What does love require in a time of upheaval, when forces in our national life divide us and incite us to attack one another and the institutions on which we depend in our common life?
Empathy, yes. Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad. A sincere attempt to stand in the shoes of those we don’t understand and don’t agree with is always worth the discomfort.
Honesty. Senator Romney’s words from Wednesday night keep ringing in my ears, that “The best way to show respect to the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth.” Love requires respect, and respect demands honesty. That means you tell me the truth and I’ll tell you the truth. But it also means that I am going to challenge lies people tell you, because I love you.
We have a serious problem with honesty. We have for a long time. Mass media has always invited its users to selectively edit, to spin, to amplify in ways that are disingenuous and deceptive. “The media” mislead, though not always on purpose. Even the most conscientious news organizations get things wrong–and issue retractions and corrections. There is no such thing as unbiased media. But biased does not equal dishonest. The most beneficial media are transparent about their biases and committed to the conventions of honest reporting, such as verifying sources and requiring multiple credible sources before publishing claims.
However, we are living now in the age when right wing media organizations feed their audiences of millions a steady stream of assertions that are not simply biased spin but actually have no basis in fact at all, and then they layer on hours and hours of grievance-stoking commentary based on those assertions. This is not spin. It’s not a “conservative” point of view. It is a fantasy in which right wing media audiences are framed as the virtuous, patriotic, downtrodden victims of evil liberal scorn and criminality. I watched a segment of one right wing personality yesterday, broadcast last Sunday night, in which he calmly explained that results of the November Presidential election like this: “The Democrat party systematically attacked the Constitution and our election system.” He set up that summary by blatantly misrepresenting the actions of multiple officials across several states, all of whom were Democrats. That personality is on the network with the largest audience in the history of cable news programming.
This is an impediment to love. When people we love are lied to, love will not permit us to shrug our shoulders and agree to disagree. Lies are harmful, but love rejoices in the truth.
Of course, how we bring the truth to bear is everything. As with mass media, so with love: the medium is the message.