Prim­ing the hate pump at our peril

The Labradorian - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected] thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Some things don’t change. A week or so ago, I was on a long, empty side­walk on May­nard Road in Cary, NC, head­ing for the Food Lion for gro­ceries. May­nard is four lanes wide, cut­ting be­tween ridicu­lously tall stands of oaks and fra­grant pines you’d be hard-pressed to reach your arms around, the trunks are so large.

Far ahead of me, com­ing to­wards me, was a man in his twen­ties with a dog on the end of a leash. The man was start­ing for­ward, stop­ping, get­ting the dog to heel and then set­ting out again, re­peat­ing the process over and over again.

At the end of the leash was a gan­gly young black Lab, all an­gles, ears and too-large paws.

You can prob­a­bly see a dog like that in your head, the way it strains and scrab­bles at the end of the leash, des­per­ately in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one.

Both the dog’s owner and I knew what was go­ing to hap­pen — he moved to the far left of the side­walk, and I moved to the far right, but even with the ex­panse of con­crete be­tween us, the dog reared up against the leash, paws bat­ter­ing at the air, big pink tongue dan­gling out, des­per­ately want­ing to greet me.

His owner and I both laughed, and then we went ahead in our dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

An ab­so­lutely av­er­age scene in a small Amer­i­can city.

It’s noth­ing like the Amer­ica that comes out of the di­ver­gent sides of the Amer­i­can me­dia right now.

Broad­cast Amer­ica is chock­ablock with ex­trem­ism. De­struc­tive ex­trem­ism.

There are peo­ple build­ing ca­reers — and in the process, mak­ing huge amounts of money — say­ing things they flat-out have to know are ei­ther de­lib­er­ately slanted or flatly un­true.

When I was there, for ex­am­ple, Fox News was all in a tizzy about the sen­tenc­ing of Michael Flynn. The for­mer three-star gen­eral and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was sched­uled to be sen­tenced, a sen­tenc­ing that has since been de­layed. What was Fox News’ take? There should be ral­lies de­mand­ing his free­dom. It was un­be­liev­able that “this great pa­triot” might go to jail.

What wasn’t be­ing men­tioned? That Flynn had pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI about his con­tacts with a se­nior Rus­sian con­sular of­fi­cial. That at his own sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, Flynn ad­mit­ted that he knew it was a crime to lie to the FBI.

Mean­while, on the other end of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, much hay is made about a com­ment made by the judge over­see­ing the sen­tenc­ing: “Ar­guably, you sold your coun­try out.” Those same out­lets are primed and ready to take any pos­si­ble at­tack, real or imag­ined, on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump di­rect to air, ap­par­ently be­liev­ing it’s bet­ter to be first with a story than it is to de­liver an ac­cu­rate one.

None of this is helped, of course, by the fact that U.S. politi­cians have dis­cov­ered you can sim­ply lie to pub­lic and your sup­port­ers will be­lieve it, no mat­ter how trans­par­ently false the lie ac­tu­ally is.

There are car­ni­val bark­ers on both sides. Some­times, you ac­tu­ally even see them slip on air — in the midst of go­ing on about the man­i­fest evil of Hil­lary Clin­ton, a smile will break through, as if the hosts them­selves can’t be­lieve what they’re get­ting on with.

But out there on the other side of the ra­dio speaker or the tele­vi­sion screen, there are or­di­nary cit­i­zens de­pend­ing on one sta­tion or the other for their in­for­ma­tion — solidly be­liev­ing that what they are hear­ing is true.

What they are hear­ing is get­ting darker ev­ery day. That’s why there are cases where peo­ple have al­ready taken up arms — shoot­ing a Repub­li­can politi­cian at a base­ball game, car­ry­ing weapons into a pizza restau­rant to stop a en­tirely fic­ti­tious chil­dren’s sex ring run by Democrats.

And the peo­ple who are ramp­ing up the rhetoric seem obliv­i­ous to the fact that they are play­ing with fire.

The truth is far more nu­anced that ei­ther “Trump is evil” or “The Democrats are slime.”

But that’s not what or­di­nary Amer­i­cans are be­ing told.

The hate pump is be­ing well primed, and no one should be sur­prised at what might even­tu­ally flow out of it.

The only real hope is the more com­fort­ing re­al­ity of neigh­bours and side­walks and a fool­ishly-happy young dog at the end of a leash.

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