- Reading time – 2:29 . . .
You know what George Santayana said:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
confirmed by “Metaphors Be With You”, by Dr. Mardy Grothe, page 301
The world has had innumerable returns to authoritarianism, as though we believe that a strongman leader can and will fix our ills, but history teaches us that more often than not those leaders deliver far worse suffering.
Now, with our ignorance of how to deal with globalization and the internet and with authoritarian-led nations seeking to do us harm, a huge minority of our fellow citizens want a tough guy leader for our country. It’s possible many of our 320 million people have forgotten the past – you know, like when our Founding Fathers led a rebellion against an authoritarian despot, King George III.
I know little about Walter Lippmann, his writings and his politics, but I came upon this quote recently:
“Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.”
That was penned a generation after Santayana and it suggests something insidious, something far more dangerous than the forgetfulness to which Santayana speaks. It suggests leadership that intentionally manipulates what we see, hear and are able to learn. It’s fed by the lack of a free and independent press. It’s fed by the demeaning and slandering of the people and institutions that report on leaders and hold them accountable.
Forming the basis of the Almond–Lippmann consensus about public opinion are three assumptions:
Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were “too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent”
Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of US citizens could best be described as “nonattitudes”
Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy making process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither “understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend.”
Lippmann later recanted these views, as he saw that the public was far more clear-headed about the Vietnam war than were politicians.
Nevertheless, re-read those three points and imagine what political manipulation of the news can do to public opinion. Think about what undermining our free press can do to enable leaders to pervert democracy. Then think about why so often Americans are ignored in public policy making on issues like gun safety, climate warming, healthcare and so many others where the overwhelming majority of the public doesn’t get what it wants.
Are you okay with that?
Ed. Note: I don’t want money or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. So,
YOUR ACTION STEPS:
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Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.