily scandals entertaining, so they stay focused on him. One has to ask themselves who this benefits. Certainly not the American people, who are depending on them for guidance. Whether it is their express intent, or not, their reporting is so focused on Trump’s gaffes and the contortions of his surrogates that they fail to investigate and report on him with the same rigors they apply to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, they assumed that the public would be intelligent enough to see through it. Sadly, this is not the case for many people. By mollycoddling Trump, they have created an environment where it is okay to openly speak of white-supremacy and bigotry, to lie constantly, to revel in conspiracy theories, to change positions daily, and to present half-baked policies. By mollycoddling Trump, they have created a grossly unfair playing field where a candidate is dissected and raked over the coals because she has such vast political experience, ignoring Trump’s corrupted past because it was outside politics. Once again, who does that benefit? Not the American people.
As we move into the final two months of the election, decisions are going to have to be made about how to handle Donald Trump. It’s not a joke and it’s not entertainment. Individuals who hold the public trust need to proceed with integrity and recognize their social responsibility to that public. Because whether you are press, politician or pundit, history will remember how you influenced this election.