Turn Off CNN and Talk to Actual Americans: On Division in the United? States of America

Are you ready for a shock? As I sat down to write this, CNN had on the front page of its website an article putting Donald Trump in a dim light. Hard to believe, I know. And–are you ready for this?–Fox News is defending some of President Trump’s peculiar actions. In fact, Fox commentaries are almost primarily about supporting Trump, while late-night comedy shows seem to have changed their format from the classical approach of self-deprecating mockery of American culture to serial lampooning of the many dumb things the President says or does. The whole industry of American news and late-night talk shows has become a White House burlesque, meant to confirm (I think) how deeply divided American society is today.

I grant that the United States of America has deep divisions. Some of these are historical, so that much of the Red-Blue divide still runs along Civil War lines. Don’t imagine that something as thin as the Mason-Dixon line couldn’t divide a country a quarter of a millennium later. America is built on mythologies, a land formed as much by folktale as by ideology. The greatest social experiment in history (I believe) was, after all, shaped by revolution and by civil war as well as by philosophy and religion. There are also deep critical divides within what appear to be like-minded regions like the Northwest, the Rust Belt, the South, or New England. Livia Gershon’s suggestion that we might be in a “Cold Civil War” is tempting to accept.

But isn’t it true that, as we just saw, America has always been divided? As someone who came to age in the aftermath of the collapse of the Iron Curtain, America’s “victory” was dominated in my experience by culture wars. I was never sure that war ended in the 90s (or even began then), but 9/11 certainly created a cohesive moment that allowed everyone to take a breath. But, frankly, when was there a non-divisive moment in American postwar history? McCarthyism, the 60s, Vietnam, the Nixon scandal, Reaganomics, the Cola wars, repeated gulf wars, perennial culture wars, the Tea Party, the alt-right and the new left, Brad and Angelina–I don’t know that divisiveness is new.

I mean, all the Presidents have been deeply divisive. According to FiveThirtyEight, every President except JFK went below 50% approval at one point, and even Kennedy was descending steadily to that depth when he was assassinated. It is true that Trump’s disapproval rating is record-breaking, being the only President to have a lower approval rating than disapproval rating at inauguration, and the only one to never have a majority approval (thus far). However, Truman spent most of his Presidency with support below 40%, being popular only during his two elections and the 1946 mid-term. Obama, Bush Jr., Carter, and Ford all spent more than half their presidency with less than half of America approving of their work. On the 569th day of their presidencies, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Truman were about where Trump is now in approval–in the low 40s. In fact, the only moments of unity in America where approval was at 80% or above are classic ones: Truman finishing WWII, Bush Jr.’s initial response to 9/11, Bush Sr.’s victory in West Asia, and Johnson’s accession after JFK’s assassination. Violent are the moments that create unity in America in the era of modern comfort and wealth after WWII.

It seems to me that division is part of America’s story and I don’t know whether America is greatest when she is divided or unified. The unified response of America to join WWII after Pearl Harbour is offset by the divided feelings about entering WWI, and there is a case to be made that Wilson hoodwinked America into joining that global conflict. The critical unity of America after 9/11, filled as it was with public debate, disintegrated into a decade of desert war with thinning allies, certainly creating the conditions for the tragedy of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and one of the greatest refugee crises of history. The divisiveness of McCarthyism is no doubt a betrayal of American cultural values, and yet it was a challenge to American values of segregation that led to the beginning of a long revolution of understanding about race, from Martin Luther King to Black Lives Matters. All abolition movements, cultural revolutions, and religious revivals are divisive, and yet America has been great in global matters when unified.

So is America greatest when she is divided or unified?

I don’t know, though I think it is a powerful question. What troubles me about the “America divided” conversation is not the complex data that could lead to answers, but the media rhetoric about the question. Set aside the inherent hypocrisy on the left with the principle of inclusion and reasoned revolutionary speech, or the fact that Trump’s person and politics are a betrayal of American conservativism. In this, CNN and Fox News are each undermining that which they are trying to defend, as are superstars like Stephen Colbert or Glenn Beck. Every week millions of people around the world watch American news channels, political commentators, and late-night monologues. Youtube has hyper-realized our connection with these kinds of media. And, especially when you consider the clickbait nature of mainstream news, rather than bringing clarity they are unified in one thing: a certain vision of America. If we trust in Fox News, CNN, and BBC, or Stephen Colbert and his friends, what do we learn about what Americans are like?

