Dissent. Diversity. Unity.

The Environmentalists’ Challenge: A Look Back on America’s Stuttering Environmental Policy

in Environment by
President Carter in front of the White House solar panels in 1979 (left) and taking stock of the near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in the same year (right). The TMI incident, as it came to be known, would signal the end of nuclear energy as a viable alternative energy in the United States for over two generations.

Wednesday, June 20, 1979, Washington, DC

President Carter was flashing his signature toothy grin as the Washington press corps followed him to a unique early-afternoon press availability on the roof of the White House. For today, the president was announcing the completion of a massive project to install the most modern solar cells of the day on the roof of the executive mansion.

It was sunny and bright that early summer day as the president reviewed the massive and impressive solar panels. And with a little folksy charm (“This afternoon I’ve arranged for this ceremony to be illuminated by solar power!”) the president announced his government’s new and bold commitment to the development of renewable sources of energy.

America was not built on timidity or panic or uncertainty about the future or a lack of confidence in our own technology or our own will or ability. America was built with vision, with faith, and also with hard work. It’s time for us to recognize once again, with the surest degree of confidence, the great natural resources which God has given us and to seize the opportunities that we have to build a more prosperous, self-reliant, enjoyable, confident future in which all Americans can share.

Today, in directly harnessing the power of the sun, we’re taking the energy that God gave us, the most renewable energy that we will ever see, and using it to replace our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

With these remarks President Carter broke with longstanding American policy of supporting fossil fuel development both on the continental United States and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (colloquially known as ANWR). In his remarks the president also outlined the feasibility of using existing solar technology (which has greatly improved over the years) and regaled his audience of a future day unencumbered by the high price of gasoline, long lines at the pump, or high energy bills.

This solar strategy will not be easy to accomplish. It will be a tremendous, exciting challenge to the American people, a challenge as important as exploring our first frontiers or building the greatest industrial society on Earth. By the end of this century I want our nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the sun—direct solar energy in radiation and also renewable forms of energy derived more indirectly from the sun. This is a bold proposal, and it’s an ambitious goal. But it is attainable if we have the will to achieve it.

Government action alone cannot make this goal come true. It will require a concerted effort of all of us—government at all levels, industry, labor, business, inventors, entrepreneurs, architects, builders, homeowners, concerned citizens, all working together.

President Carter inspecting the newly installed solar panels on the rooftop of the White House at their unveiling in June of 1979. They were ignominiously removed soon after by the Reagan administration, only to be reinstalled without much fanfare by President Obama in 2011. The White House now has a zero carbon footprint.

Sadly, this dream was not to be. Soon after his inauguration in 1981 the Reagan administration quickly and with fanfare bordering on giddiness removed the solar panels from the White House, never to return. Daily Oil Importation, against President Carter’s wishes and objections, would rise to a record 12.5 million barrels a day in 2005 (oil imports today stand at roughly 7 million barrels a day), and the price of gas would spiral upward to an obscene $4 a gallon during the harrowing summer of 2008. Today solar energy accounts for roughly 1 to 8 percent of current US electric capacity.

It would be President George W. Bush, during an annual message to Congress in 2006, who would state the obvious that the United States had “become addicted to oil.” To some it was a surprise that a president with a background such as Mr. Bush (former CEO and contractor for several west Texas oil drilling companies) would utter such startling words, but to those who had seen the nascent environmental movement from the beginning, the words must have rung with quite a sting of irony.

Wednesday, April 22, 1970, Cleveland, Ohio

The sun would not make its regular, sunny appearance as it would at the White House some nine years later in the large manufacturing hub of northeast Ohio, for already the sun was obscured by a ring of clouds emanating from Cleveland’s many smoke stack factories lining the Cuyahoga River. Just ten months earlier the mighty Cuyahoga had erupted in mammoth flames, choking off the city for several days and killing what remained of the river’s wildlife that had survived the incredible pollution of the river by toxic—and highly flammable—chemical sludge, forever giving the city by the lake a bad reputation it has yet to live down.

Scenes from the great battle to defeat the infamous Cuyahoga River Fire of ’69 (courtesy of Life magazine). It would leave a bad impression on the city of Cleveland that would be hard to live down. The river would subsequently become one the nation’s largest Superfund River sites, taking millions of dollars to restore it to its former glory.

