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The black and white images in the new CNN commercial that began running right after the election are stirring and emotive. Mass protest pictures mixed in with jubilant hugs and moments of anguish, the collage is meant to capture the struggles of 2020, while leaning into bright possibilities, as a soft, piano instrumental version of Billy Joel’s “Matter of Trust” flows in the background.
“Our trust has been broken - in our leaders, in our institutions and even some of our friends. And we are hurting,” the narrator intones in the wake of a deeply divisive campaign cycle, played out inside a deadly pandemic. Addressing that divide, CNN suggests that with some cooperation and open-mindedness, it’s all fixable:
Now more than ever we need each other to listen, to learn from one another, and to rebuild those bonds. Because trust shows we believe in the good in each other. It’s what makes us human. And when we can trust one another, that is when we can truly achieve great things.
It's a bit unusual for a news outlet to air inspirational ads like this, which seem more suited for a political party or a candidate running for office. Or even a church. Still, it’s a welcome, positive message. It’s certainly driven, in part, by the marketing arm of the network, which always tries to position itself in the political middle. The idea of CNN being able to bridge an American schism is one the network wants to promote.
The problem? CNN's ad doesn't capture the post-election challenges America faces — not even close. Instead, the news network presents a false, feel-good look at the deep and disturbing movement in this country. It's a fracture that's not driven by partisan squabbling or entrenched positions, nor an unwillingness to extend trust and respect to its avowed political enemies. It's driven by powerful, right-wing forces that are committed to a landscape of lies, delusion, and disinformation.
It's a Republican Party that has cut the cord with reality and busies itself waging war on democracy. We saw that with the dozens of legal maneuvers prior to Election Day that were specifically designed to make sure legitimate votes were not counted. And we've seen it after the election as Trump and Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge Biden's lopsided victory, and instead peddle damaging lies about the contest being "stolen."
CNN's ad campaign highlights a crucial, persistent failure of the mainstream media during the Trump era — to accurately portray today's Republican Party, now partly fueled by a crazed online cult called QAnon, and the almost incalculable damage the right-wing movement has done to our democracy over the last four years. Instead of blunt portrayals, we’re told via moving images of reconciliation, that the country just needs to reach out and heal itself.
That's not only naively inaccurate, it's a dangerous and false portrait of America today. The portrayal refuses to do the heavy lifting necessary to hoist up a mirror and to really look at what's going on in the name of Trump's cultish GOP. The press prefers to depict the country as divided yes, but reconciliation is within reach, if partisans on both sides are simply willing to compromise.
Here are a few snapshots from Trump's America, the kind that CNN glosses over as it suggests the country can now come together after the election season:
• Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon suggested that the FBI director and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist, should be beheaded — their heads put on spikes — for their disloyal behavior.
• Days after the election, the police chief in Marshall, Ark., posted online, "Death to all Marxist Democrats. Take no prisoners leave no survivors."
• Republican Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avid QAnon supporter who does not believe that a plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, has been on Twitter promoting StopTheBidenSteal.com, while spreading ceaseless lies about the election count.
• "The president wasn’t defeated by huge numbers – in fact he may not have been defeated at all" — Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt.
• "Republicans win because of our ideas and we lose elections because [Democrats] cheat" — Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.
• When a Minnesota Republican state senator and numerous staffers recently tested positive for Covid-19, the GOP urged its members to work from home. But Republicans never bothered to inform Minnesota Democrats about the potentially deadly outbreak within the state legislature.
It’s not just Republican leaders who have infected our politics. The virus has spread across the country among delusional and unsafe Trump supporters:
• Philadelphia election officials received death threats, as Trump made wild, baseless claims about voter fraud in the state.
• A Pennsylvania postal worker, who claimed that workers were back dating ballots sent after Election Day and who was celebrated by Republicans and right-wing media, was forced to recant his made-up allegations.
• “A meeting intended to discuss the surge of coronavirus cases in Natrona County [in Wyoming] and a possible mask order ended abruptly Monday after a hostile crowd repeatedly interrupted and heckled doctors and politicians who were trying to speak… At one point, audience members chanted “USA, USA,” and invoked Tuesday’s election as a reckoning for the politicians on stage.” (Casper Star-Tribune)
There’s a political cancer in this country, and it’s spreading. It does us no good for news outlets to pretend otherwise.
Elections matter, indeed. From the Associated Press, “Biden Likely to Break Barriers, Pick Woman to Lead Pentagon”:
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to take a historic step and select a woman to head the Pentagon for the first time, shattering one of the few remaining barriers to women in the department and the presidential Cabinet.
Michele Flournoy, a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, is regarded by U.S. officials and political insiders as a top choice for the position.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Jason Isbell, “Dreamsicle”
Here’s a Press Run first — I’m highlighting the same song for the second time. I tagged “Dreamsicle” a couple months ago, and have become even more entranced by it since then.
I’m enamored by Isbell’s stunning songwriting and storytelling skills in this song, which relays the tale of a young boy trying to find his way while growing up in a fractured home, forced to constantly move as his dysfunctional family searches for a place to land. Every poetic line delivers a revealing detail of heartbreak and hope. Plus, Isbell wraps the portrait in a gorgeous, acoustic melody.
I guess we're leaving town again
We're moving out and moving in
Gotta break the news to all my friends
But they won't care