Non-Americans not living in America are likely to imagine America as a swirling cesspool of bigotry and violence. I have heard it, heard the fear of non-Americans about travelling in the US or having US immigrants in their communities (there are millions of Americans living across the world, including 2 million in Canada). I have heard foreigners working in specialized trades in the US talk about getting out, and Canadians hesitate about taking jobs there (there are more than a million Canadians in the US, most of them working as hockey players or baristas in Los Angelos). No doubt the President’s anti-immigration rhetoric and interest in trade wars heightens the anxiety, but even without that the news is filled with guns, violence, racism, character assassinations, and the twin realities of hypersexualized idolatry and violence. What are people supposed to think about America?

This is where I think it is time to turn of the news and close the youtube app. I think it is time to turn off CNN and spend time with real Americans.

I have had the blessing of two trips into the US this year. I spent a week in archival research, a week in conferences and meetings, and a week vacationing, including a four-day music festival. During my time there, without fail people were generous, kind, engaged, and hospitable. Americans are legendary for their ignorance about Canada, but I found on these latest visits that people were especially open and even curious. At moments people were almost apologetic about the current political situation, and terribly cautious. Many were very interested in Prime Minister Trudeau, though living here I am only too aware that the tousle-headed ideologue is always smilier on the other side of the fence.

At both the festival and the conference, America showed its great diversity and commitment to human freedom–both in the culture of the programming and the messages from the stage. The festival in New Hampshire is a case in point. The programming was clearly meant to communicate the message that is their motto: Music, Love, Action. The artists and presenters spoke of social action, calls for justice, racial equality, and the global abolition movement that is trying to address the contemporary crisis of slave-trading today. The stage was filled with immigrants all week. And when the Compassion International presentations arose, they highlighted children who received American sponsorships and then went on to immigrate to America and become successful. The message of love and inclusivity flowed into the audience, which was the most polite 10,000 people crammed together you could meet. During torrential rains, shin-deep mud, tornado warnings and threats of flash floods, festival-goers kept their cool, helping one another out as Christian neighbours.

A week in the New Hampshire mountains without Fox News or BBC International reminded me of the true heart of America’s social space.

Although I spent all my time in four states this year, I have visited 31 US states. I have experienced the same integrity, kindness, and good-hearted neighbourliness almost without fail. This doesn’t surprise me. Most of my students are Americans, and they show intelligence and hard work in all they do, despite many challenges. Many of my colleagues are American, and though they are less diverse in political stance and heritage than my students, they show rugged integrity and an unfailing commitment to vision. Every year, our little province of Prince Edward Island hosts a population 7 times our size in visitors (including tourists and international students). Americans have always been a large part of our lives, and generally a positive one.

So, here we are. This is my rant. Not as clever as Stephen Colbert or as angry as Glenn Beck. There isn’t great clickbait here that shows the sexy side of news. However, if you turn off CNN and turn to real people you will find great examples of neighbourliness–not to mention the courage, ingenuity, and brawny dream-making that is America’s global gift. I think the free press is an essential element to political democracy, an element that is under threat today in America. It is under threat mostly, though, due to an internal sickness. I think media is important, but in today’s media culture it might be time to take a break.

I follow the news, but I’m increasingly drawn to C.S. Lewis’ view of the media. Most of what we see in the media, he says, will be proven “false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance” before long. In consuming the media, we “will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph” as we assess our world (Lewis, Surprised by Joy, ch. 10). He speaks elsewhere of how a reader learns from the media about “how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn’t know,” and yet we think that it brings us together as a people (Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, 16). Lewis was not critically aware of all that the media does for us, yet he was wary of what looks like a unified view of the world but what really brings alienation in the end. I think this is true today if it never was before.

So, please, ignore your youtube app, tuck your newspaper under your arm, close the screen on this blog post, and go meet real Americans. It might change your view of the world.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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59 Responses to Turn Off CNN and Talk to Actual Americans: On Division in the United? States of America

  1. The eudaemonic philosopher Alain de Botton recently published a book called “The News: A User’s Manual”. The following quote links to your point, I think, and especially its last line: the news we are given about the nation is not the nation.

    “We should remember that the news is ultimately only one set of stories about what is happening out there, no more and no less.

    Our nation isn’t just a severed hand, a mutilated grandmother, three dead girls in a basement, embarrassment for a minister, trillions of debt, a double suicide at a railway station and a fatal five-car crash by the coast.

    It is also the cloud floating right now unattended by the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-boiled egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine, and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocation and unkind words, discovers new reserves of patience and forgiveness.
    This, too, is reality, The news we are given about the nation is not the nation.”

