I started to think about Mark Twain this week, how I am at the same age when he began writing some of his most biting satire about politics, religious hypocrisy, bigotry and the nature of people.
Whatever he was as a critic of Government, he always believed in supporting the nation and his writing made people think. While I still see the fundamental good in people and role of a loving God to help change flawed humanity, I am sorely disappointed by and feel a powerless spectator to, the downward spiral caused by politics and politicians. What can a journalist do?
expose arrogance of power
A Senator chastised schoolchildren visiting the Congress who urged her to support legislation proposed by a ‘socialist’ Freshman Congressman and one of her colleagues. It could have been a moment to explain that legislation needs to be carefully studied as to the impact on the governed. But she would not be dictated to. In prior years, letters I sent her as a constituent in the Senator’s district, specifically urging support for issues she opposes, generated form-letter responses. A one-time Political Science graduate, I am angry that important issues are not often acted upon by our elected representatives. Increasingly, actions are opposed ideologically, becoming a test of wills between Legislature members and the Executive Branch. While many support “Progressive”national politics and condemn “capitalists” or “conservatives”, there are no substantive debates of the merits and the failings of policies, but often incoherent and confusing ‘sound bites’.
highlight ethical and unethical governance
Government agencies specifically charged with protecting the safety and sanctity of the nation’s citizens respond instead to political power brokers, lobbyists and vocal opponents of the nation’s fundamental principles. Elected representatives and un-elected bureaucrats refuse to operate on Constitutional and nationally-unifying principles, but at other times defend their positions using the same principles they previously refuted. Most unsettling, is that some politicians will use the formerly apolitical agencies of Government to investigate opponents or enhance political agendas, and when opposed, conclude that the victorious majority must either be “deplorable” and bigoted, clinging to outmoded ideas and philosophies, or have colluded with extra-national agents.
train people to “think” and debate
Public education over fifty years has steadily replaced literature, debate, and ‘controversial’, i.e. unpopular, topics like physical education, wood shop, and trades-based career preparation, for gender and sexual identity accommodation, activism, and uniformity. Children who are raised to question classroom stances on topics that contravene their parents beliefs (prayer, football, ‘binary’ genders, or other ‘conservative’-supported subjects) are subject to administrative penalties and peer abuse. Colleges, once institutions that provided the foundations for an educated population in everything from arts to zoology, produce impoverished liberal service-industry workers with billions of dollars in student loan-indebtedness. But teachers, professors, and college coaches have wealth and comfort regardless of student success.
expose incompetence and waste
Local and state government may demand revenue (taxes and ‘fees’) for actions that do not materially benefits those taxed. Transportation projects that incur billions in wasted dollars for “trains to nowhere”. Bureaucrats demand ‘carbon credits’ exchanged those who use personal transportation to go to work. They charge higher fees for delivering power and water to residents, due at first to ‘climate change’ which others perceive historically as periodic drought. But then the government raises fees when residents conserve too much. In the intervening years, there are no projects to collect additional water or energy.
Courts rule against voter-supported legislation that a minority oppose. Or they issue injunctions that increase the cost and delivery time of a particular resource for years. Politicians and bureaucrats deliberately obstruct law enforcement officers, both state and federal, when executing their duties. Others release dangerous criminals into the community based on alleged racial bias at sentencing, only to have them offend and be re-incarcerated.
journalism: be not a tool of politics
What, if anything, can journalists do to help expose the failures of politics and Government? Ideally, journalists are the agents of the governed, investigating and exposing fraud, incompetence, and abuse of power. Journalists must elevate their craft, to withhold biases and favoritism toward a politician, an ideology, or ‘sacred’ conclusions, and report everything that may support or refute the subject. Of course, the twenty-four hour media business is a profit-driven business, and ego, power, and prestige are just as driving influences for journalists as is determining fact from fiction. When actors create false scenarios, or others rush to attack (like the MAGA hat student and the native American) that became widespread calls for violence and condemnation, the lack of proper investigation fortunately only resulted in embarrassment and lack of journalistic credibility. It may still result in a civil judgement in favor of a maligned victim. Journalism as the vanguard of the public suffer a loss of integrity in reaching conclusions before investigating the facts.
use of Mark Twain’s image: no copyright infringement is intended
“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”, popularized by Mark Twain, was his restatement of the quote by the Nineteenth Century English Parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli