The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

From the editor: This way and that

 


A line from “The Great Gatsby” came to mind over the weekend. It was something about the human capacity for hope or wonder—reaching over to the bookcase to double check seemed a bit too strenuous for a Saturday afternoon.

Fitzgerald was, of course, referring to our innate ability to see potential. But what about the human capacity for foolish trust?

Some firmly believe, despite a swell of evidence against their supposition, that the president is either a tyrant or a Muslim. Others look back on the previous administration and pronounce the former president insufficiently informed. They do not pause to consider his misplaced trust in advisors or post-9/11 complications that tasked just about everybody.

This is hardly a recent phenomenon. How many Americans are convinced that big government faked the 1969 moon landing? What portion of Beatles fanatics fell for the “Paul is dead” rumors? Walk around Dealey Plaza in Dallas and you’ll be presented with dozens of earnest exhortations on the real killer—or killers—in the supposed JFK conspiracy. Listen to UFO enthusiasts and you might just start to dismiss the nagging fact that many sightings occur near air bases testing experimental craft.

As a Penn Stater, I might point out the evidence repeatedly brought up by Cornhusker fans still aggrieved over the result of a game back in the early 80s.

It goes on and on. To prove global warming is a farce, opponents of the notion turn to Donald Trump and his observations on that day’s blizzard conditions. As evidence of the Obama administration’s new age competence, defenders of the president point to its “deft” recuperation from a certain web initiative.

Oh, and then there are those apologists convinced the south fought a civil war in order to preserve states’ rights, rather than to defend slavery. They fail to ask the next logical question: a state’s right to what?

Own slaves. Got it.

Simply put, if talking heads voice an opinion, however ill-informed, there will be a group of followers devoted to no end. Remember Oprah’s vendetta against red meat?

Marketers have long known just how easy it is to manipulate public opinion. This is not a moral observation, for people can be swayed in both positive and negative directions. Place cigarettes into the hands of every actor in Hollywood, convince directors to fill vocal pauses with a puff or two from Cary Grant’s Lucky Strike and Americans will light up. Turn the tables, run a campaign focusing on lung cancer and the industry’s misuse of information, and you cut smoking almost in half. Give Jim and Tammy Bakker access to the airwaves, they corral gullible believers by the millions. Put their malfeasance on the same screens, people come to understand the Biblical warning of false prophets.

But if one or more people are united in purpose and limitless in pocket—and if the followers are particularly inclined to believe …

Already the likes of the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and whoever lurks behind the pro-Hillary super PACs are lining up funds to create messages intended to lure unwary voters to one side or the other.

Yes, we are once again in a campaign season. Fictitious anti-Affordable Care Act messages will be countered by equally fictitious pro-ACA spots. One side will cast aspersions upon the so-called one percent. The other will point out the jobs created by the same set. Spurious charges against a Republican candidate will be answered by spurious charges against his or her Democratic opponent. It’s the way our electoral process works, apparently.

Yep, it was ever thus.

John Kennedy--or rather his father--was accused of buying his way into politics. The opposition accused Michael Bloomberg of buying minds in the New York mayoral election. Three New Jersey men were charged in 1908 with bribing voters, either using cash or whiskey. The great industrialists of the same era paid handsomely to elect tycoon-friendly William McKinley to the White House, shuffling the unpredictable Teddy Roosevelt into the harmless vice presidential role--only to see their man assassinated and a reform-minded Roosevelt take over.

Some of it seems like fun and games. Other times the act of nudging public opinion in a certain direction is reprehensible. Before the 2004 presidential election, Harold Simmons and others pumped money into a campaign to cast doubt upon John Kerry’s military achievements in Vietnam. No matter what one thinks of Kerry’s political ideology, a man’s service to his country should never be belittled. And shame on anyone who failed to speak out against the Swift Boat Veterans for “truth” message.

Ultimately, that shame lies with the voters, so long as we remained convinced only the other side is misleading us.

That’s right, we have an endless capacity for hope, wonder or whatever Fitzgerald wrote. We also possess an infinite capacity to allow others to toy with the facts.

 

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