    This is from pages 43 to 45 of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would love to spend a day with Alain de Botton! That would include a discussion of how he likes almost everything about “good religion” but cannot bring himself to believe in God. I think he would have been on Ransom’s side in That Hideous Strength but he would have missed out on its deepest reality. He gives us a philosophy of life here that is closely connected to Brenton’s wise words. It reminds me of Patrick Kavanagh on the parochial that Robert Macfarlane speaks of in an essay in his wonderful “Landmarks”. Getting to know, really know, your parish is a good way to spend a life.

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    • Thanks for that link to Alain de Botton, Stephen. I am not a specialist, though I did read a bit of Noam Chomsky back in the day. Someone like you or Alain de Botton could fill out my thoughts well.

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      • Stephen says:

        You’re welcome, Brenton. I stumbled upon de Botton years ago while trying to read up on Seneca (I’d just discovered the Stoics), and found a video series he did called “The Consolations of Philosophy”. I’ve followed his work since — about ten years now. The book that series was based on (same title) remains a favorite of mine.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dawn Jacobs says:

    Amen!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. dalejamesnelson says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Brenton.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. robstroud says:

    Thanks for the sympathetic comments, Brenton. Americans vary, just like the people of every land–from noble to vile. Sadly, the latter find their way into what passes for “news” more frequently than the former.

    The unparalleled diversity in this country is the primary reason for the disconnection. I’m not referring to ethnic diversity, but values-diversity. More along the lines of independence vs. entitlement philosophies or people who desire government involvement in almost everything vs. those who prefer the government be less intrusive. The political parties attempt to co-opt these general groups and mold them for their competing purposes.

    Now that the Republican Party is currently in the hands of a Populist, it has strayed from many of its core principles (e.g. fiscal restraint). Of course, telling people who are greedy by nature (part of our inherent fallen nature) that they should not spend money they don’t have, does not play well with the masses. Give us stuff. Free stuff. Free education, free healthcare, free childcare, funded vacations, etc.)

    I could go on for pages about my perception of the United States. In essence, we’re no different from anyone else. Simultaneously, with our diverse population (no longer encouraged to “assimilate” and find their primary identity in the nation as the Constitution defines it), we have the naturally resulting diversity in views.

    In recent years I’ve become more and more persuaded that human beings are essentially tribal. The “breakdown” of Europe and Africa (e.g. fragmentation into smaller states better reflective of tribal loyalties) illustrates this. If people are given the choice between being part of a community that shares their deepest values or with people who are all-sorts-of-different in their worldviews, it’s the minority who prefer the latter.

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    • Thanks for these comments, Rob. I think there are … I don’t know the word–meta-values?–values that unite behind the values diversity. I think, for example, racial neighbourliness and equality is held by most, but the conversation breaks down in assessing what happens in the streets or what one does with it.
      But your “tribal” comment shows how those ideas intensify the divisions. For example, there is a “Guilty by Association” reality in American culture, so that an evangelical Christian might avoid the environmental movement because it is tagged with liberal values, or a progressive feminist might shy away from fiscal conservative approaches because of their connection with other conservative values. It’s too bad, I think, because it hides the “meta-values” that 85% of Americans share.

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  6. Dr Jordan Peterson confirms and re-asserts what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vaclav Havel have all said so eloquently in theie own way – “The sovereignty of the individual is sacred, and … the fundamental linkage between the pathology of the state and the psychology of the individual is the individual’s propensity to self-deceive him or herself and adopt an in-authentic mode of being and action.” [Jordan Peterson]

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    • Though I don’t agree that the sovereignty of the individual is sacred if we mean that individual autonomy is the core human reality (as per Kant), I do see how Peterson’s comment is a judicious scalpal that cuts the disease regardless of the direction the patient is facing.

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      • The implication of the statement is more that all of them are talking more about sacred individuality as personal responsibility and/or accountability than Kant’s autonomy, because if the individual is not responsible (sovereign of) for his or her own spiritual, mental and physical kingdom then how can they choose and act to place what they rule spiritually, mentally and physically under God’s Kingship in His Kingdom rather than place it in allegiance to the Prince of this world?

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  7. dalejamesnelson says:

    How does our consumption of CNN and Fox, of Tweets, of (etc.), stand up to the test C. S. Lewis offered?

    There are things we

    –have to do
    –ought to do
    –like to do

    …but we waste our time on things that qualify under none of these headings, because (e.g.) other people do them, etc.

    For me, consumption of “news,” I have come to realize, qualifies under none of these headings. I would rather, e.g. read Tom Shippey’s new book.

