Dare Americans tune out?

The Rachel Maddow Show may contribute to Alzheimer’s. Her investigative discoveries right before bedtime upset my circadian rhythms, and studies point to a connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s. Mornings, when I watch “New Day” on CNN, I’m reminded that our democracy eroded even more overnight.

A lot of my friends are saying, “I’m to the point where I avoid the news. It’s too upsetting.”

I’ve also heard—this from both liberals and Trump supporters—“All the Russia stuff is too hard to keep track of.” There are all those -oviches, -akovs, and other foreign sounding names. Even the Americans—Manafort, Flynn, Gates, Papadopoulos, Pinedo, Cohen—seem indistinguishable after a while. Hearing who’s been accused, who’s pleaded guilty—so much input can overload the brain.

Meanwhile our president rants against “fake news.” At a recent Trump rally, the crowd’s profanity and obscene gestures at TV cameras had to be bleeped. I fear for our democracy’s survival when a large segment of the population believes professional journalists are not truthful.

What kind of news do Americans want? Entertaining news. Hence stories on TV networks often cover animal rescues and freak accidents. News conveyed simply, in a few sound bytes. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to having a lazy brain. I look at a science article for non-scientists and quickly decide I don’t want to concentrate that much. Understanding complicated issues such as immigration, climate change, and world trade requires too much effort. Besides, with our traditional American optimism we want to believe that somebody will solve the problems.

We live in a time when we dare not avoid information just because it depresses us, bores us, or taxes our brain. Russian interference in the 2016 election, migrant children and parents separated at the border, the opening of Alaskan wilderness to oil producers, lifetime appointments of conservative federal judges—all of these demand our informed consideration.

Many highly trained journalists are putting the information out there if we but bother to read or watch. They write for The New York Timesand Washington Postand can be heard on PBS and CNN. And of course there’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. (For the sake of a good night’s sleep, my husband and I record her and watch during the day.)

The times call for vigilance. A sentry doesn’t have the luxury of averting his/her eyes. A sentry must concentrate and be hyper-aware. For Americans vigilance demands that we be well informed. We need to stay tuned in so we can turn out.

Nancy Werking Poling, of Black Mountain, is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

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