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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Donald Trump, sarcasm, and me

Donald Trump has my sympathy. I’m being sarcastic. But not that sarcastic, to be honest with you. For sarcasm is my default mode of humor too. Over time, though, I’ve learned that others don’t usually get it. Not because I’m more clever than they, but because the distance between sarcasm and truth is usually only a little wider than a hair’s thickness. After 50 years of marriage I still have to tell my husband, “Honey, it’s a joke.”

As a young mother I was often tempted to tell my kids, “Go play on the freeway.” If I had, my husband surely would have interpreted for me: “Mommy doesn’t actually mean it. She knows you like to ride your bicycles, and she’s joking that all that pavement—if there were no cars there, that would be a great place to ride. Believe me, Mommy really, really loves you.” He would have added, “Those Abbott kids, I’ve seen how they’re all the time cheating.”

But I didn’t vent. Well, not in that way. I’ve long recognized that once words come out, whether intended as humor or not, they can’t be taken back. And that my urge to say something sarcastic most often arises out of anger or frustration. A lesson Trump seems not to have learned.

Hey, Donald, if you have to tell everyone it was a joke, it ain’t funny.

If I were you, after you’ve lost the election, I’d move to the desert. You can buy all the land you don’t already own in Nevada. You’re so very, very rich. Invite your 2nd-Amendment disciples to join you. Build a wall around the state, a very, very big wall. But I predict the U.S. government won’t like that in the process you’ve stolen Great Basin National Park and Red Rock Canyon, and the Tule Springs Fossil Beds. The army will bring in its tanks and missiles, and… Just joking.

 

 

 

 

Voting laws and racism, or what you can learn doing genealogical research

My husband and I were combing the Morganton Herald (NC), searching for the whereabouts of his grandfather in 1900, when I did a double-take. I grew up with segregated schools and facilities, and knew that many southerners fought the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But I was unprepared to see explicit racism in print.

During April, 1900–when my husband’s grandfather would have been of voting age–the front page of every issue contained commentary in support of North Carolina’s suffrage amendment, soon to be voted on. According to the amendment, “Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” and pay a poll tax.

The amendment made no mention of race, but its purpose was clearly stated by the newspaper: “The white man has assisted and encouraged [the negro] to get out of his place by conferring upon him the right of suffrage, and now it is our duty to show him his proper place by disfranchising him.” “We inscribe thereon white supremacy and its perpetuation.” “[The] rights of every Anglo-Saxon is safely guarded in the amendment.”

Of course many white people couldn’t read or write. No worry. The amendment stipulated that anyone entitled to vote on or before January 1, 1867, could still vote. They and their descendants. (The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting black men the right to vote had been passed in 1868.)

Proponents incited fear among whites. The power granted by the vote had emboldened black men, putting white women in danger, threatening white rights. Pass the amendment, and the negro would know his place. Reason and peace would prevail. The amendment passed and stayed in effect until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s not surprising that today white men and women waving Confederate flags speak of protecting “white civil rights.” Given our history we can also understand southern legislators’ motivation for passing voting laws that require specific forms of ID and limit opportunities to cast a ballot. Today our law makers mask their purpose, claiming cost efficiency and protection from voter fraud, when in fact the intent is to disenfranchise African Americans. Many white voters are manipulated into believing these changes will restore America’s integrity.

History is indeed repeating itself.