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It is now another new year. And like many before, this one starts with hope for progress on a variety of fronts but is likely to see that hope dashed by the wellspring of hatred and ignorance that so often seems to overwhelm the human condition. While all hatred is not the same, and some ignorance is in the eye of the beholder, those who act on their hatred and those who choose to remain ignorant sap the human spirit of its potential vitality.

Confronting ignorance and hatred is a huge challenge. But sometimes, if we take a step back from the brink, there can be moments of clarity.

I have always imagined that there are shepherds in Afghanistan with whom I share the wonder of watching the magnificent moon rise above the mountaintops. We might each sit by a campfire half a world apart filled with the same momentary awe. At that moment and probably many others, I don’t care if he is a Taliban supporter, and he probably doesn’t have any idea who Bernie Sanders is. What we share is a human spirit that can soar if given the opportunity to do so.

But this new year seems fraught with even more of that which poisons the soul. Internationally, America is still at war in far too many places and kills far too many humans to be considered humane. At home, there is a rising tide that views foreigners and their beliefs as hostile to America’s interests and that fuels the rhetoric that these now “real” threats can somehow be walled off from the rest of us and the nation sanitized from within. Unfortunately, this same tide further emboldens those who are certain that “real” threats from abroad can be eliminated by a continuing barrage of bombs and bullets.

Perhaps worst of all, the new year features even more of the twisted American “exceptionalism” logic that ensures that this nation will continue to attack perceived threats from abroad long before we are ready to confront the actual threats from within to our safety, welfare, human rights, and collective conscience. With home-grown “terrorists,” as many guns as people, continued hunger and homelessness, and the highest incarceration rate in the world [see Note below], one would suppose that this nation had plenty of work to do at home. But the bitter political divide stymies any meaningful national discourse.

Now, we slide into the biggest circus that America has to offer, a presidential election, where world events are mere sideshows to the interminable babble of America’s political process. Every day brings another assault on reason from the Republican candidate field that is slowly beginning to turn on itself with the same mindless venom that those in the Republican Party have generally reserved for President Obama. And the mainstream American news media can’t get enough of it.

It is sickening to watch low-life candidates pander to the worst in us with the media hordes licking at their heels and further fueling the fires of discord. There is not even an effort anymore to educate the public. Pretty women and petty pollsters breathlessly report the latest bile from each candidate and measure its supposed significance in minute detail.

Then just to help us figure it all out, opinions ooze out of every cave from folks who are paid by somebody to help ensure that confusion reigns. Trivia is dissected until new trivia can be dissected. Then, just when Kardashian reruns are beginning to look good, a collection of media types will piously emerge to ensure us that they too are deeply troubled by the lack of focus on the serious issues that the next President will have to confront – “Now back to New Hampshire where Donald Trump today accused Ted Cruz of having actually been born in Kenya to Muslim parents…”

No matter how base or baseless the campaign, media coverage of the election is coldly calculated to promote the mind fart mentality that keeps viewers coming back for more. But it is beginning to look a bit more dangerous than it is entertaining. When Obama’s international restraint and national search for reason are routinely condemned, it is way past time to ask those who seek to replace him just how it is that international belligerence and national irrationality are likely to produce even the results they say they want to achieve.

These questions need to be asked over and over again of each candidate. When there is no answer or the answers make no sense, the questions have to be asked again until even those locked in some collateral universe begin to recognize the danger that impunity at the top poses for this nation and the rest of the world.

The news media can no longer waste time on trivial pursuits. The danger increases daily that America will elect a President whose far right-wing ideology will imperil any remote chance for a renewed commitment to the common good both at home and abroad.

While there is little reason to believe that America’s “free press” is truly free, it should not be too much to expect that it be responsible and serious in its endeavors. A press that routinely trivializes itself is only worthy of our distain. And a press that routinely reflects the worst that we are can never be trusted to reflect the best that we can be.

NOTE: The United States is actually second in the world in incarceration rate per 100,000 inhabitants, losing this dubious distinction to the Seychelles, a small island chain nation with less than 100,000 inhabitants.


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