Yet for all this devastation, a large group of dedicated citizens, students, and children began assembling in areas all over the city—and in cities all over the United States—to begin in community clean-ups and rehabilitation projects. For this was the first Earth Day in the United States.

The burgeoning environmental movement in the United States was a surprising new phenomenon. America already had a rather robust and influential conservation movement, leading to the preservation of over 30 million acres of virgin wildlife and territory from development and speculation, thanks in no small part to the efforts of activists such as John Muir (1838–1914) and President Theodore Roosevelt (1857–1919). This, however, was different.

Environmentalists now no longer saw conservation (or preservation) but rather environmental restoration and stewardship as the prime task and responsibility of civic leaders and citizens alike to act upon. Natural man-made disasters such as the Cuyahoga River Fire (1969), Love Canal (1980), the Centralia Mine Fire (1962–today), and the Three Mile Island mishap (1979). All presented clear and ominous reminders of how much an imposing and sometime awkward force humankind had become on the landscape, and how crucial it was for us as a species to control our influence on the world.

The New York Times made the nationwide observance of the first Earth Day a front-page story. Millions participated in the event, signaling the birth of the new environmentalist movement.

Within months President Richard Nixon would sign into existence the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), a cabinet-level position with the mandate to clean up toxic sites (known as superfunds) and to hold major polluters accountable. The agency was so successful in its mission (or so equally dire was the need) that within a decade it would quadruple its workforce and operating budget, cleaning polluted sites in every region of every state of the nation. Americans approved of the agency to such an extent that even President Reagan could do nothing but freeze the agency’s budget and workforce throughout the entirety of the 1980s.

A rather happy President Nixon, seen here after signing the formation of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in early 1970, an early precursor to the EPA. Nixon would be known as one of the most environmentally friendly presidents of the twentieth century, behind fellow Republican Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (center) pictured here with fellow naturalist John Muir (right) in 1904.

Meanwhile the environmental movement began burgeoning into newer fields, such as the growing antinuclear and moratorium movements, animal cruelty groups and endangered species protection, recycling and energy conservation, and urban renewal and mass-transit investments. Throughout the world the calls for humans to be more mindful of our outsized influence on the world’s ever-weakening climate became ever louder and clearer.

Last month President Trump walked back nearly a half-century of growing scientific and public consensus about the need to rein in our out-of-control energy consumption by walking away from the most sweeping world climate compact that has been attempted up to this time.

Beyond the callous and cruel imagery of the world’s most powerful nation and greatest polluter forsaking its role from a climate agreement that it itself had written, something has been missing from the coverage of the White House’s important decision. In typical fashion the press has casually overlooked the millions of people who collectively make up the environmental movement and their struggle to preserve our collective home from the onslaught of polluters, climate deniers, and fossil fuel industries such as the Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobile, the last two of which ironically lobbied the president hard to stay in the Accord after all!

Environmental extremists . . . wouldn’t let you build a house unless it looked like a bird’s nest.

—Conservative icon Ronald W. Reagan

Caption: The last known photograph taken by a human being of Planet Earth, late in 1972 from the successful Apollo 17 lunar mission. All told, only twenty-four people have ever witnessed this image for what it is, our collective home as a small, delicate oasis of life in “the big vastness of space.”

I consider the environment my most prized and irrepressible voting issue above all others. I may have given more money to protect Planned Parenthood and knocked on more doors for the issue of universal healthcare than for the Sierra Club, but to me there is nothing more urgent and pressing for all humans than to safeguard this precious home we ALL call Earth.

Whenever I have seen images from satellites in space of our fragile planet, I am always struck by its peaceful and serene appearance, a shimmering ball of blue, brown, green, and white hanging in the cold and lifeless backdrop of the infinite frontier. I sometimes need to remind myself that somewhere on this speck of rock floating out there is everything I know, love, and cherish. I’m sure that seeing this view in person is quite a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.

It truly makes me wonder how we would all treat our priceless planet if people could see for themselves this invaluable image with our own eyes rather than through an ordinary photograph. It’s sometimes hard to believe that we all live on it, but we really do. There is nowhere else for us to go to just yet, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to do our part, as President Carter said, in ensuring a safe, hospitable, secure, and peaceful place to live for our ancestors and for all living beings. We will have setbacks, as last month’s decision certainly was, but if images like the one below continue to hold our imagination, then I’m certain humanity will more than rise to meet the challenge. I am ready! Are you?