    Dale Nelson

    Liked by 2 people

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Some time ago, Arend Smilde compiled (and updated) a little anthology of those Lewis ‘news’ observations and similar ones by other authors – it would be enjoyable if he were to upload it, but I don’t know what the copyright aspects of that might be… (Fair usage and anthologies?)

    Meanwhile, I approve of the idea of ‘praying the news’, but pretty miserably fail to practice it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hannah says:

    Reading this discussion I miss comments on the motivation of why many speak out on eg CNN, a deep concern about the developments in the US, eg Madeleine Albright quoting Mussolini “You pluck the chicken one feather at a time, and people don’t really notice”; so, not in order to be divisive! https://edition.cnn.com/videos/tv/2018/04/13/exp-gps-0415-albright-democracy-resilient.cnn
    I admire and am thankful to all the journalists, who courageously keep on reporting, ao fact checking this president and administration and facing daily death threats because of it. In September a good book is coming out “Fear: Trump in the White House” by Bob Woodward, one of the Watergate journalists.
    Of course, it would be great if people could look beyond their social media bubbles and echo chambers and really start talking to each other, but does it need to be an either/or? Do we need to shut off CNN for that? And I am surprised to see CNN being listed at the same level as FOX, as CNN usually shows both sides of arguments, ao having Trump strategists/supporters on their panels, while FOX is pure state propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      Now at 63, I regret so much time spent with news media. I doubt that very many people, when they come close to the end of their lives, while feel a keen sense of regret that they didn’t watch more TV news, spend more time on political blogs, etc.

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    • I’ll turn that around, Hannah. If you look at CNN.com or FoxNews.com every day, will you get a true, balanced sense of what American life is like and what Americans are like? I would suggest not. I don’t have the skill to really know what I’m talking about, but I too value journalists. Journalists and journalism are being threatened by various forces: a rapidly changing commercial model, increasing editorial power that shapes what we see, and a White House that is making things up as it goes along. The middle one, editorial power, is I think why we don’t get the truth from news media any more, though any one bit of it may be true.

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      • Hannah says:

        This song by the Parody Project: “Confounds the Science” – (Parody of) Sound of Silence”
        Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57jRBt4h6ks
        Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bgTi1IXDYA
        fits well to my comments of 16 & 17 August, out of deep concern on how that American way of life seems to be so threatened by what is going on, and not only in the US, but in many other countries around the world, where the free press is threatened or non-existent. And also in other ways, eg climate change – rolling back Obama’s many environmental initiatives and regulations has impact on the whole globe … eg the extreme heat waves this summer!”

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        • I’m struggling to get back into the world but I watched those interesting videos. The song begs for parody, and parody is done best in meaningful, deadly topics treated lightly.

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          • Hannah says:

            Yes! Your “… parody is done best in meaningful, deadly topics treated lightly” reminded me of a comment by Barbara Hall on writing scripts for the series “Madam Secretary”. Searching for it, I found this interesting New York Times article and quote by her “And now the challenge for any show that’s trying not to write the news, or to stay ahead of the news, is how do you do that? Everything is happening so fast that by the time you break it and write it, you do find yourself having to change it if you’re trying to stay ahead – of real life”.

            But then the writers of the great BBC series “Yes Minister” (1980 to 1984) made the same kind of comments – real life events often being a lot weirder than what they would/could come up with ….(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes_Minister / https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080306/)

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            • Great conversation. Although most people wouldn’t know because we don’t export this particular kind of material, but Canada is very good at parody and especially satire. I grew up listening to the Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Saturday Night Live began on Canada. It’s a talent I don’t have but I love when it works well.

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              • Hannah says:

                Great to know SNL has Canadian roots! I will look out for your Canadian parody …
                and I only meant for the NYT weblink to show up, not the whole announcement & illustration!

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  10. dalejamesnelson says:

    Screwtape to Wormwood (Letter XII):

    “You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at TV or his computer — whoops, the original says a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my patients said on his arrival down here [in hell], ‘I now see that I spent most of my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked. The Christians describe the Enemy [God] as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong.’ And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…”

    But the whole long final paragraph of this letter is perhaps more pertinent now than when it was first published.

