America’s moral compass was performing surprisingly well until a few months ago. Citizen journalism and social media were driving the news cycle and framing the narratives. The mainstream media can try to spin atrocity, but they can’t completely control the stories that emerge from war zones and urban occupations, much less how the public conscience responds to those stories. This is especially true now that every individual with a smartphone is potential photojournalist, and any affecting image or alternative news story can go viral through social media.
The recent movement against predatory police was not part of the program. The general public was not supposed to see Eric Garner choked out by NYPD cops while pleading “I can’t breathe,” Michael Brown’s corpse left for hours to bake on the hot asphalt in Ferguson, or a platoon of militarized cops besieging an American community.
Also not part of the program was the turn of American public opinion against Israel following the 51 Day War on Gaza. The general public was not supposed to see the shattered bodies of little boys sprawled out in the sand after they were bombed by the IDF while playing soccer on a beach in Gaza. They were not supposed to see a video of a little girl under siege begging the viewer to believe that she is not a terrorist and that she just wants to live.
All of the above flashpoints happened during what could be called the Long Hot Summer of 2014 (which may yet prove as historically significant as the Long Hot Summer of 1967). For a full year after that summer, the world’s worst chronic injustices were live issues and hot stories. Ever brighter sunlight was shining on the world’s worst brutalizers, and there was little their apologists in the media could do about it.
We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Distraction
Then election season began, and Americans were returned to their regularly scheduled pre-programming. Ever since, the presidential election has sucked up most of the oxygen in the country’s discourse. Quests for justice and battles of ideas were displaced by a contest of personas. Feeds and front pages were once again dominated by a power elite horse race, crowding out coverage of malign institutions and their systematic injustices.
Cops are still deeply unpopular, but their brutality largely fell from public focus, in spite of the succession of their victims continuing to mount unabated. Israel’s favorability rating among Americans is still the lowest it has been since 2004. But it too has been flying mostly under the media radar, even as it has used an alleged “Knife Intifida” or “Wave of Terror” (the IDF’s version of the “War on Cops” narrative promulgated by American police unions) as an excuse to perpetrate a massive campaign of summary street executions of Palestinians, including especially minors and children.
Who has the attention span for that when American Political Idol is on? Isn’t Jeb cringe-worthy? Isn’t Hillary shameless? Have you heard the latest bigotry spouted by Trump? Isn’t he such a lout? Or conversely, did you see Trump tell it like it is? Isn’t he a refreshing iconoclast?
Americans can’t be bothered about occupation forces running rampant in Cincinnati and Hebron, or even about World War III threatening to erupt out of the conflict in Syria, because they’re too busy culturally signaling about divisive celebrities.
Yet these elections we are so preoccupied with have little bearing on the general direction of the deep state. They are essentially power rituals that serve to drape an autocratic oligarchy in the sanctifying mantle of “democracy.” The importance of an individual’s participation in campaign season is not about to which candidate he gives his statistically insignificant support, but the systematic buy-in and authorization involved in participating at all.
The 4th-grade-level disputation of modern American politics does manage to start some debate over significant issues, but only of a coarse and barren kind. The win-lose nature of the electoral power struggle stimulates so much partisan animosity among citizens that reason and morality are obscured amid the haze of herd-think. Yet even this sorry level of discussion is vastly outweighed by coverage of the horse race and the personalities of the candidates.
Election season also places the establishment media back in the saddle and at the reins over the narrative and the news cycle. However “populist” some candidates may be, media coverage of political campaigns are a decidedly non-populist affair. Stories about the doings and sayings of candidates emerge, not from on-the-ground witnesses and victims of injustice, or decentralized social networks, but from members of the press corps granted special access and exclusive leaks. Such stories will never be allowed to be too subversive, even with a “rogue” candidate like Trump. Fairly innocuous and obsolete questions like “Was the Iraq War a mistake?” might be allowed to surface, but not deeply subversive ones like the following:
In Syria, is the U.S. abetting and allying with Al Qaeda, the organization responsible for the worst attack on American soil in history? Are cops systematically preying on the communities they claim to ‘protect and serve’? Did Washington send thousands of Americans to kill and die in Iraq largely to serve the interests of a foreign apartheid state? If the answers to the above are yes, what does that say about the very nature of our government: the institution ostensibly tasked with the security of the American people? What does it say about the nature of the State in general?
Tune Out, Turn On, Drop Out
These are the fundamental questions Americans need to be asking and discussing. But they never will until we again snatch the reins of public discourse out of the hands of the power elite and its kept media. To truly effect change and achieve justice, we must (to paraphrase Timothy Leary) tune out the mainstream media’s distractions, turn on our minds and consciences, and drop out of the power ritual of election season.