 

The Real Meaning of “Covfefe”

in Media and Society by

Covfefe: When you make a typo and then make a big deal about it so people talk about a silly typo rather than about the fact that you are pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord when humanity and life on Earth is facing a serious threat to our very existence due to climate change.

I don’t know how covfefe is pronounced because I don’t give a fuck.

Why I Am a Progressive

in Political Thought by

When I was in high school, religion and the existence of God were issues and questions my friends and I debated frequently. I was definitely agnostic. I find comfort in the tangible, the verifiable—I like data, and I enjoy math because I like the certainty of finding a correct answer.

One day (in biology class) I asked a friend of mine who was (and still is) deeply religious why he believed in God. It was a beautiful spring day, and he waved his arm toward the window (we’re both drama nerds, so we love the theatrical) and said, “Look at that life! The trees, the sky, the grass, all the animals out there! How could that be without God?”

For me, this was not a convincing argument. Science could explain the prevalence of life on Earth, and I scoffed at his simplistic faith that dismissed the explanations provided by human discovery and research.

Over the years, however, I have thought of this moment many times. And I have begun to think that although what he was saying was indeed simple, it also contained something fundamentally true:

At the heart of the existence and continuance of life is an essential mystery, an original seed, a moment of wonder. And this is what imbues all life with a sacredness and a call for reverence that must not be dismissed, forgotten, or chopped up and compartmentalized.

In this, I have come to see the divine in this wonder of life—its diversity, its strangeness, its imperfection, and its dogged perseverance. When I think about all the factors that have come together so perfectly so our planet can support such prevalence and multiplicity of life—the exact right distance from our sun, the perfect tilt of our axis that gives us all the cycles that ensure life continues to renew itself year after year, the composition of our planet in both water and minerals, and much more—I am in awe.

And I am deeply grateful.

But it is not enough for me to simply feel this appreciation or to offer up my thanks to a higher power. To truly honor this life, to give of myself in deep gratitude, I must do what I can to protect and care for this fundamental gift of life.

And the science- and data-loving part of me supports this conclusion. For when I look around at our glorious planet, I see this practice of protecting and caring for life everywhere. This is not just a human concept; all life on Earth does something to support, protect, and/or make possible other life on this Earth. This is the basis of any ecosystem: an interconnectivity of care that makes life possible and thrive for all.

Now, how each of us expresses this gratitude and reverence will differ among us. And I’m okay with that; after all, diversity is a part of life itself.

But for me, this reverence for the sacredness of life is what informs my progressive values and drives my political activism.

I advocate for single-payer healthcare for all because, as many have said, healthcare is a human right. But perhaps “right” is the wrong word here, as it calls to the authority of such human-made documents as the US Bill of Rights or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For me, healthcare is life care, and to be a moral society, we must ensure that all people get the care they need to sustain their life as much as they can and desire.

I advocate to protect the environment and work to minimize the effects of climate change because we are destroying life on this planet and making it unlivable for future generations. We cannot simultaneously hold this gift of life as sacred and yet not work to protect and care for all life on our planet—including life still to come.

I recoil at the glorification and mindless race to needless war because I see—and don’t understand how others DON’T see—that it is a repudiation of all that a moral society holds true. It is to spit on our sacred gift of life.

In fact, all the issues that I and other progressives fight for—quality education for all, racial and gender justice and equality, housing for all, access to quality employment, affordable childcare, paid parental or family leave, ensuring security and dignity for our elder generation, caring for the sick and disabled—and what we fight against—grotesque income and wealth inequality; corporate rule and exploitation; oligarchy; government corruption; poisoning our air, water, and food supply; mass incarceration; extrajudicial killings; systemic discrimination; and on and on . . .

At the heart of all progressive values is a reverence for the sacredness of life and, thus, a commitment to protect and care for everyone in all of our communities, with no racial, gender, income, geographic, or other human-imposed exceptions.

So if someone were to ask me why I believe what I believe—why I am a progressive—I may wave my arm in a very theatrical way and proclaim, “Look at this life! I need to do what I can for it!”

Talking to Our Republican Representatives About Healthcare

in Healthcare by

The following is a post previously published on hillarysavoie.com. It is being reposted here with permission of the author, my friend Hillary Savoie, who is fighting for her daughter’s healthcare because any lapse or reduction in care could mean death for her dear daughter, Esmé.

 

I don’t want to write about healthcare, yet, somehow, I have to . . . because I am the mother of a child who is medically fragile. I am the mother of a child who relies on Medicaid and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. And right now? Right now I cannot afford not to write about it.

