Jonathan Henley mug

Jonathan Henley

We shouldn’t be surprised that our country is in one hell of a mess. We’ve done it to ourselves, largely, because we have no courage to tell the truth or to face ourselves. Some of you will want to blame Obama. Some of you will want to blame Hillary Clinton. The truth about those two figures is probably not what you believe it is because you might just let your beliefs determine which opinions you support. Opinions and beliefs are dangerous when they convince us to stop asking questions or, worse, when they make us feel self-righteous and above accountability. No, what ails America can not in the slightest be blamed on Obama or Hillary. The catch, for some, is that it can’t be blamed on Trump, either.

While you may think that the way The Donald behaves is deplorable, even he can’t be blamed for what is wrong with America, either. What he says and does are problems, for sure, but nothing about American life is his fault. The conflict that he stirs up only embodies the unrestrained dark-side of our shared American life — he only stokes the fires that have already been burning. But what I’m thinking about is more than the anger and nationalist thinking that got Trump elected — it’s the pathetic way that we talk about important things.

Opinion-based punditry is mostly all that the cable news media feeds us — this applies particularly to Fox News, whose programming has a clear bias toward all things Trump, as well as CNN who persists in putting on partisan talking heads who yammer away at each other with their respective party lines. Fox ignores facts by making stuff up and spinning facts beyond recognition. CNN ignores facts by stirring up on-air arguments, as if all opinions are equally informed. The end result is that I as a viewer get to watch this madness without ever having my opinions or beliefs challenged by facts. The utter arrogance and lack of self-critical understanding is the Kool-aid that we have drunk — sweet going in until you realize it’s cyanide. In this metaphor, however, there was no Jim Jones holding us at gunpoint forcing us to drink the sweet poison. Instead, it was our own spoiled egos that seduced us with the power-illusion of always being right. We do love to have our opinions validated, which too often blinds us to the possibility we have been duped. Opinion-based punditry is killing the American soul.

That’s why actual fake news so easily infiltrated social media in 2016. Just take, for example, the guy who read the fake news piece that Hillary Clinton was part of a sex trafficking ring that operated out of a pizza place outside of D.C. He drove all the way up and shot up the pizza place (I’ve actually been to that pizza joint and the weird thing is that it’s a really family friendly place with really kind, down-to-earth people there). He shot people because of fake news. In 2016, a lot of the fake news was planted by Russians attempting to sway the 2016 election by preying on the people most likely to believe anything.

We ought to be worried that more and more of us are willing to believe anything if we think it confirms what we want to be true — “Obama is evil,Trump is evil, Hillary is evil … but I and those who agree with me are so moral, holy and right that we don’t even have to acknowledge the humanity of those who disagree.” But because some get so convinced that they are moral, holy and right, anything that challenges their beliefs or that is critical of them is branded “fake news” or biased. The truth could care less who wins, but our precious egos sure get fired up to the point that the truth is all too easily dismissed. We then let our anger and emotions make us mere animals with no capacity for reason — “just tell me what I want to hear and turn me loose on social media!”

It’s all too easy to take the bait of blaming someone else for our problems because it truly is easier on our fragile egos. As long as I can blame someone else for the condition of my life then I don’t have to face the pain of re-thinking my own choices. In fact, maybe I don’t even have to admit that a lot of what happens to me is my own doing. These days, we all get so jacked up over the splinters in other folks’ eyes we seldom see the logs in our own, which of course ensures that we ourselves never grow up, evolve, transform or become better people.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we are in bad shape and we’ve got no one to blame but our collective selves because we’ve let this get out of hand. To be sure, I have very strong political beliefs, but I try to remain open to the possibility that I’m wrong, ignorant, naive or just plain stubborn. It’s hard to do. It’s a lot easier to bow up on anyone who disagrees with me. But if we are going to make it as a people, the American people, then we are going to have to find ways to tell the truth about who we are, where we have come from, and what’s real so that we might together think through what we might yet become.

Until we have the humility to share facts and listen to those who disagree with our opinions, we will face the future destruction that ultimately dooms systems built around arrogant illusions and lies. That possible doomed future is not because of any one or two people, but because of us. We have to find the courage to seek the truth even if we don’t like it. But more than that, we have to find the courage to trust each other again. The courage to trust only comes from the courage to be trustworthy.

News Herald Correspondent Jonathan Henley is a United Methodist pastor, former host of Road Signs radio show, and a music fan. He writes a weekly column for The News Herald. Contact him at roadsignsradio@gmail.com.

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