By Chez Pazienza: It’s one of those thing I haven’t wanted to admit to myself but which I know has been bubbling just below the surface of my consciousness for quite a while.
I just finished watching this week’s episode of HBO’s The Newsroom and for the record it was the single best episode of the show yet. As a former TV news producer and an avowed news junkie, it was the first installment in the series that truly captured the exhilarating, occasionally frustrating, always powerful feeling of covering not just a breaking story but one of global importance and nearly universal impact — the kind of thing, as one character mentioned in the context of the storyline, that you’ll remember being a part of for the rest of your life. The story in question, the one the cast and crew of the fictional News Night were forced to quickly leave a party and report to work to cover, was the killing of Osama bin Laden which took place on May 1st of last year. I’m honestly not sure how someone not in the news business would’ve reacted to watching the machine work as information slowly trickled in and split-second decisions were made about what could and couldn’t be reported, but for somebody who spent nearly two decades working in television news, it was nothing short of thrilling and it really did make me miss the industry to which I’d devoted so much of my life.
But after watching and remembering exactly how I felt on the evening that I learned Bin Laden was finally dead, the nagging feeling that’s been in the back of my mind for months finally presented itself front and center — because while it’s true that we had a brief moment of national solidarity in this country when we learned that the man who killed our people had been taken down, that moment was much more fleeting than it should have been. The Newsroom effectively captured the various emotions in the heads and hearts of most Americans that night, but what it didn’t get into — what it couldn’t, given the snapshot it took of one singular experience — was how quickly the event that should have brought us together and kept us that way for at least a little while was quickly turned into yet another opportunity to divide us along party lines. The fact is that it took no time at all for the killing of Osama bin Laden to become just one more piece on the chessboard of childish, all-or-nothing politics.
And that’s what’s so overwhelmingly depressing: I’m just not sure there’s anything that can cut through our poisonous political climate and bring this nation together, united in a common cause as Americans. Not anymore. Everything is now fodder for politics; our all-consuming hatreds vastly outweigh our nationalistic pride or sense of unity with our fellow citizens.
I sometimes wonder what the response would be like were another 9/11 to happen — say, tomorrow morning. I’d like to believe that we’d once again put aside the trivial concerns that divide us and the inane distractions that only casually connect us, the ridiculous tribal allegiances and eliminationist rhetoric we seem to thrive on in the age of hive mind hyper-connectivity. I’d like to believe it, but I think that doing so would be astonishingly naive. We’ve simply gone too far — pushed things well past the breaking point. There isn’t an event that we can’t now politicize. There isn’t a tragedy that we can’t find a way to blame someone from the opposite side of the political aisle for or an act of heroism or nobility for which we can’t withhold credit from our ideological adversaries. And thanks to the overwhelming number of media outlets willing to fracture us and feed us only information that confirms our already firmly held biases, I doubt very seriously that this deplorable situation will end anytime soon. If anything, it will likely only get worse.
Two days ago, a 40-year-old white supremacist named Wade Michael Page shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing seven people who had gathered for Sunday prayer. It was the kind of senseless act of violence that should have, if nothing else, galvanized Americans in an almost uniform show of outrage and compassion. As usual, though, that’s not at all what happened. It took almost no time for Twitter to erupt into a maelstrom of ideological infighting among Americans, with those on the left pointing fingers at the toxic Islamophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the right and the right immediately creating, collating and distributing talking points to its media bullhorns demanding that they go on the offensive as a form of defense. What happened near Milwaukee seems indeed to have been a form of terrorism, but Fox News and its media satellites wasted no time in circling the wagons and fending off any implication that ultra-right-wing domestic terrorism is a threat within the United States; it’s the same response they shouted, with the same level of self-righteous indignation, when the federal government dared to bring up the subject of an in-country terrorist threat a few years ago. Because personally protecting your political point-of-view, these days, is more important than actually protecting living, breathing people. The engine of insanity that’s fueled by political articles of faith can’t ever be turned off and set aside — not for any reason.
When Osama bin Laden was killed, there were those who refused to give President Obama even an ounce of credit for the military operation that took him out. An American president, receiving not even a cursory pat on the back from the Americans he swore an oath to protect and to whom he kept that oath — because, again, scoring political points for the party was more important than being an American. I truly believe that, were to we to be attacked again, we wouldn’t see a rallying around the president that we witnessed almost uniformly in 2001. We’d simply get more blame. More rhetoric. More outrage at the failed ideology of the other side of the aisle. More stupid, stupid politics. Because this is all we’re capable of anymore.
We’re ruining this country of ours because so many of us have no sense of country.
The latest Fox News-generated “controversy” is over whether Gabby Douglas and other U.S. Olympians are displaying enough patriotism because their uniforms don’t feature the stars and stripes prominently. Even the Olympics aren’t safe.
It used to be that our differences were what made America strong — now our differences are what make America non-existent.