Sunday, February 12, 2017

Longing for No News Alerts That Scare The Hell Out of Me

I think I was like most teenagers growing up. I generally knew what was going on in the country and the world in the early and mid-1960s. I watched Walter Cronkite on CBS and listened to his colleague, the avuncular Eric Sevareid, dispassionately analyze current events and long term trends. And there were huge stories for both Cronkite and Sevareid and their fellow broadcasters to parse. The Cuban missile crisis. The civil rights movement. The assassination of a president. The Great Society initiative. The growing war in Vietnam. The space race.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1966, however, that I became aware of a need to listen to news every hour on the hour. Keep in mind that WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York did not become a 24 hour news station until August 1967.

I absorbed the importance of listening to news headlines every hour from a high school graduation present my parents provided—a trip to Israel. As I would ride the Egged buses across Jerusalem or Tel Aviv I would notice passengers intently listening to news broadcasts upon each hour.

Living during a perilous time in that nation’s history—that phrase applies to every moment of Israel’s 68-year history, but I digress—Israelis not only wanted to know the latest news. They also were listening for broadcast codes to alert them should their reserve units be called up.

A year later, during the Six Day War, I became obsessed with knowing the latest news from Israel. For good reason—my sister was in Israel, ending the second year of study abroad. Our family had no way of knowing if she were safe, where she was, what she was doing (turns out she was packing crackers for the soldiers). 

Naturally, after I became a journalist, I continued, to this day even in retirement, to turn on the radio at the top of each hour. For decades it was to hear if anything traumatic had transpired in the Middle East. Now, in addition, it is to hear if anything Trumpatic has traumatized (at least half) the nation.

I obviously do not agree with what our new president and his sycophantic Republican House and Senate are doing. But let’s be honest. Nothing was not foretold during the campaign. 

Hearing the hourly news keeps me abreast of the latest rollbacks. That’s what we have so far. Donald J. Trump is bringing us back to the pre-Obama years. He is doing what Obama did to Bush II-era regulations, what George W. Bush did to Clinton-era regulations, what Bill Clinton did to Reagan-Bush I era regulations. You can’t blame the public for feeling whipsawed by the constant change, the feeling on both sides of the aisle of one step forward then two steps backward.

We want transparency from our elected officials. What could be more transparent that the money grab schemes of the Trump family? What could be more blatant than Trump’s assertion that the public doesn’t care? Republican elected officials have shown they don’t. And so far, average GOP Joe Citizen hasn’t shown he cares either. 

Even on forced repatriation of illegal aliens Trump has been no more extreme than the deporter-in-chief Barack Obama (more than 2.5 million sent back to their countries of origin). Yes, the separation of a woman from her family made for heartrending visuals last week but if Trump’s storm troopers round up criminals of whatever stripe he would be acting within the bounds of socially acceptable power, even if a portion of those deported are no more dangerous than any street corner drunk or check kiter.

What any sane person doesn’t want is a violation of fundamental trust in our government and country. We don’t want truth to be undermined by “alternative facts.” We don’t want science to be rejected and supplanted by alternative theories. We don’t want our commitment to international leadership to be replaced by isolationism, a void to be filled by Russia and/or China. We don’t want our status as a nation of immigrants to be sullied by fear. We don’t want our cherished Constitution and its rule of law, as protected by an independent judiciary, to be trampled. We don’t want the long march of equality for all religions, people, gender and sexual orientation to be stalled. We don’t want to fall into the abyss like past empires that rewarded a sliver of oligarchs while the populace struggled to maintain dignity and economic independence.

And so we listen to the news every hour to see and hear the latest excess from a White House turned into a golden goose by a leader who never had to worry about his next meal, who never developed empathy for those who did, who never had to burnish in the crucible of public opinion a plan to help the less fortunate, who never engaged in any domestic or international exchange if it did not directly impact his personal wealth, who treated the public as rubes with money for the taking through shady construction deals and phony education programs, who denigrates our institutions, our elected officials and our judiciary even as he cozies up to dictators who murder their opposition, muzzle the free press and subject their people to deprivation so that they and their acolytes can live comfortably. 

A Saturday Night Live skit provided an apt closing to this blog posting. In it, a People’s Court judge tells Trump, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, he’s doing too much. She pleads with him, “I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.”