My eldest son recently met an older woman who shocked him by saying “Our Prime Minister should be hit by a car and run over.” She was deadly serious. Her information sources had led her to believe that Justin Trudeau was such a threat that he needed to be eliminated.
My response was first shock, then horror, then bewilderment. Where did these thoughts come from? Was she responding to the bungled withdrawal of our military and allies from Afghanistan? No. Was she buying in to talk radio? Maybe. Most of her information, my son thought, came from social media. Whether that meant Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Reddit, we don’t know. We think her perception has something to do with the oil and gas industries in Alberta, but we aren’t sure. All we know is that she has been convinced that the elimination of this sadly milquetoast politician is necessary.
This really baffles me. Trudeau is not a great leader, but he isn’t awful. He has made some bad choices, especially in his youth, and he has failed to live up to his campaign promises, but in those terms he’s a pretty average politician. He has also taken a vacation in a middle-eastern location at an inappropriate time, but I’ve lost count of the politicians who have taken vacations at bad times with dodgy friends. On the other hand, he has actually done quite a lot to support the oil and gas industries, even though those efforts have not benefitted our province. On the whole, nationally, he has protected us from the worst of some previous American regimes, and he has made some good decisions about the response to Covid-19, so I am at a loss to understand why he warrants murderous fantasies.
My conclusion is that this unnamed older woman has restricted her sources of information to the point that her view of the world has become skewed. But then I stopped to think. Perhaps I have done the same. Could it be that my view of an average, mostly noble, occasionally ethically-challenged politician has been skewed, too?
I have been feeling quite smug because I pride myself on having a broad range of news sources. I contribute financially to several newspapers online and read as much as I can from the freely available articles of many others. Admittedly, most of these are politically central or lean left. I don’t read anything that is designated by AllSides to be far left or far right. I do, however, read a lot of investigate journalism and thoughtfully researched editorials.
What I don’t read any more are all the additional things that I used to read in newspapers. When I got my news in hard copy format, I would read nearly all of it. I read the front page big news of the day, then the other less juicy but still important news, and I would always be interested in the local news. Then I would look at the comics, glance at the recipes, check out the book reviews, tuck the movie reviews into a corner of my brain, try not to pay too much attention to the big ads, take note of the obituaries, have a go at the crossword, smile at some of the personal ads, check out the weather report, and so on and so forth.
There used to be a lot more in my newspaper reading than there is today. All of the sections of the physical newspaper that were peripheral but valuable have now become almost completely absent in a single location. I can see the cartoons if I want to find them, but I don’t. I can read the local news, but it’s an additional subscription. I can read intellectual debates about the news, but they are not always in my news feed. The weather report is now almost always from the Weather Channel. What was formerly news in paper format has been divvied up so that now we have to pay for each part separately online if we want to get the information unadulterated by ads.
So, my news gathering has been filtered down whether I like it or not. It is no longer just one part of a world of information, entertainment, and miscellany. Now it is almost entirely composed of the front page, endlessly reevaluated and microscopically disseminated. That, it seems to me, gives it a significance it doesn’t deserve. Yes, of course it is important, but so is the crossword and a local garage sale. I can’t do anything about Justin Trudeau’s foibles or the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but I can solve a word puzzle and that makes the world a better place for me. It also brings those other things into proportion. My prime minister is less that perfect, but if I can laugh at a cartoon or solve a riddle, I don’t care very much about his shortcomings. Unfortunately, I’m not doing those things so much any more. Now, it’s nearly all front page news all the time, and that probably makes me a bit nutty.