This week—after months of effort—my daughter and I met with our Congressman, John Faso, NY district 19. I’m not going to go into what an effort it was to get this meeting. Nor am I going to write about what I thought about it all . . . not yet.

But what I will do right now is share the statement I read to him:

I am here today to talk with you about my daughter, Esmé, and the impact that your recent vote on healthcare reform could have on her, our family, and others like us.
First let me give you some background.

I come from a good family—you know my stepfather. Your son has eaten dinner at my family home. I am well educated—Emma Willard, McGill University, and RPI for my PhD. I married an architect and engineer. He has a good job, good health insurance. We paid extra for the extra good health insurance since well before Esmé was born because it seemed like the smart thing to do. I was planning to be a university professor. I was planning that we would be a family who paid into a system and didn’t take out of it. And I was proud and happy to do that.

But then Esmé was born—and what we now know to be four genetic mutations dropped a bomb in all our plans. This kind of bomb is the kind that does not care how well educated you are, how good your job is, how much you’ve done right. This bomb came in the form of genetic mutations for us. Sometimes it is a car careening down the road. Or cancer cells. But I can tell you that I did not expect it. I did not ask for it. My daughter certainly did not deserve it—despite what some of your congressional colleagues have said about who does and doesn’t deserve pre-existing conditions. It was Esmé this time—but it could be your child, your grandchild. It still could be.

What does this bomb mean for us? It means my daughter almost died in my arms when she was three months old. It means I have held her through thousands of seizures in her short life, trying to tell her it will be okay, even though I do not know that it will be okay. It means my child will need help with everything that comes easily for you and me for the remainder of her life, which I pray will be longer than my own but know may not be. It means my daughter has twenty doctors and has spent months of her life in the hospital. It means I cannot hold the kind of job I trained for. It means that when we don’t have overnight nursing I sometimes need to pause before I walk into my daughter’s room in the morning because I am terrified she might have had a seizure in the night, that I will find her not breathing and cold. As some of my friends have found their children.

It means that I spend every single waking moment focusing on keeping her alive and safe and thriving. And I dream about it too.

What you did last week, how you voted—it was my nightmare.

You voted for $840 billion dollars in Medicaid cuts over ten years. Cuts that will directly affect the most vulnerable citizens—the 64 percent who are elderly, disabled, and children and take up 75 percent of Medicaid expenditures. This includes Esmé and the other 25,885 constituents in your district who are disabled and rely on Medicaid—the other 60,423 children in your district who rely on Medicaid.

Medicaid is already the leanest of health insurance providers—per capita costs are substantially lower than private insurance over the past decade and are rising more slowly. The cuts you voted for will come either in the form of removing high-cost individuals—like Esmé—from Medicaid waivers or in the form of cutting costs such as the hours of nursing care my daughter receives. They will cut the rates of pay for the people who care for her, many of whom can qualify for Medicaid on a forty-hour work week because the pay rates are so low. They will cut the equipment that gives mobility, safety, and health to children like mine. They will cut the support for special education and services in our schools, $4 billion of which comes from Medicaid. They will alter the way children’s hospitals provide care.

Disabled individuals of all income brackets rely on Medicaid waiver programs. They are essential safety net programs for families like mine who could easily be bankrupted by the extra medical costs not covered by insurance. They are critical for families like mine who cannot have two working parents and keep their child alive, who need to know that if my husband’s job disappears tomorrow, we will still have some way to keep Esmé safe. Medicaid keeps even a middle-class family in our situation like ours afloat, let alone those in far more dire financial situations.

Last week you voted quite plainly for a tax break for the wealthiest of our citizens. And you did so quickly enough that you were able to avoid speaking to your constituents at all. You could have addressed problems in the ACA without gutting Medicaid, without giving tax breaks to health insurance execs making $10 million a year, without throwing away the promises of protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

My daughter has fought for her life from her first breath. She has fought to move her body. To produce sounds. To breathe and swallow safely. She taught herself her colors and numbers as a toddler. She has taught herself to read at age four. She works like you cannot imagine every single day in the therapies she’s been in since she was two months old. It is one part miracle that she is alive, one part sheer determination on her part, and one part thanks to all those who work for her well-being. By all accounts my daughter should not have survived. If things in this world came to those who worked the hardest, my child would be queen of the free world. But life isn’t always fair. That is why those of us with power, with voices, with networks, with education—it is our job to be thoughtful and kind and compassionate toward those who, no matter how hard they try, will never be able to reach the place some of us, through sheer luck, start out from.

