“Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear”. Thus spoke my grandfather some twenty five years ago when we were watching the news, one of his favorite pastimes.

He was an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh. This was during the early years of Rush’s show. It was the first time someone had challenged the hallowed, semi-divine role of the American news broadcasters satirized (likely by accident) in the movie Anchorman. Americans trusted the news. Those guys just looked honest, and they had the voices (not to mention the confidence) to back it up.

I think that faith has been dissipating for years, but this past year has struck it fatally, and for good reason.

The Collapse of Faith

Until this past year, I’d say that Americans, at least most of them, trusted the news. They trusted government bureaucracies like the CDC. They trusted the election process. There was a lot of faith in these institutions, and people demonstrated this faith by trusting all of them to tell them what to think or, in the case of elections, to give them a say of their own. This was true of both parties. True enough, Republicans watched Fox News and Democrats watched CNN, but everyone read the Associated Press and the New York Times at least seemed really prestigious even if you couldn’t remember the last time they had anything simultaneously true and important to say.

And then there was The Hysteria. And then there was The Election.

Americans dutifully listened to their leaders in March when they were told the end was nigh. “If we don’t board up the schools and the restaurants in exactly 72 hours, the world will be doomed”. Not 48 hours, or heaven forbid, 24. This emergency is inconvenient enough as it is. Churches across the country closed, the best for a week, the worst never to reopen. Tens of millions of students lost a semester of education, though I can’t say whether that was a net positive or negative.

Importantly, during this era of intense hysterical fear, masks were condemned as somewhere between useless and dangerous. Everyone was sure of this. They were worn in surgery, sure, but that was to catch saliva. Everyone knew a surgeon would stay home if he was sick with the flu. And besides, we’d had millennia of flu seasons, and millennia when masks were easily fashioned and used; it’s not like no one had thought of this before. We all knew it wouldn’t work.

Then, suddenly, in late April, everyone (and I mean everyone) suddenly changed their minds. “Wearing masks is the most important thing you can do”. The Surgeon General, when pressed, claimed he had merely been lying to save supplies of hospital-grade masks. That he lied or that cloth masks were acceptable to him (and were never in short supply) was not questioned.

Nine months into The Great Hysteria, there’s still little sense to the inconsistent, incoherent mandates. The only controlled trials point against lockdowns, masks, and distancing.

As if all that wasn’t good enough to undermine faith in public institutions, election night began with incredible results for Trump; he supposed to lose almost every state and he was winning swing states and up by double digits at 9pm. This, despite dozens of reports of Republican poll watchers being thrown out in Detroit and Philadelphia. Then, suddenly, the votes stopped being counted simultaneously in every swing state. They resumed at 4am when truckloads of perfect little bundles of Biden-heavy ballots rolled in. And while Trump won everywhere, he lost in four metro areas; the ones that just so happened to be in those four states that stopped counting.

For four weeks, every news and social media outlet condemned the mere concern over election fraud. Doug Wilson had an excellent analysis of this yesterday you should read.

No Good Reason

This past summer, when I was regularly writing on my personal social media accounts about the bizarre government claims regarding the coronavirus, I was consistently challenged by (I hope) well-meaning high school acquaintances I hadn’t spoken with in years. They’d remind me that I’m not a doctor, and they would claim that this fact somehow negated any possibility of my being right about anything when I contradicted public health “experts”.

At the time, I was frustrated but responded with data and evidence and argument. It didn’t do any good. I was either blocked or ignored, though I grant I didn’t sugarcoat anything and my contempt for public health “experts” (see, I can’t even avoid the scare quotes) was probably grating. In retrospect, I think I should have done something different. I should have asked questions.

“Why should I trust the CDC?” I never thought I’d ask such a question, but it’s a good one. Why should I? I don’t think I have any good reasons to do so. Why should I trust the World Health Organization? Why should I trust Bill Gates? Why should I trust fact-check goblins? Why should I trust Dr. Anthony “The Snake” Fauci?

