How could so many people vote for President Trump? He’s so bad. It’s infuriating! The explanation must be that Trump supporters are getting different news than I am. Not only that, the news they are getting is false.
But wait a minute. Haven’t I also received false news? As a white child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I don’t think this is how Native American’s tell that story. As a white child I heard the joke about George Washington being “the father of our country” – wink, wink – condoning that he fathered children among his black slaves. I don’t think black people spread this joke with a wink.
As a Democrat I can point my finger at Republicans for voting based on false news, yet I have received and believed lots and lots of false news in my lifetime. We are all guilty of believing what we want to justify our moral supremacy.
I suppose this is how it’s always been; different people holding different versions of what’s true. And then all of a sudden, as if by surprise, we wake up and realize that not everyone in the country sees things the same. We become instantly angry. We accuse each other of believing false news. We are all forced to question what we thought was true.
For me, my country doesn’t seem to be the one that I thought I was living in. Based on, you know, what I’ve heard, I have always thought of my country as a place that welcomes and respects immigrants. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place of equal opportunity. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place where the government protects the people from bad corporations and bad people. Not true.
Actually, none of these things about my country have ever been true. I have carried false stories for years. I didn’t realize that racism, classism, sexism, and other isms were so alive in my country. I’m figuring out that these divides aren’t new; they’ve just been glossed over in the stories that I have been fed.
The street-level stories that would otherwise demonstrate our true divisions haven’t been showing up in my news feed. I haven’t been getting the complete picture. My parents’ TV news and my grandparents’ daily papers also committed crimes of omission. Those news feeds highlighted stories that appealed to my parents and grandparents, news that reinforced what they wanted to believe. Mainstream history books and text books have also hidden the truth of our nation’s divisions and have exalted false myths for generations.
As a white American of European descent, mainstream news has worked well for me and for people like me before me. But the glorified narratives about America being open to immigrants or about America as the land of opportunity simply aren’t working for a lot of people right now. For many Americans these myths just aren’t true. These myths are being exposed before our very eyes.
Today myths and false news are being spread, and targeted, like never before. Without election results in front of me, it’s easy to believe that my view is correct. No matter what you believe you can find “news” on the internet to support your belief. That’s what I do. It’s infuriating that the election results don’t support what I want to believe!
My country is divided. I can’t help that. We were born that way. Two books by Maine’s own Colin Woodard’s – “American Nations” and “American Character” – explain these divisions very well. Being divided is part of our fabric. It’s in our blood. The different modern-day tribes of America are telling and believing very different stories. Just like we always have. So why am I so surprised that the election shows us so split? Again!
I don’t know the best path forward. But I’m pretty sure it’s about accepting that we’re a divided country. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about hating each other for believing different stories. Different stories is who we are.