We all need to prioritize in life. What we prioritize says everything about who we are. I prioritize my daughter’s life—her actual life, her daily survival—over my career, over money, over being able to ever have a vacation, over having shiny new things, over my own ego, over the part of me that wants to sit here and tell you in no uncertain terms what I really think of what you’ve done as her representative rather than attempt to be polite. That tells you something about who I am, what I am about. What my life will be measured by.

With your vote you stated your priorities. You prioritized the wealthiest people in this country over the health, safety, and well-being of my child and children like her. And you did it surreptitiously. You did it despite the calls from your constituents begging you not to. You did it without waiting for information from the Congressional Office on Budget Priorities. You did it despite the clear majority of Americans who opposed the bill.

You’ve made it clear who you stand with. Who matters most to you. And it is absolutely not my child.

You are my representative. You are my child’s representative.

You seem to have forgotten that. And that is why I am here today.

Guarding the Fox House: The Life and Legacy of Roger Ailes

in Media and Society by

Roger Eugene Ailes died comfortably in his own home in Palm Beach, Florida, this Thursday, May 18, 2017. The cause of death was reportedly the result of a subdural hematoma, aggravated by his lifelong illness with hemophilia. He is survived by his wife of nineteen years, Elizabeth, and their only child. It was three days after his seventy-seventh birthday.

Upon hearing the news of his death I felt a sense of morbid satisfaction that the man had met his end. It was a feeling that I had felt before and had felt very guilty about soon after. He was a person, after all, with a family, a life, and, to my clear chagrin, a legacy we should not easily forget. In many ways the forces that shape our politics today were unleashed through the medium that Roger Ailes helped create.

It was these elements, however, those unchecked forces he helped bring about, that proved the necessary ingredients for a reality TV president, a distorted media landscape, and this is what ultimately brought Ailes and several others down. Much like the fox guarding the hen house, Ailes thought he and others could control these forces they had brought to bear. Instead, it served as a cautionary tale of the unintended consequences we are still grappling with to this day. Here is that tale.

Roger Ailes grew up in small town Warren, Ohio. He came from a broken home and graduated from the Ohio State with a degree in communications in 1962. After serving a while as a TV station manager in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Ailes was picked by Richard Nixon to serve as the TV executive producer for Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. It was an unusual position, as TV was still a relatively new medium in the scope of American politics. But Nixon had already learned the hard lessons from his televised debates in 1960 with John F. Kennedy too well and knew he was not a darling of the screen.

With the help of Ailes, Nixon pioneered the use of the paid televised political commercials in the form of tightly choreographed town halls called “The Nixon Answer.” Once seen as an awkward and uncomfortable man, Nixon came across as accessible, friendly, and with his hair down. In this way Nixon was able to remake his image – quite literally – on the television and establish a persona that would meet a hard death through a little “third-rate” burglary. For Ailes, his pioneering work in political television had ushered in a new era in political consulting and would portend a bright new career for him.

Election night 1972 would be a red-letter date for the history of the conservative movement, as Nixon cruised to re-election with the largest electoral majority in American history. For Ailes, his use of effective and devastating TV ads was crucial. It also meant a start for two young ruthless political operatives by the names of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Together this informal troika of conservative activists and political consultants would speedily remold the Republican Party after the debacle of Nixon/Watergate into the electoral juggernaut of Reagan/Bush.

Gone were the days of strong African American and minority support for the party of Lincoln. The politics of grievance for the white working class, the Southern Strategy, and racialized identity politics was in. Ailes would see to it that more than just our political landscape would change; the very way the media would cover a political campaign fall prey to his grand designs.

“If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”

In just one comment, dubbed the “Orchestra Pit Theory,” Ailes correctly predicted what the future of modern media coverage in America would look like. No longer would it be a serious examination of the news and issues of the day but rather another form of entertainment. Gone was the substance of a political campaign and debate; now politics would turn into the empty character bouts we see today as well as to the dark side of thirty-second television ads.

