Dan Rather Live

Last week I attended a talk with Dan Rather, who is on the road in support of his latest book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Produced by Live Talks Los Angeles, it was an especially engaging conversation because he was interviewed by someone equally interesting and unique, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kareem made it clear this was an unusual gig for him because he is usually the one answering rather than asking interview questions. He opened with the observation that what he and Rather have in common is that today each of them is considered an elder statesman. Without missing the lightness of the moment, Rather jumped into the dialogue and made it clear that he does not think of himself in any way as a statesman. He also declared with humility that he is not a philosopher or a political scientist, just a very lucky reporter grateful to have enjoyed a long career in professional journalism.

I have to admit that I am quite the fan of Dan Rather. I was in college when he was passed the torch from Walter Cronkite. In those days anchoring the day’s national  news wrap-up was both a high honor and enormous responsibility. I was raised on the CBS Evening News and to this day it remains a welcome friend in my home, played back late at night from a digital recording. The anchor chair has changed hands several times over the years, but when Rather sat there, he carried the weight of the world’s biggest stories with dignity, authenticity, precision, and charm.

I found Rather’s comments that evening so insightful and energizing, I wanted to share a few of his thoughts in hopes that those who share my regard for his career know that his voice is still resonating, and those who are unfamiliar with him might choose to discover the depth of his observations.

“News is what powerful people don’t want you to know,” he offered with certainty. He defined the job of journalism as getting the story that others may be hiding, and that is why journalists are often unpopular with people in high places. This has always been the job as he sees it, finding out what the public needs to know no matter who doesn’t want the public to know it. Mistakes will be made along the way, and he as much as anyone knows there is a severe price to reporting news imperfectly let alone incorrectly, but if a reporter on the beat does not understand that uncovering the hidden story through research is what matters, then that journalist is not much of a journalist.

To that end and in answer to several questions about our current President, Rather observed that Donald Trump is a fearful man. The awkward speech patterns and erratic management behavior of Trump suggest a man who is “very afraid of something.” As a journalist, Rather sees in Trump’s tone glaring similarities to other political leaders who have attempted to cover their tracks, and in so doing he believes this fear will only become heightened as the investigations around him intensify.

In response to broad attempts to discredit the media with sweeping labels of “fake news,” Rather acknowledged that the news landscape today is cluttered with an enormous number of competitive brands, but that to lump them together as equal in diligence or relevance makes little sense. He reminded us that without journalism a democracy will perish, and that widely dismissing media with the catch-all critique of irresponsibility was the most dangerous conclusion we could reach. We have choices in media, and we need to make those as individuals in evaluating standards of discipline. This is a significantly more cluttered playing field than it was in the days of the “Big Three” television networks, but the rules of fact-supported journalism haven’t changed and the idea of uniformly devaluing reporters is a tactic of tyranny.

Rather spent a lot of time talking about the frightening path of authoritarianism fueling the emotion of extreme nationalism, with that being a step toward self-asserted nativism and ultimately devolving into tribalism. He believes in patriotism and has served as a U.S. Marine (an admittedly short tenure), but he is deeply concerned that if we let rhetoric drive our culture to tribal conflict, our nation’s model experiment in democracy will be no more.

In that same concern of internal conflict, he worries that our nation has yet to come to terms with sufficient advances in race relations. He sees the ongoing suppression of minority voting as pernicious and systemically in need of our attention. This struggle dates back to our founding and seems likely to remain unresolved until the final page of our history is written.

Rather worries that our population doesn’t understand how close we are to the brink of war with North Korea, a human tragedy we will regret if we don’t navigate it properly. He sees China as the key to containing North Korea, because China largely controls the supply lines there. The emphasis of our negotiations is better served with China so that China has enhanced motivation to ease tensions with North Korea. We shouldn’t fool ourselves otherwise.

With regard to national priorities, Rather believes that “the three foremost issues in our agenda need to be education, education, and education.” There is no doubt in his mind that education is the core of an informed constituency, and without it democracy will collapse. Likewise he reminded us that “dissent is American” and to think otherwise is to misunderstand the foundations of our nation. Our nation was founded on dissent, and it is always our right to dissent. He chooses to stand for our national anthem, but he appreciates that other forms of peaceful expression remain valid and core to our principles of free speech.

In closing, Rather spoke eloquently of avoiding the trap of cynicism. He believes in skepticism, both as a reporter and consumer of news, but he emphasized that no good can come of cynicism. There is no value in the snide dismissal of hope. I was particularly heartened to hear him end by encouraging us to hold onto our idealism. To hear a career journalist who has stood in the trenches of war and seen close-up every form of violence our world has suffered end on a note of idealism reminded me why I loved his newscast. This was a journalist who at the height of his fame signed off at night with a single word: “Courage.”

Dan Rather is a reporter still on the job, a journalist forever unafraid to do the job that has been his life’s work. Courage and idealism have never mattered more in our world. He might not want to be called an elder statesman, but I know one when I see one.

