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Guest View: A democracy under attack. Will you stand up?

The Register-Guard logo The Register-Guard 1/10/2022 James Koons
FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, the face of President Donald Trump appears on large screens as supporters participate in a rally in Washington. The House committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, with its latest round of subpoenas in September 2021, may uncover the degree to which former President Donald Trump, his campaign and White House were involved in planning the rally that preceded the riot, which had been billed as a grassroots demonstration. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) ORG XMIT: NY932 © John Minchillo, AP FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, the face of President Donald Trump appears on large screens as supporters participate in a rally in Washington. The House committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, with its latest round of subpoenas in September 2021, may uncover the degree to which former President Donald Trump, his campaign and White House were involved in planning the rally that preceded the riot, which had been billed as a grassroots demonstration. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) ORG XMIT: NY932

We live in an age of weaponized disinformation with the proliferation of mass cult behavior rarely seen. I fear for the future of our country, the planet and, in particular, my grandchildren.

People, it turns out, will believe anything. We’ve obviously had personality cults before.  Jim Jones, Charles Manson, David Koresh and Heaven’s Gate come to mind. These cases are extreme, but a more widespread evolution of this phenomenon is taking place in our culture.

The planet and our country are facing existential challenges. Climate reality may produce more than 200 million climate refugees by 2050. Wealth is being accumulated in an unsustainable concentration of ultrarich, while most American families have fewer than $1,000 in savings. Confidence in our basic institutions, like elections, scientific consensus and health care, is crashing. Our leaders — economic and political — are ill-equipped to meet the challenges when their primary concerns are quarterly profits and re-election. Democracy is in peril.

Social media is behind much of the echo chambers of misinformation. Recent whistle-blower revelations only confirm the obvious, which is that social media companies understand that to increase ad sales, they must incite users with algorithms that force-feed people what riles them, regardless of veracity. Of course, having a president who lied more than 30,000 times while in office made facts irrelevant to many. We live in a post-truth society.

The Big Lie is pervasive. Despite more than 60 court cases, many heard by Trump-appointed judges, no evidence was ever presented showing material election fraud. Every case was lost. Yet most registered Republicans (68% in a recent poll) believe the election was stolen. Thirty percent of Republicans recently polled said that “violence may be justified to 'save' us.” In right-wing propaganda media, it’s even worse, with 82% of Fox News viewers and an astounding 97% of OAN Newsmax viewers saying the election was stolen.

Trump lost.

Tucker Carlson recently ran a series advocating that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a "false flag" operation, that the rioters in MAGA hats observed beating police officers with American flags in four hours of hand-to-hand combat were actually antifa and Black Lives Matters militants, supported by the FBI. The fact that more than 700 arrests of the insurrectionists reveal only Trump supporters is irrelevant. Facts don’t matter to conspiracy theorists.

These claims and beliefs seem as preposterous as a secret spaceship hiding in a comet’s tail (Heaven’s Gate cult), or JFK Jr.’s resurrection in Texas proclaiming Trump is still president (Q-Anon). Yet, we are swimming in a social media torrent of lies. And I am afraid. But not for me, I’ll be fine.

I can insulate myself for the remainder of my relatively short life. But my grandchildren will be adults all too soon. They will have to deal with a post-truth culture where free and fair elections don’t matter, science is mistrusted and tribalism has run amok. Some are saying we are at the end-stage of democracy and capitalism. They could be right. The American Experiment is at risk of failure. What might follow — authoritarianism — will be far worse.

I still maintain trust in respected institutions like WHO and CDC and AMA and American Academy of Pediatrics. I believe they are staffed with well-intentioned scientists who have spent their professional lives studying and promoting public health. And with possibly a few exceptions, I don’t think they are compromised. 

When 99% of climate scientists agree that the earth’s climate is changing and humans are causing it, I believe them. Likewise with the consensus of epidemiologists regarding how to deal with COVID-19. I don’t have any faith in medically untrained rappers, or presidents who advocate injecting bleach and disparaging vaccines (even though vaccinated) for political purposes.

But the immediate existential threat to the U.S. is the integrity of our elections. The Big Lie about non-existent voter fraud has been the excuse used in many states to enact voter suppression laws, and the legal means to overturn legitimate elections by appointed partisan state officials. 

It has never before felt like a culture war to just seek truth and consensus reality. This is new, and it is dangerous. It is time to insist on truth, and to enact federal voter protection laws. 

Stand up. 

Your democracy is at stake.

James Koons is a retired river guide and local real estate developer. He is a 36-year resident of Eugene.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Guest View: A democracy under attack. Will you stand up?

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