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In a post-Trump world, maybe we should let the gatekeepers back in (opinion)

By ThisIsReno
Donald Trump's former twitter account

Submitted by Jim Scripps

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Can you hear it? After a four-year cacophony of self-aggrandizing, hate-inciting conspiracy screeds, finally, the sweet sound of silence. The Donald went too far: Twitter took away his microphone.

The silence. That void our president previously filled with all of his mental malformations, his daddy issues, his need to always take the biggest share of the world’s collective attention at the expense of a country desperate for anything that resembles leadership. That refreshing silence to not hear him complain about being mistreated while simultaneously downplaying a virus that has ravaged our weak and accelerated our institutional decay. To not have to hold our ears to block the barking of a grifter with no ambition other than to build a legion of red-hatted troglodytes, even while hundreds of thousands lie dead in the wake of his ineptitude.

With a flip of a switch, a shift from the all-consuming siren scream, to an ambience of relative meditative silence.

Perhaps it came months (or years!) too late, but when his multitude of quacks, conspiracists and race-baters breached the Capitol walls, Trump lost his most powerful tool. As the boy president stood in that white tent viewing the desecration live on Fox News, giddy and high from the narcissistic rush, he didn’t yet realize he had placed the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. Better luck on Parler, Don.

We Americans who are left with the wake of the destruction can mourn the darkness of that day, and what it reveals about democracy’s fragility, but now we must also start the work of building the framework for a post-Trump America. And at the center of any postmortem on the Trump presidency is the severely malfunctioning information ecosystem that has allowed attention to become the most precious commodity of the information age, while the value of truth has declined.

When Trump flies off to spend the rest of his unhappy days cheating at golf and toasting his bloated ego at the Mar-a-Lago steakhouse, that problem won’t leave with him, in the same way it didn’t start with him. But the way he used our digital addictions to lay damage upon the nation’s psyche will certainly be his most enduring legacy. The question is, how do we flip our own switches, collectively reach into our pockets and turn off the sadness machines so the next Donald Trump doesn’t happen?

As it relates to news media, one way is to reinstate news consumers’ relationship with reliability. After a decade-long experiment in what was promised to be a “democratization of information” in the digital era, it turns out that news media without gatekeepers has fallen short on that promise in a lot of ways, and has even created a template for cultural conflict so intense that it is the stuff of revolution.

Some of the most susceptible among us are inspired to do things that previously seemed unimaginable, like bring an AR-15 to a political protest (see Minden), attempt to create a “government-free” zone in a major city (see Seattle), or become so unhinged as to overrun the Capitol building in what could have become a literal lynching of politicians (see Washington D.C.).

Gatekeepers, it turns out, serve a critical role ensuring that news is codified around something that resembles standards and practices, a fundamental filter for most of us to be able to identify the difference between truth and lies. When we put our trust in reporters, editors, fact-checkers, and yes, even corporate media structures, at least we know that there’s somebody at the wheel.

Do gatekeeper and corporate media habitually fail news consumers? Yes. Should independent and individual voices continue to have a role in our media diet? Of course. Gatekeeper media needs to be reimagined, and improved in myriad ways. But if the cultural climate that we find ourselves in – technology addicted, mentally unwell, and propping up a leader who is literally an existential threat – is any indication, we need to figure out a way to reintegrate trust into our media habits, before it becomes the death of us.

Jim Scripps

Jim Scripps is director of the journalism and communications program at Sierra Nevada University.

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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