    Dale Nelson

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Can any of us escape the appalling waste of time and spirit involved in reading “the news” or taking more than an artificial part in conversations about the issues selected for and highlighted in “the news”. To read, and to use our countries involvement in foreign wars as an example of an issue, without military knowledge or good maps and geographical knowledge accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then ‘written up’ out of all recognition by journalists paid to emphasize particular political persuasions, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of mind and emotion. If our thinking and emotions are deliberately being occupied with this waste of time and spirit to ensure that we do not have time for thinking about “what is critical to the reality of life and living” then our society will one day awaken to the fact that the temple it has been building to its god, mammon, is empty and its god has flown.” [C S Lewis]

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  12. Hannah says:

    I see your points, and thinking about it, I don’t really watch the news to get to know real American life – would rather read a novel for that, eg “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty with my book club this year gave a better understanding of segregation – but can’t stop watching because that way of life seems to be so threatened by what is going on, and not only in the US but in many other countries around the world, where the free press is threatened or non-existent. And also in other ways, eg climate change – rolling back Obama’s many environmental initiatives and regulations has impact on the whole globe … eg the extreme heat waves this summer!
    David’s ‘praying the news’ reminded me of books by Neil Postman: in Technopology he describes how news changed, from mostly only local news until ca the 19th century, to where we are now, through technological inventions with as major ones first the telegraph and then photography …. with news reaching us now in a very detached way; and in “Amusing ourselves to Death” the change from a Typographic society to our Peek-a-Boo World.

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    • hannahdemiranda3 says:

      This was a reply to Brenton’s comment …..

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        As to the Lewis quotes that slipped in between (is Patrick’s one also from the Screwtape letters, just like Dales? It doesn’t seem to be so): of course we need wisdom and God’s guidance in how we spend our time wisely! But as His stewards we are ao called to be salting salt in this world and so also be involved in political debates … Here in Holland, in line with reformation traditions, we even have Christian political parties ….
        It is a pity Lewis cannot respond to all of this himself, but he surely would agree with this.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          On “Christian political parties”, I would recommend Lewis’s 10 January 1941 “Meditation on the Third Commandment”. When I was active in the Movement for Christian Democracy before coming to the Netherlands and learning Dutch, I was (I would now say) naively impressed by the prospect of its “Christian political parties”. Later, I remember the prominent appeal of a retired Catholic civil servant when two of the Continental-Reformation-background parties here were uniting, that they should try to make a real sort of ‘C.S. Lewis party of it’ – alas, they didn’t. They constructed a party I could not in good Christian conscience (as I understand it) be a member of – not that I was not on friendly terms with prominent members of it, but, what a rejected opportunity. (A distinct, disappointing feature of the Dutch system is that one can only vote with certainty for political parties and their candidate-lists, not distinct candidates who impress you – though sometimes one of them may in fact get elected by preferential votes, if enough voters are similarly impressed.) So, I return to the fresh cogency of Lewis’s essay, though it was written when Hitler and Stalin were still working together. (But I have yet to catch up properly with his Maritain recommendation, there.)

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          • Hannah says:

            To fact-check this, it was three parties uniting. Yes, the result has been disappointing, but then another Christian party was started that I can vote for. As to that ‘disappointing feature of the Dutch system’: quite often people, lower lists, are elected by preferential votes. And I would never want to have the American electoral system with primaries etc and only two parties … here opposition parties have to work together to form governments!
            There are shining examples in the US of people speaking out (being salting salt), like John McCain, but there are so very few these days. Most GOP members remain silent.

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            • Hannah says:

              … silent, afraid of not being reelected.
              It is not that I am advocating Christian political parties, I just used it as example of being engaged as salting salt. Great if people can do that in other political parties and fight against injustice, poverty etc!

              Liked by 1 person

              • hannahdemiranda3 says:

                Ah, the US Senate just voted unanimously that the press is not the enemy of the people! At last defending the media against this president …

                Liked by 1 person

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              I wasn’t thinking of the three-parties-uniting party – though that result has indeed been disappointing – but of the later two-parties-uniting party which presumed to call itself – with a definite article! – ‘De Christen Unie’ – ‘The Christian Union’: which seems very pretentious indeed. (And I’ve seen it defended by prominent ardent members in precisely those terms – as if voting for that party is uniquely proof that one is a Christian.) As Lewis notes, “Whatever it calls itself, it will represent, not Christendom, but a part of Christendom. […] But there will be a real, and most disastrous, novelty. It will not simply be a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole.”

              I was also thinking of the distinct, disappointing feature of the Dutch system at all levels – local, as well as national, where happily sometimes (I do not have the impression, often) people are elected preferentially, but it is always a sort of gambling that enough other voters ‘bet on’ the same person. As far as I know, on lower levels of government in the U.S., there are often more than two successful parties competing, and independent candidates who can succeed, and the voter can always choose a concrete human person and not merely a party with the graded list of people it sees fit to offer.

              Selecting candidates on various levels within parties by primary elections is not unproblematical (as, for example, Mr. Sanders’ supporters discovered), but voters registered as party members, again, get real chances to vote for a concrete human person.

