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June 25, 2018

Let’s discuss America, or thereabouts.

You know, ever since the 2016 election -- and prior to it, but certainly afterward -- the phrase “fake news” has been thrown around a lot.  My understanding of it means that it splits into two camps.  One: it’s a pack of lies masquerading as current events, so that those who pick it up/buy into it will believe that that’s what’s really going on in the world.  Two: it’s a label to slap onto any information that runs counter to beliefs or worldviews.  An inconvenient truth?  No such thing.  That can’t be true, so it must be fake -- and the people behind it are liars with an agenda.  And so on, and so forth.

Before I go any further, I’ll say this upfront: I get it.  I get the appeal.  I know why “fake news” is in circulation (as both a label and a weapon of disinformation campaigns, but more toward the former in this case).  Honestly, I can’t say I’m completely immune to getting suckered or buying into whatever news/news outlet conforms to my worldview.  Supposedly conservatives are more vulnerable to it, but if we work under the assumption -- or reality -- that American minds are being poisoned by cyberterrorist cabals, then you know what?  Why wouldn’t you play both sides?

I guess the answer to that is “because you don’t have to”.  It’s pretty obvious what team I’m on at this point, but sometimes I wonder if I’m getting suckered too.  I want to buy into the news and information that comes from my side, and my team -- from people that I think are reliable sources.  My fear, and one that blooms by the day, is that I’m locking myself in echo chambers.  That I’m only letting one side get through to me, and assuming the other side is horribly misguided -- which is exactly what some doppelganger of me is doing with “their team” and “their news”.  It’s bad enough that we can’t agree on basic facts; how much worse is it when we can’t even come together to discuss those basic facts, because we’re forced to believe the other team is “the bad guy team”?

More to the point: I get it.  I get my info.  I watch the local news in the morning as they shift from the weather and traffic to politics.  I pop over to CNN every now and then, both via TV and articles online.  Reddit and r/politics are practically burned into my phone.  And when I see those headlines and read those articles and spot those reproduced tweets in comments -- when I try to gain some grasp on current events -- in some cases my gut reaction is “That’s fake news.”  Not because it doesn’t conform to my worldview.  Because it does.  Because my beliefs aren’t being challenged, but rather catered to, and telling me I’m right to point fingers at my “foes”.  I don’t want to believe what I see.  But I’m forced to.

This is reality.

That’s it.  It’s over.  There’s no coming back from this.  No justification, no excuses, no forgiveness.  I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but since this is our reality now, here it is.  Here’s the hardest lesson Trump, the GOP, and everyone involved in this travesty will have to learn: you don’t put innocent children in cages.  I mean, it’s probably not a coincidence that the U.S. -- or at least the foam-mouthed marauders at the helm right now -- decided to back out of the UN Human Rights Council right before the proverbial fan-hitting.  I guess they didn’t want anyone to blast them over the child internment camps.  In which case, good job avoiding backlash from anyone and everyone, guys.  Truly a covert operation.

I’d say there’s a silver lining to this situation’s progression, but I guessed the fallout well before it happened.  Trump released an executive order to stop the zero tolerance/family separation policy (albeit for 20 days, last I checked).  That’s the smallest of small steps, but I knew -- and others knew, even more so -- that this crisis is a logistical nightmare.  What’s the plan to reunite over 2,000 children with their parents, especially given that record-keeping was treated like an afterthought?  How will those in captivity be treated from here on out, given that they’ve been confined to old buildings and tents in 100-degree summer heat?  What about lasting, highly-probable psychological damage?

You can’t fix stuff like that with an executive order.  The only winning move with this crisis is to never start this crisis to begin with, yet here we are regardless.  And because Trump is Trump, and therefore the worst, a problem that didn’t need to exist in the first place is going to be “solved” by a solution that won’t work.  The most concrete aftereffect of this (besides horrific suffering bound to taint countless history books) is that allies, onlookers, and enemies abroad will look at America in a darker light.  In which case, congratulations to the Trump administration for giving everyone outside its borders all-new reasons to hate us.

Let me be clear: it’s extremely easy, and tempting, to lay all of the blame on Donald Trump.  I want to.  In some ways, I’d probably be justified in doing it; we’re talking about a man who, for seemingly no reason (besides the likelihood that he wants to sow discord as a faithful Russian puppet) has sparked needless trade wars, given newfound legitimacy and praise to dictators, backed out of crucial worldwide agreements, erased populace-preserving regulations, shunned the mere idea of the environment, and effectively equated Nazi supporters with Nazi protesters.  At this stage, I pretty much want him to golf 24/7.  At least then he has a slightly-lesser chance of torching the country.

But a president is not a king.  Trump isn’t responsible for this immigration debacle, or the DACA debate, or any artificially-created crisis since he was sworn into office.  I assumed, or at least hoped, that the system of checks and balances left behind by the Founding Fathers would take effect -- that congressmen and women from both parties would stand up as needed to slap Trump’s scrabbling hands down.  That hasn’t happened.  Not enough.  So now there’s a host of shady schemers whispering dark machinations into the president’s ear, a man who’ll follow through on either the last words spoken to him, or whoever praised him the most that day.