All good questions, and all, I suspect, without good answers. I can imagine a scenario in which I did trust the CDC. I could know the staff, maybe personally or from reputation. I might have seen the predictions or advice come to bear good fruit over and over again. Those things would give me some evidence and I might be able to place a little faith in the organization. But I don’t have those things, and what little I did have going into 2020 was undermined at every point by contradictory, incoherent, or flat-out false information.

Did you know the CDC had estimated Infection Fatality Rate numbers for the coronavirus back in July which put it in the ballpark of a seasonal flu? That’s the number that back in March was used to scare everyone, back when all we had to go on was China’s propaganda and the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship (which, had we stuck with the latter, would have assuaged all fear). The CDC buried it. It was never reported. Now don’t you think that’s an important thing to tell everyone about? If you cared about giving people information on public health, especially during a time you claim there’s a crisis, wouldn’t the fatality rate of the virus be something you’d share? The CDC didn’t think so.

Voter Fr4ud

Then we come to the election and another variation on the same theme emerges. “There’s no evidence of voter fraud” is the response we got to the bizarre suspension of the ballot counting in four key states on election night. No one was claiming fraud; people just wanted to know why all precedent had been broken in just the right places to change what seemed like an inevitable Trump re-election.

Then came in the hundreds of pages of sworn affidavits. Eyewitness testimony is the thing that makes or breaks trials all the time. All of this was dismissed by social media and by news agencies. Their behavior doesn’t prove they are covering up massive election fraud, but if they were covering up massive election fraud, it’s the behavior we’d expect.

So why should we trust them? And why should we trust the process? None of these actions, and none of the actions by state or federal government have given anyone any reason to trust the integrity of the election. Why should we?

What’s to Come of It

Trust in government institutions, in news agencies, and in elections is a pretty fundamental part of binding a nation together. And, the inverse is true. If you want to destroy a nation, one way to do it would be to undermine the faith of the people in the government, in the news media, and in the election process. It would be hard to do, but we have the finest idiots in American history running the show, and if anyone can screw this up, they are certainly up to the task.

Idiot is harsh, but it’s the right word. None of these groups should want to undermine faith in our institutions. Even if they crave power, as they clearly do, the shrewd and effective way to obtain it would be to undermine the integrity of these institutions while preserving the faith people have in them. You don’t want the average American turning on the news and saying “I think I understood the world better before I watched this.” You want them saying “Trump is basically Hitler. What would I do without the news?” You don’t want the average voter saying “this election feels rigged” like some 80% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats think. You want the average voter thinking “Biden won 10 million more votes than Obama? What a mandate!”

One of the aspects of all of this that keeps me optimistic is the sheer incompetence of our little revolutionaries. They can’t seem to do anything right. That’s not an excuse to get complacent, but merely a reminder that we have a good chance to stop them given all the ways they are finding to shoot themselves in the foot before we even get to the battle.

If trust isn’t restored in these institutions, new ones will rise up to replace them. Already, new media companies are becoming real competitors to the legacy media. Dan Bongino’s podcast became the most listened-to podcast on iTunes a couple of weeks ago. Steven Crowder became the biggest news channel on YouTube. Conservative news outlets like the Daily Wire became the most shared sources on Facebook. The fact is, the legacy media really is the legacy media, and they’ve done it to themselves, and they’re in a death spiral they won’t escape. Even social media is changing, with Parler surpassing Twitter for downloads on mobile phones. This isn’t the way things were supposed to go.

I like to leave a little application after these monologues, and I can think of three things this time:

  1. When people tell you to listen to public health “experts” or news agencies, just ask them why. Ask them why you should trust any of them. Not in a rude way, but in a very matter-of-fact sort of way.
  2. Get a blog and accounts on the new social media websites. But don’t get off the old ones; keep posting, but make sure you keep your best content in safer places.
  3. Don’t look at bureaucrats, news anchors, or politicians as your superiors. See them as mediocrities in formerly great institutions like rats in a cathedral. Don’t hate them, but don’t trust them, and certainly don’t fear them.