              I wish Mr. McCain had been honest and humble enough not to run for President – and his Party had been honest and humble enough not to run him, when there was some serious question as to his legal eligibility, and that the ‘quality press’ in the Netherlands at the time had taken the trouble to apprise folks like myself of those problems. Much more like throwing dust in the eyes (in which the whole of the U.S. Senate joined, at one point!) than being shining crystals of salting salt, alas!

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            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Tying into Brenton´s earlier observation, “The middle one, editorial power, is I think why we don’t get the truth from news media any more”, one gets a vivid depiction of this (among other things) in Michael Isikoff’s Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story (1999), and I wonder how much it is involved in my example of the Dutch non-coverage of Mr. McCain’s problematical situation? I have no sense that the international news services passed this information, which (I later learned) received MSM attention in the U.S., on to their Dutch clients: an editorial decision on their parts? But, what of Dutch newspapers having their own correspondents and contributors in the U.S.? Perhaps, more complicated editorial decisions – on the Dutch editors’ sides, the transAtlantic reporters’ sides, and interactions of both (e.g., reporters ‘ knowing’ what would not be welcome, even if they found it important – rather like Mr. Isikoff’s discovery in the preceding decade)?

              An interesting aspect of interaction with other actual Americans was my discovery, as Internet neophyte, of various thoughtful, good-humoured lawyer-bloggers, civilly exploring such matter in careful detail (and sometime more or less agreeing to disagree radically in their conclusions), in ways the ordinary reader could follow.

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        • The Lewis quote was from “Surprised by Joy”.
          Modern FakeStreamMedia journalism is blatantly all about deciding which facts the public shouldn’t know, …
          “One think to rule them all

          One think to mind them

          One think to group them all

          And in the “safe-space” bind them” [Benjamin A Boyce].
          … everyone else must just “shut up” or be de-platformed so they cannot voice an opinion.

          Like

    • I don’t negate the importance of the news, and notice I have said nothing about local or print journalism. I just don’t think that the story that is being told by the individual data points, the interpretation of talk show hosts and editors, is a fair representation of what is going on in the world. I would hate for anyone to take from what I am saying that we should ignore what is happening in our communities and around the world.

      Like

      • Hannah says:

        All stories? That seems such a generalisation! And dangerous, for who or what can people then still believe, other than an authoritarian like Trump? That is also why he keeps on attacking the media as fake news.
        It seems like the discussion we had on the A.N. Wilson Errata list by Kathryn Lindskoog – https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2018/06/19/1st-inklings/ ….. to which I linked the question: how to discern true from fake news – fact checking is a huge part, but also reliability/integrity, motivation, reputation of the source?
        Also in scholarly work not all seems ‘to add up’. I have just finished the book “Word and Narrative in CS Lewis” and lots in it is great, but some chapters I could hardly get through because I just could not agree with the content.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hannah says:

          I guess I “wasn’t ready for the shock” of this post, and got too involved in discussions.
          But it is all out of deep concern over what is going on and I do hope and pray that things will not get out of hand and blow up; that people will be able to look beyond their fears and divisiveness and “meet really Americans”

