It seems that once prominent, briefly but apparently not permanently disgraced, and still popular news anchor Brian Williams has announced his retirement from broadcasting. In doing so, on his last night on the air, he issued a valediction on the state of the nation in which he said, in part ( or, perhaps, this is the whole of it)…
“I’m an institutionalist. I believe in this place. And in my love of my country, I yield to no one.But the darkness on the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods. It is now at the local bar, and the bowling alley, the school board, and the grocery store. And it must be acknowledged and answered for. Grown men and women who swore an oath to our Constitution, elected by their constituents, possessing the kinds of college degrees I could only dream of, have decided to join the mob and become something they are not while hoping we somehow forget who they were.They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside. This should scare you to no end as much as it scares an aging volunteer fireman.”
Now, I have pondered these remarks (as transcribed and posted on Facebook by former colleagues in the news business). Many former news colleagues somehow find in them a crystal-clear indictment of –someone or some many unnamed someones (aka, “the mob”), many of them apparently elected officials. But what of the darkness he perceives spilling into “the local bar, and the bowling alley, the school board, the grocery store?” What’s he talking about? For my part I find it far too, no doubt deliberately, oblique to be more than a generalized indictment of some segment of the American populus and political class, offered in kind of a “you know who I’m talking about” over-the-back-fence bit of gossip to like-minded neighbors regarding other neighbors down the street. I say this while not denying the darkness –and division — abounding in the American neighborhood. I might have a different idea about its source. When he mentions the school board, for instance, is the darkness there being generated by the board members or the agrieved parents standing before that board? Also, he seems to be confusedly conflating their concerns and actions with those of unnamed elected officials.
But let’s cut to the heart of the matter. He’s fairly obviously talking about those elected officials and citizens who support or supported Donald Trump. And if he sees darkness, where does he see light — or enlightenment? I’ll bet we could guess. Perhaps Brian and many like him in the media are incapable of seeing how many middle class citizens feel their families and their values being darkened over by “woke” culture. Millions, but not all of them, sought refuge — or warded off the dreadful alternative (Hillary Clinton, et al.) by voting for Trump.
I fear the darkness Brian Williams sees might attributable to his own blindness.
Therefore, I could not resist adding my two cents to a Facebook thread in which multiple people were affirming Williams. Specifically, I made a reply — over long and probably unread. I was, at the outset, picking up on the skeptical observations made by some on that thread noting that Williams had lost his position as NBC main anchor after inexplicably but obviously lying about and over-inflating his actions while covering the Middle East War.
So I wrote:
We must not succumb to the fallicy of judging a person’s words on an ad hominen basis, i.e.,declaring them invalid merely because the person who spoke them is guilty of mendacity in some other area of their lives. But I think we need to cast a cold eye on the substance of this particular man’s testimonial and all the affirmations that follow in this thread, simply because so much is implied, certain terms and assertions probably deliberately ill-defined. For instance, the reference to joining “the mob.” Which “mob” is he talking about? Is it the one that stormed the Capitol, members of which are being vigorously prosecuted and whose motives rigorously explored in committee? Or is it the multitudes of thugs, arsonists and murderous vandals who pillaged and terrorized our cities last summer and who have largely gone unprosecuted and whose motives are more or less assumed to be uniformly justified if not noble?
The former mob action — on the Capitol — could be seen as an assault on Constitutional order and the peaceful transition of power,the latter — on American cities — as an all-out assault on the rule of law, and Constitutional order. Both are threats to the republic, and to democracy.
We’ve taken to using the “dog whistles” metaphor in our current national debates over assorted vexed issues. I hear in Williams’s words a dog whistle to only one side of the debate over Constitutional order.
I did not, in fact, “hear” or actually watch Brian Williams’ farewell; I have not seen him since he disappeared from the nightly news; didn’t know he’d been rehabilitated to this degree, didn’t care about him one way or the other. God love him, I wish him well. We all make mistakes. (Of course, I suspect we are quickest to forgive those puiblic figures with whom we agree politically. That goes for Trump and Trump supporters as well. Donald Trump’s actions, or lack of action — last January 6th was disgraceful and, in this instance, worthy of impeachment.)
I could be wrong here, and perhaps the elected officials Williams is singling out include the likes of Bernie Sanders, AOC and the rest of those office-holders whose idea of democracy seems decidedly skewed to the far left, even toward socialism. Of course, I think this highly unlikely. And I admit that another of my own predispositions kicks in when I hear oracular proclamations from “mainstream” (i.e. NBC, ABC, CBS) national news anchors who are almost without exception manifestly, if not overtly liberal and for whom, in my estimate, self-delusion and smug self-importance are occupational hazards. The same could be said, of course, for conservative commentator/anchors. And my own judgement might be unfair in Williams’s case, since I did not hear the tone in which his velediction was offered, or hear or read it in its entirely or in context. I’ll assume it was characterized by sincerity and humility. I speak here only of the verbal substance of what Robin (my Facebook friend) posted and and that, above, I have reproduced.
But my own final judgement is that this amounted to an only slightly veiled sortie on Trump supporters that leaves completely unsullied those who ravaged our nation this year in the name of “justice.” And, while I’m at it, here’s just one something the odious figure named Trump said that cannot be dismissed on an ad hominem basis merely because he said it — that a nation without borders ceased to be a nation. That, among many other issues, might have been on the minds of the multitude of non-rioting, non-violent citizens who turned out for HIS valediction and farewell, just as justice for George Floyd and reform of police might have been on the minds of millions who did not join in the wanton destruction of our cities this year. (Added note: the legitimacy of the last electon was also a major, in fact probably the preeminent issue rousing the main body of the more violent Capitol mob, and I disagree with them, while myself knowing reasonable law-abiding citizens who still question the results.)
So — a pox on the houses of all bad people on both sides, right? But let’s consider the possibility that the intense political/cultural hurly-burly besetting our nation right now might reflect the unavoidable sausage-making nature of democracy. With Brian Williams, we should remain “institutionalists” and lovers of America.
Again, good luck to Brian Williams. He endured disgrace, lost his exalted old position but nonetheless enjoyed an professional afterlife and redemption with multitudes. Things like that happen in America among the fair-minded.
But I’ll only add — he never in this valediction, so far as I know, scrutinized the role of the media in our current state of darkness and division.
That might be the source of the darkness — not at the edges, but in the heart of town.