When September 11 arrived this year, I was struck by all the commentators, social media addicts and politicians who waxed nostalgic about our unity as a nation after we were attacked. Almost as if they were reading from the same script, they recalled wistfully how we came together then, that we were one nation with one purpose, we were all Americans, political parties didn’t matter…it was all incredibly warm and human.
It wasn’t their soulful yearning that resonated, though. I was more impressed by their gall. Nearly all the people who reminisced about a gentler time in our history—the one right after terrorists killed 3,000 people—have also spent the past 19 years in a non-stop effort to divide us. From the pundits on traditional media to the internet trolls, these provocateurs have built their followings by undermining the unity they claim to miss today.
The classic definition of chutzpah is the person who murders his parents and then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan. After absorbing the messages from so many teary pundits, I think that definition is due for an update.
The most efficient way to build influence today is through anger, even if we try to claim this isn’t the case. We tell people we want a more civil society, but we are all too happy to pass along a savage meme. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, we are shocked, shocked to discover that there is animosity being perpetuated on cable news and on the internet. Like Captain Renault, we deserve an Oscar for our ability to express our shock with a straight face.
Sadly, though, there’s no money to be made from peace and unity. It’s not like Marvin Frey became a billionaire off royalties from Kumbaya. (Of course, it appears he didn’t actually create it, but that’s another story.) We, the people, will commiserate with the pundits about serenity lost, but we share their love for the fight. They count their pelts in ratings and we tally up the post likes, but it’s all the same.
It’s easy to argue that this is just the way things are and each one of us is merely reflecting the reality of our times, but that’s a lie we tell ourselves to justify our misbehavior. We aren’t mirroring our reality so much as we are creating it, promoting it, and justifying its continuation by other people. And bots. The pundits make money from division because we listen, because we watch, because we buy the books. In reality, we are not just an audience; we are the actors.
Pretty soon, we and the pundits will be reminiscing about the peaceful nature of elections past, honoring the relative unity of the nation after the people made their choices. If history is a guide, all that reminiscing will be followed immediately by a hailstorm of hatred, and we, the people, will be its authors.
It turns out you don’t need to be a senior citizen to suffer from short-term memory loss.
As the Brits would say, Stay Calm and be sure to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.