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Calling Out the Aberration

blue-capab·er·ra·tion [ab-uhrey-shuh n] noun; 1) the act of departing from the right, normal, or usual course; 2) the act of deviating from the ordinary, usual, or normal type; 3) deviation from truth or moral rectitude; 4) mental irregularity or disorder, especially of a minor or temporary nature; lapse from a sound mental state.

Source: Dictionary.com

I didn’t want to write about Donald Trump this month. I wanted to write about anything but Trump. I have a half-dozen articles on business topics in draft. I wanted to finish and publish one of those. Anything but Trump. Yet when I started to go down the “don’t write about Trump” path, everything else seemed trivial.

The weeks since Trump has taken office have already produced the worst series of lies and public trust abuses I have seen perpetuated on our nation in my lifetime. Language now seems a game to be played no matter how trivial or serious the topic, from inauguration attendance to made-up massacres. Like many I know, I am not getting over it. There is no getting back to normal until this con man is out of The White House. Then we’ll see what normal looks like.

In two weeks’ time we now have “alternative facts” and “so-called judges.” I grew up learning that we had verifiable facts and elected or appointed judges. One of us had a poor education or wasn’t paying attention. A “so-called judge” might be a guy in a bar blowing off steam who disagrees with a ruling whose opinion matters about as much as mine.

In middle school government class I learned about separation of powers. Does the President comprehend the idea that there are three equal parties at the top of this org chart or does he think our judges report to him? We elect a President, not a king. Please, someone explain the reality show rules to him.

Beyond the betrayal of our American values, what worries me most about Trump is the global perception that his words are all of our words. In the few weeks he has been on the job there is widespread talk of torture being okay, border walls commencing construction, economically senseless tariffs proposed, and a shamefully discriminatory travel ban ordered. We must emphasize those are his words, not all of America’s words. He is speaking for the window of time he is in power.

This will pass. We will fix it. Tell the world.

Last week I posted largely in jest that in the next election Trump’s opponent should adopt the borrowed slogan, “Make America Great Again.” We could print millions of blue caps with his own mantra. It would be more fitting than ironic. He might even sue for trademark infringement. That would be cool.

It is essential that we keep telling the world that Trump is not making America great again. He is an aberration in our social evolution. Write down that word and share it. Aberration.

Trump’s behavior is not normal. He is anything but normal. Some would say he is a sociopath. American history is progressive when it comes to civil rights. Even when conservative leaders have been in office our direction has been toward personal freedom, not authoritarianism. The Trump administration is an aberration and must be called out for it over and over again so people around the world know he does not speak for all of us.

We are divided as a nation, but at least in the popular vote, no matter what he says, there are more of us who legitimately voted for someone who wasn’t him. The global community needs to see, hear, and understand our division. That is what we mean by forming a resistance. I don’t care if he has a support base applauding him. I can say this with great conviction: anyone who is buying his act has been duped. Unless they are already in the 1%, they are going to get nothing for their loyalty.

Regardless of opposition, the words of global leaders matter. Imagine if a newly elected leader in Germany proclaimed on inauguration day: “From now on, our agenda is Germany first.” Imagine hearing that from a democracy with an uneven past. Would that sound like your fellow nation was on a positive track?

That is what people around the globe are hearing from the United States, but it’s not all of us, it’s him and whoever still buys his delusion. Pure self-interest is by definition not an admirable form of leading by example. It is exploitation and imperialism. That’s the tone we are now broadcasting from The White House.

If we have lost our core value of empathy, we have lost our place as an example of democratic leadership. I don’t believe the majority of us have abandoned empathy, which directs my voice to calling out the aberration. Trump may be my elected president, but he doesn’t speak for me. The world must hear the voice of everyone who feels that way to be reassured the tide will turn.

People ask me if we are preaching to the choir on social media, talking to ourselves until we are exhausted and even more anxious. Unless you live in an anti-Trump enclave and all your friends are anti-Trump, I say keep shouting out loud. People who are following Trump blindly need to hear that we are not backing down. More important, people outside the United States need to understand that we are not united in our support of this aberration.

Do not assume everyone across the globe understands the full idea of democracy, particularly those already living in silenced societies. Simply because Trump can list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as his sometime address for the next few years doesn’t mean he speaks for all Americans. We have to let the world know there is a resistance so they don’t give up on us. They see it in every word we utter against his tyranny. Our words and our fight are their hope.

This is why the Women’s March matters.

That is why the airport protests matter.

That is why talking frequently on public social media matters.

Numbers count. We need to be globally visible.

I have spoken with numerous first-generation families over the past few weeks, and they are terrified. They are American citizens or residents by right, yet they fear an executive order could change their status in an instant. They are not comforted as they should be by a president who represents their interests. They fear upheaval. They fear uncertainty. They fear persecution. They fear oppression. They fear for their families. The President has done nothing to make them believe he cares for their interests. A cabinet of billionaires tells them where the President is focusing his attention.

Say it and say it again. Raise your voice. The resistance is real.

Keep making noise. It matters.

____________

This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.