For a free society to function properly, its citizens must have an ongoing conversation about the important issues of the day. And that conversation must be rational and fact-based if citizens are to continue giving their informed consent to be governed.
That is the vital role of the press. Its duty is to identify public challenges and opportunities and supply all the facts that can be mustered to serve the necessary debates about them. Even if we don’t end up building and maintaining the best republic we can, it shouldn’t be because we don’t have the tools to work with.
How well do you think the press is doing in performing that function?
Consider just two issues we should all be talking about.
The president stood before the United Nations and fully fleshed out his foreign policy. The Trump Doctrine, he declared, rejects the globalism espoused by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and embraces an America First policy of enlightened self-interest, especially when it comes to citizens’ economic well-being.
And it was announced that Canada had finally, and reluctantly, joined the trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, effectively replacing (pending ratification) the North American Free Trade Agreement with USMCA, the United States, Mexico-Canada Agreement. An empty Trumpian boast suddenly became reality.
Taken together, these two events will shape America’s relationship with the rest of the world for at least the next two years, and possibly a lot longer. It would behoove us to understand what they are all about.
But we can be forgiven if we don’t know enough about either event to have even a superficial discussion about it, let alone an intelligent one.
That’s because they both took place during our national freak out over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual history. People who can’t define “tariff” or explain what isolationism is have strong, unshakeable opinions about whether a 53-year-old man got drunk and groped a girl in high school. They might not even have an interest in what the Supreme Court’s direction could be with his addition, but they are obsessed with whether he is a paragon of virtue or a clever deviant.
As far as I can tell, Trump’s foreign policy, despite his departure from recent administrations and the president’s overblown rhetoric, is neither new nor radical. In fact, it is in keeping with our leaders’ desire to avoid foreign entanglements that has prevailed for most of our history.
What makes it worth watching closely is that Trump has put this nation’s posture squarely in the middle of the populist, nationalist uprisings now sweeping the world. What that means I have no idea, except that we seem to be on the brink of something momentous.
I have even less of an idea about what to make of USMCA, though I’ve searched even harder. It seems to be more a refinement of the previous agreement — NAFTA 2.0, if you will — than a completely new deal, which might be said to be marginally better or worse than the old deal. I think it’s safe to say, at about 1,800 pages (100 more than NAFTA), it’s certainly not about “free” trade — such an agreement would require roughly one paragraph. The biggest uncertainty is whether the deal will accomplish what Trump seems to think it will — to get us closer to the real goal of a repositioning against China.
My conclusions might be reasonable, or I might be completely off base about both events. I just don’t have enough facts to be certain, and I finally had to give up on the hunt — let’s call it information underload fatigue.
It should not be that hard.
Criticism of the media in the past few weeks has focused on the dishing-the-slime coverage of the Kavanaugh circus, and that has been execrable, make no mistake. But even more than what the press botches, we should be worried about what it chooses to ignore.
We can survive the onslaught of opinion disguised as news. As much as we feel pressured by tribal forces these days, a partisan press has a long history in this nation.
We cannot survive the growth and spread of ignorance.
“Democracy dies in darkness” indeed. If only those in the press who say that could just spread a little light instead of orchestrating the noise.
Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review.