          Like

          • Well, but that’s part of the point, isn’t it? By talking to Americans in real life we also see what the different ideas mean, what the press means, what life means, what being a neighbour means, and so on. I didn’t say that the media gets all stories wrong, that talk show hosts aren’t telling the truth or that CNN lies. I said that the individual data points don’t tell the single story–the myth–that they are telling the world. I think talking to real Americans will help gain perspective.
            I am pretty progressive politically compared with most Americans (even many liberals and Democrats). I come from a country where we agreed that, with reason, we are the weight of things like road, military, primary health care, being born and dying. And where we don’t share the whole weight, we lighten the burden for some, like in higher education, vocational training, secondary health care, urban commuting, and social housing. I largely agree with it, though as someone who actually worked as a government policy writer (for just 4 years), I disagree with emphasis and implementation a lot.
            So I do not love the current administration in the US, which is part of the energy behind your posts (I think). I think that Trump betrays America, plays with democratic values, and corrodes conservative values. But I didn’t want to make this post about Trump because of a few reasons. First, he is democratically elected to the post of greatest power in the world, and is there by right. This is what Americans wanted on the day that it mattered. Second, Trump is what Americans deserve. You have done this to yourself and to the world. Third, Trump is in a strong trajectory with Clinton, Bush, and Obama–a trajectory that bends America in bad ways. In a single bad way, I think. Why is there no cohesive response to Trump except outrage and insult on one side and self-contradictory support on the other? Why is there not a political conversation about the system, about values, about what’s next? Because the trajectory of these last presidents is such that you can no longer have the kind of conversation that would make meaningful change. Thus Obama and Trump populism. Thus the Democratic party’s inability to take responsibility for what they have done. Thus the Republican party’s lack of hesitancy to throw values away for power. I doubt the next President will be as bad as Trump, but he (probably he) will be in the same trajectory away from the kind of renewal American needs. Fourth, I am critical of CNN and late-night talk show hosts–all of whom I love–because in telling their story the way they are they make it harder to create a coherent response to the current crisis and to make a better progressive politics. In their bias they think they are helping but they are making it worse. Jon Oliver might be the brightest public figure in America, but if the best he can do is mock, then what’s the point? With CNN and Stephen Colbert taking on Trump as they have, they are mirroring Trump perfectly: Trump sounds dumb, these guys sounds smart. Trump bullies, so they bully. Trump insults, so they insult. Trump taps into unthinking supporters, so CNN and late-night do too. What’s the difference?
            So that’s why I think a new perspective is important. It matters to Americans and the world that the Trump era ends with a strong vision for a future that is both better founded and clearly imagined. CNN, FoxNews, Trump, and Stephen Colbert make that less possible, not more.
            I’m sure we disagree, but this isn’t about left and right. This is about a civilization in panic. Not 350,000,000 people, but 2 or 3 billion.

            Like

            • Hannah says:

              Thanks for your long reply, that clarified a lot and I agree with lots of it. I am glad it is not all stories – all the rhetoric on fake news and the media as enemy of the people is soo misleading, and makes one wary.
              Yes, it is better not to focus on Trump and yes, it is a civilization in panic. There is loads I could respond, but maybe this is better: an interview Christiane Amanpour recently on CNN on 3 August with James and Deborah Fallows on “Our Towns”. I found this description on a CBS site: “For more than four years, journalists James and Deborah Fallows travelled the country in a single-engine prop plane to learn from Americans in smaller communities. The married duo visited places like Allentown, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Mississippi; and Dodge City, Kansas. In each place they met people coming together to create jobs and solve problems. James and Deborah Fallows, who chronicled their experience in a new book called “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” and here the transcript of the whole program that day – this interview was in the second half: http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1808/03/ampr.01.html
              There is also a youtube clip, but of poor quality. Anyway, they were optimistic about the future of the US …

              Liked by 1 person

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              “I doubt the next President will be as bad as Trump, but he (probably he) will be in the same trajectory away from the kind of renewal American needs.” Curious to wonder if Mr. McCain had really applied himself effectively* – and his eligibility issues had not then proved insuperable – if we might already be nearly two years into the Presidency of the first woman President in the person of Mrs. Palin. How different do you think the situation might be, then?

              *Of course, the distinctiveness of it really being a federation of states (as, e.g., in its distinctly different way, the European Union is comprised of states) is very clear in the Presidential elections in the decisive matter of Electoral Votes – with Wikipedia reporting 365 for the Democratic Party ticket and 173 for the Republican Party ticket in 2008. But The Green Papers report a total number of voters for the former of 69,491,817 and the latter of 59,944,939 – out of an “Estimated Voting age population” (as of 2000, with reference to the Census) of 205,815,000. If that’s accurate, about as many – or indeed a few million more – eligible voters didn’t vote for either as voted for either: what does that mean? Happy with either? Despairing of either? Blasé? In what proportions?

              Like

              • It’s an interesting question. McCain had 4 problems in his campaign, plus a fifth:
                1. He looked like a robot or lego figure, impersonal and trying too hard. Stephen Harper in Canada won on the same personality, but he was much younger and had more money.
                2. The Bush presidency was very weak, and ended weakly. It was time for a change and the Republican party was on the way out.
                3. Sarah Palin was a deficit, as gruesomely attractive as she was.
                4. When it came to issues of faith and life, Obama was comfortable and McCain out of his element.
                5. Obama had a brilliant ground game, whereas McCain had a regular one.
                But, if he won and won again…. I don’t know. But he, like Al Gore, has been an excellent failed Presidential candidate.

                Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Just picked up a copy of the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – I’ve only browsed around in him before: maybe I can settle down to really reading him, soon…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hannah says:

      Song illustrating “… that way of life seems to be so threatened”
      Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57jRBt4h6ks
      Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bgTi1IXDYA
      Parody Project: “Confounds the Science” – (Parody of) Sound of Silence

      Like

  13. Melinda J. says:

    We are happy to be an American family you know. Well written post as always. And I stay away from all mainstream media. I see enough glimpses of it through social media. I don’t know many who watch the main networks or newspapers anymore, at least in our generation. My husband does watch or listen some, but it’s not the majority of his mind’s intakd either. Also be wary of tv shows and movies from America for all the same reasons. They don’t represent us well at all. We really aren’t much different than others around the world trying to live well in our respective culture, raising families, etc

    Liked by 1 person

  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I would love to know more about the context of Warnie’s 27 September 1951 diary entry (as published): “J[ack=CSL]’s ignorance in some directions amazes me as much as his knowledge in others. Last night at dinner I mentioned Tito’s volte face in Yugoslavia, where there is a state fostered return to Christianity. I thought J was very stupid about the whole affair, and we had talked for a minute or two before I found out that he was under the impression that Tito was the King of Greece!”

    I have the impression that Warnie was more attentive to newspapers and broadcasting than his brother (though it would be fun to go through the diary excerpts to check this), and got to trying to think about this in combination with his being so prolific and successful popular historian of 17th-c. France, which (I think) arose in good part from his relish in reading something like the 17th-c. French equivalent of news and commentary (e.g., the diaries of the Duc de St. Simon – I don’t remember what he read of 17th-c. newspapers!). Which, in turn, brings me to thinking about C.S. Lewis and historiography in general, and also about the extent to which he had constantly to immerse himself at length in the intensely period-topical, in writing his English Literature of the Sixteenth Century.

    Another thought was, how emphatically That Hideous Strength is a satirical novel about journalism and news faking! (I should probably reread it together with Chesterton’s Napoleon of Notting Hill, to see if that fantastical, satirical novel is at all distinctly in the background, in this context.)

    Like

  15. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tangentially to this, but I think not irrelevant, is a report I just encountered of a lecture by Professor Nigel Biggar, of Oxford (who among other things “recounted receiving death threats for lectures he gave” in England), at a conference on the theme, “Is Religious Liberty under Threat? A Trans-Atlantic Dialogue”, and arguing “that Christianity, particularly the Anglican Church, is an important part of a free and fair government”!

    https://juicyecumenism.com/2018/08/17/oxfords-nigel-biggar-anglicanism/

    I don’t think I’d ever heard of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics & Public Life, before, and have not yet found out ‘which McDonald’ (not George, who is spelled ‘Mac-‘). This report offers an intriguing summary, which makes me very interested in the whole lecture, linked here (using the Centre’s YouTube account):

    http://www.mcdonaldcentre.org.uk/news/tenth-anniversary-conference-religious-freedom-under-threat-transatlantic-perspectives

    Interested not least in a Grantian context, as the summary suggests distinctly different conclusions in some respects, from George Grant’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Just ran into someone citing a tweet by an investigative reporter I always read with interest, Sharyl Attkisson: “Turn off computer, news, social media. Get outside the biggest cities. Most ppl r actually just fine. All races, types living/working together with surprisingly little strife. There are people who want us to live in the artificial reality they create/control. Don’t fall for it.” (Has she been reading you, or just coming to a comparable perception?)

    Like

  17. dalejamesnelson says:

    The mainstream media never point us upwards.

    Here’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the press treatment of his Harvard address:

    —- At the end of my speech I had pointed to the fact that the moral poverty of the 20th century comes from too much having been invested in sociopolitical changes, with the loss of the Whole and the High. We, all of us, have no other salvation but to look once more at the scale of moral values and rise to a new height of vision. “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward,” were the concluding words of my speech.

    . . .

    What surprised me was not that the newspapers attacked me from every angle (after all, I had taken a sharp cut at the press), but the fact that they had completely missed everything important (a remarkable skill of the media). They had invented things that simply did not exist in my speech, and had kept striking out at me on positions they expected me to hold, but which I had not taken. The newspapers went into a frenzy, as if my speech had focused on détente or war. (Had they prepared their responses in advance, anticipating that my speech would be like the ones I had given in Washington and New York three years earlier?) “Sets aside all other values in the crusade against Communism . . . Autocrat . . . A throwback to the czarist times . . . His ill-considered political analysis.” (The media is so blinkered it cannot even see beyond politics.)—-

    https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2018/06/25/aleksandr-solzhenitsyn-harvard-commencement-speech-reflections/

    Dale Nelson

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Wow – very interesting! (I had not heard of a translation of his memoir!)

      It reminds me of things Lewis says about reviewers misunderstanding what he’s written…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. pcbushi says:

    Very thoughtful take. Love the Lewis quotes on the media!

    Liked by 1 person

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