Former President Bill Clinton issued a dire warning today that despite America’s current prosperity, we may be headed for a crisis caused by the politics of nationalism, a dangerous rise in tribalism and explosive security challenges – including the misuse of social media.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times today, while Clinton never mentions President Donald Trump by name, he takes to the high ground to present a view of what is happening in America right now that is both hopeful and disastrously distressing.
“All too often, tribalism based on race, religion, sexual identity and place of birth has replaced inclusive nationalism, in which you can be proud of your tribe and still embrace the larger American community,” writes Clinton.
“Too often resentment conquers reason,” continues Clinton, “anger blinds us to answers and sanctimony passes for authenticity.”
The biggest challenge to addressing our many problems, concludes Clinton, is “deciding who we Americans really are – as citizens, communities and a nation.”
A call from Bill Clinton to create policies of cooperation, not division https://t.co/ZN0FZZtLfd
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) December 4, 2017
The same technology that has revolutionized communications, made our lives easier in many ways and created a new kind of online social community, if not channeled properly, can also be our ruin.
In a world where Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media offer us instant entertainment, much wider social networks and an endless flow of news, we see people with ever-shorter attention spans and a loss of interest in old media outlets like newspapers that can provide in-depth, investigative and broad views on their topics.
Today, writes Clinton, “the very survival of newspapers depends upon retweets of headlines,” and in that environment, even the truth is getting twisted.
“Too many social media sites are fever swamps of extremist foreign and domestic invaders,” Clinton believes. “Such resolute efforts to abolish the line between fact and fiction, truth, and lies, can offset all the benefits of our interconnectedness.”
“When trust vanishes and knowledge is devalued as an establishment defense of the status quo,” adds Clinton, “anything can happen.”
One disturbing tend of this rise in tribalism and the loss of trustworthy news sources is the impairment of our democratic process.
“We already see citizens being disenfranchised by the millions,” explains Clinton, “targeted by race, ethnicity, and age not because they are ineligible to vote, but because they favor inclusive, not tribal, nationalism.”
Clinton strikes a depressing note when he raises the question of “Who wins in this kind of environment?”
His answer: The rich get richer.
And those willing to lie, cheat, steal and twist the truth to their purpose have new tools available that make it hard to tell what is true, which makes everyone cynical about what we can believe and what really is “fake news.”
He says the winners, unfortunately, can include “the least responsible members of the political media, who will prosper covering each new controversy and outrage.”
Other winners, to our detriment, include “the enemies of democracy, who feed the discord and hope that Americans will finally concede that informed self-government no longer works – and perhaps is no longer even possible – in the modern world.”
Clinton at age 71 grew up in an America where “hope” was not only a city in his native Arkansas but also a point of view that made even the worst aspects of life tolerable – because there was a real possibility of positive change.
The constant life strain of checking our phones, being bombarded by commercial media, the flow of bad news not just from our town but from around the world, are like cancer to our sense of hope and our innate optimism.
So in his gentle way, Clinton reminds us that we still have time to save ourselves and our world, but the forces that want to control us, demean us and destroy our democratic institutions are growing stronger, fed by the very interconnectivity that should help us.
“I favor policies that promote cooperation over conflict,” write Clinton, “and builds an economy, a society and a politics of addition, not subtraction, multiplication not division.”
“Unfortunately,” continues Clinton, “too many people in power across the world seem determined to do the reverse.”
“If we do that here,” he adds with finality, “we will miss this moment to build our brightest days.”
Clinton has had great triumphs and has also shown us he is a flawed human being, but he is at a point in his life when he has become a true statesman who has the best interests of all people and the entire country in mind, even those who don’t agree with him.
So those who would ignore his warnings because of differing politics, disgust over some of his misdeeds, policy differences and personal jealousy need to pay attention for once to what he is saying.
We have the power to be an even greater nation with a democracy that works for everyone, but we are not on that path right now. If we let tribalism, nationalism and greedy dastardly exploiters win, we will all be poorer for it – financially, spiritually and as Americans.