Editorial: On Jan. 6, ‘don’t look down’
It is to be hoped Jan. 6, 2021 will be a date that long resonates in our nation’s history. That historians will accurately assess the roots of the deadly insurrection on the nation’s Capitol, determine those responsible for assembling the crowd and encouraging them to storm Congress in what turned out to be a disorganized and haphazard, but violent, attempt to deny a peaceful transfer of power.
It is hoped that Americans will understand the event for what it was: a misguided reaction by Trump supporters who had been fed lies for the previous two months that the election had been stolen from Trump and that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected — despite weeks of election challenges and findings to the contrary.
It is hoped that Americans will learn that lies feed on themselves, particularly when those in power — in this case those within the Republican Party and conservative media — promulgated those lies by deliberately feeding misinformation to their followers.
A year later, a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is finally getting to the bottom of the story. We can only hope the report will be detailed enough to be irrefutable.
That’s the optimistic view of an America that hasn’t lost its ability to reason.
The pessimistic view is aptly demonstrated in the well-timed movie, “Don’t Look Up.” A satire, the movie begins with the accidental scientific discovery of a distant comet hurtling its way toward Earth by a college professor and a graduate student (played by Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence). Being responsible scientists, they report their finding of the large, planet-killing comet, get their findings peer-reviewed, and let proper federal authorities know. Soon they are whisked in front of a pro-business, media savvy president (Merle Streep), who plays a president more intent on boosting her image and gauging every issue by its polling numbers than making decisions based on what’s good for the American people.
At a critical point in the movie, the president and her backers determine that the existence of the comet’s imminent collision with Earth is bad publicity ahead of the midterms and they begin to deny the science and downplay the imminent threat. Hence, the tag-line, “Don’t Look Up,” which becomes a campaign theme of a president, and her party, who are denying fact and spreading an outright lie (that the comet won’t hit the Earth so just don’t look at it getting closer), while also blaming the responsible media for spreading “fake news.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s supposed to. Like all good satire, the theme parallels many prevalent issues in today’s politics: the Trump-inspired “Stop the Steal” lie that captivated many Republicans and the party despite dozens of legal court challenges of election results that proved beyond doubt the election results were fair and accurate; the denial of climate change in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence; and the over-arching willingness of millions of Americans who respond favorably to calls of violence — and willful ignorance — as a legitimate way to express their political perspective.
The movie also mocks those media stars who pursue ratings over truth, and “news” shows that treat all items with a light, feel-good approach and who are more devoted to a candidate than the truth.
The movie’s brilliance is in showing how far some people are willing to believe obvious fallacies before they realize the consequence. In the movie’s storyline, it’s mankind’s impending doom. In real life, look at how far Nazi Germany drifted under Hitler for reasons that resemble the white-supremacist movement in America today; or look at how far the Republican Party has taken the “Stop the Steal” theme even as GOP leaders agree that President Biden was elected legitimately; or consider how reluctant the world is to accept the science of climate change even in the face of deadly wildfires, powerful hurricanes, melting ice shelves, worsening droughts, the loss of biodiversity on land and at sea, and much more.
The movie’s real-life lesson shows that a section of the public is more gullible to political salesmanship (and how big money manipulates the conversation) than citizens and political leaders want to believe. The majority keeps thinking the nation’s better angels will prevail; that truth will overcome falsehoods; that democracy will triumph over a party willing to back a dictatorial leader. But history, and the movie, demonstrates that is often not the case.
The lessons of the Jan. 6 insurrection are yet to be fully defined, but it’s not hard to already see that many Republicans will refute whatever the House committee reports. They’ll turn their backs on the truth, do their best to discredit those authors, and believe the storyline — not the facts, but their own ”alternative reality” — of how their world should be, perhaps right to the bitter end.
The hope is that the majority of Americans recognize the danger of allowing falsehoods to prevail and they speak out forcefully to reiterate the facts. Democrats, Independents and like-minded Republicans should also understand the importance of championing a pro-democracy agenda (loudly and clearly) and reject any movement that embraces deliberate falsehoods and political violence — as Trump did throughout his presidency and during a Jan. 6 speech prior to the insurrection. Such speech should be treated as the pernicious threat to our democracy it is.
If that’s the lesson learned from the infamous Jan. 6 insurrection, school children decades from now will know, at least on this one issue, we had the courage to “look up,” to believe the facts and the science, and to recognize lies and misinformation for the dangerous propaganda they are.
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