Then you have all of these people, in the governmental cloud and out of it, running interference.  Republicans in the House and Senate could put a stop to these country-degrading efforts, like the tax bill and healthcare cuts, but they’ve collectively gone “nah” again and again.  They hold the power, but refuse to use it, and would actively help a man who can’t form a complete sentence on his own than do what’s best for the country they’re supposed to serve.  Given how things are, I’d say the special counsel investigation/Russia probe is only intact right now because of dumb luck.  Those in power sure haven’t done much to protect it, and would rather try and bury it.

And Fox News?  No help whatsoever.  For a while, I couldn’t even boot up my phone’s browser without seeing those cages and imagining the terror those children must have felt.  Based on what I’ve seen from brief glimpses, Fox News would rather talk about midterm elections, and guys running for reelection in districts Hillary Clinton lost, and -- well, pretty much always finding ways to point fingers at Hillary Clinton.  Every story needs a bad guy, I guess.

Pay no mind to the tightly-knit network of government officials and propagandist media manipulators lying on a daily basis.

What’s it all in service of?  Why let things escalate to a point where people -- and right now I’m using that term very lightly -- have chosen to allow and justify child imprisonment?  Is it to protect a vile, blithering impostor of a president?  To further an agenda pieced together by the devil himself?  To undo whatever progress has been made in the past century, at least?  Tu upend and lash out at anyone with the slightest difference in circumstances, be it opinion or skin color?  The cynic’s answer would be yes to all of the above.  But as things stand, that’s the realist’s answer, too.

I don’t like it.  I don’t like making those blanket generalizations.  As someone who believes in the goodness of men and women, I don’t want to reach a point where I have to assume that the people who aren’t on my side are complicit in or actively pushing towards evil.  But it’s like I said: every story needs a bad guy.  And now I have mine.  We all do.

If that really is the case, then you know what usually happens to the bad guys in fiction, right?  That’s right.  Somehow, at some point, they lose.  And they’ll lose again.

It’s easy to feel outrage.  It’s easier to give up.  All of these negative emotions -- anger, confusion, despair, fear, and more -- can wear anyone down to the bone, and leave them hollowed out.  And what’s the alternative?  The ones in power are precisely that; they can do what they want, and they’ve conclusively proven that they don’t intend to cave to the will of the people as long as their little club can recursively negate consequences for their crimes.  Is there even a point in fighting, or feeling outraged, or wanting something better when there’s no chance of it happening?

Yes.  There is a point.  Trump and his cronies -- and yes, at this point they might as well be his cronies -- are steering the country wherever they see fit, even if it’s off a cliff.  Their control is disproportionate to their numbers.  Yet that’s the strength we have that they don’t.  We are many.  We are strong.  We are America.

The country I imagine -- the country I live in -- is one with values, and built on glowing ideals.  My history books taught me about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; my fiction taught me about truth, justice, and the American way.  I believed in that, just as I believe in it now.  Knowing that there were people in the past who championed those concepts makes it more than just wide-eyed naivete.  It’s the trust we put in the abstraction of the country -- a trust so powerful, it became the faith that we collectively share.

It’s true that there are those who would turn their back on that faith for any number of reasons.  Maybe because someone “taught” them otherwise.  Maybe because they lost their way.  Maybe because they faced dire circumstances, and want their pain to be felt by others (no matter the intended victims’ innocence).  I won’t act like those people don’t exist.  I can’t, considering who’s in the Oval Office.  But America is about so much more than hatred, domination, spite, distrust, and every possible vice the Bible could ever list.

I don’t believe in the villains who let the immigration debate devolve into utter, reprehensible chaos.  But I still believe in America.  I believe in the people who want to live their lives freely and happily.  In the dreams that drive them to reach for more, to climb higher, and to improve through tireless dedication.  In the hopes that we as a society can progress, be it through social reforms on the streets, or scientifically so we can discover the mysteries of the universe.

I believe that everyone should have the chance to believe.  No matter who they love, or what they think, or how they act, or what they look like, or any number of qualifiers, we all deserve the chance to hold that faith deep in our hearts.  It’s a chance inherent to our nature as human beings, supported by the soil we walk upon.  Yet if this episode -- and others before it, and others waiting in the wings -- has proven everything, it’s this: that faith needs to be defended.

And we should.  And we will.

As much as it pains me to type it, Donald Trump is the president.  Barring some untenable scandal, that’s going to be true for a while yet.  But even so, the midterms this November provide a chance to curb his unchecked reign, if only slightly.  So if you haven’t considered taking action yet, now might be a good time to.  If there’s a way to help others, then we owe it to ourselves, those in need, and the country to hold out a helping hand.

So vote.  Make sure you’re registered to vote.  Recommend that your friends and family vote.  Keep track of the candidates you can vote for, and choose the ones that can help preserve the American dream.  Be wary of what the villains in the White House and beyond are up to.  Be willing to listen to, and lend aid to, the heroes who are fighting far harder than any one man should.

And most of all?  Keep the faith.  Don’t give up on the country, no matter what dark path its conductors are driving us down.  They may have the control, but we have the weight.  The power.  The heart.  We just have to believe.

And I do.  I believe in America.

I believe in you.

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