No ad so epitomizes the gruesome blood sport that politics became through Ailes than the infamous “Willie Horton ad” of 1988. Though never directly implicated in its creation and broadcast, the Horton ad was a chilling harbinger of what was soon to come and a blueprint of the politics that Ailes, Rove, and Atwater had helped orchestrate. Today the Horton ad would be considered mere child’s play to the numerous sordid political commercials we’ve become accustomed to. Ailes himself would create his own toned-down Horton-style ad called “Revolving Doors,” but its implications remained the same. Because of it, George H. W. Bush would win an unprecedented third Republican term in 1988 by an unexpected landslide.

New horizons beckoned Ailes in 1996 when billionaire Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch offered Ailes the inaugural chairmanship of the Fox News Network. Although the product of Murdoch, the network was wholly the creation of Ailes’s design. As the political and media consultant for Presidents Reagan and Bush, Ailes could only manage the media so far. With Fox News, however, he now had a platform, fully under his control, to move the media narrative in his direction.

Even as such network stars such as Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, Steve Varney, Charles Krauthammer, and Megyn Kelly would all earn a reputation of their own at the network, they would largely owe their careers – and lucrative contracts – to the man who would daily write the narrative the network would push. Unlike other TV news executives, Ailes had an agenda to sell and was not about to let the stubborn facts – or even reality – get in his way.

During his eighteen years as chairman of the network Ailes singlehandedly changed the twenty-four-hour TV news format and created some of the highest-rated cable programs in TV history. By 2008 it would have been laughable to think that there was such a thing as a “liberal” American media, as Fox News had had such a hand in defining it. No doubt that Ailes would have still peddled the theory, though, as it aptly served his purposes.

Despite the growing nativism and populism within the Republican party, Ailes still owned the vital real estate in conservative media with Fox News. It was a balance that was increasingly harder to maintain as other alternative media sources such as Breitbart News, the Drudge Report, and Info Wars gained a vocal audience and readership of their own. In the end, however, it would be his personal dalliances that would do him in.

Allegations and rumors of rampant sexual harassment and an unfriendly working environment were not foreign to the network, beginning as early as 2004. It was clear, though, that the network no longer had a strangle-hold of the conservative audience as it used to, as the rise of Trump clearly showed. Gretchen Carlson saw the signs and became the first in what became a growing chorus of women to dare challenge the infallible chairman. Once network star Megyn Kelly joined that group, it was a matter of time before Ailes would fall.

Ailes would end his long relationship with the network on July 21, 2016, receiving a $40 million severance package in the bargain. The fact that this amount was allegedly three times as large as the money given to settle his harassment cases out of court was largely ignored.

Ailes would spend the rest of the 2016 campaign informally advising the Trump campaign to its unprecedented victory in November, and rumors swirled as to a formal role in the White House during the transition. Meanwhile the network he had worked so hard to control and dominate began its tailspin we see today, losing reporters Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly to their competitors and firing conservative darling O’Reilly to scandals of his own. One wonders if the recent Russia narrative and lack of direction/focus by Washington Republicans weighed heavily on his mind to the last.

In the end Roger Ailes will be lionized as the media guru he was. For better or worse, no matter your political stripe, his influence on how we consume and view both media and politics is largely fashioned on ideas and theories he tested and later refined over the years. Numerous political leaders, from Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and even Rudy Giuliani and Trump, owe their political careers to his skillful manipulation of the media to his will.

To me, though, despite his well-earned accolades, his life stands as the epitome of a political stain that has led to the destructive style of media and politics we see today. The corrosive distrust in our civic institutions, while leading to the most conservative government America has ever known, has also made for the least functional government we have seen as well. That there is controversy over what a mere fact really is serves as a sad but natural progression of Ailes’s vision for slanted journalism packaged to entertain as well as to misinform. It perhaps goes to show that he clearly understood the implications of media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s aphoristic phrase “The medium is the message.”

The long-lasting consequences of Ailes’s legacy are still a long way from being fully understood. What we can take away now is how callously superficial conservatism eventually became under his watch. More a shell than a three-dimensional movement, it was susceptible to the cult of Trump and acted as a serviceable host to mainstream his electability. He also is as stark a reminder there is of the power that exists behind that black mirror of our TVs and smartphones. An extract from George Orwell’s classic 1984 perhaps perfectly illustrates the dangers of Ailes’s legacy:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Let us hope that from now on we remember the importance of vigilance as a key aspect of our civic duty. And that the likes of Ailes have a much harder time peddling their message to the American people. It will not be easy – there will be others – but we will be ready. A democracy only survives because of the diversity of opinion and the strength of the press and media. Hopefully we’re doing our part here.

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