In a time when the American news media focused on reporting facts, rather than entertaining the public, iconic broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite made a comment about American values and education that seems even more powerful today. Averred Cronkite, ""[w]hatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."
Indeed, as "the most trusted man in America" well understood, nothing is more costly to a democratic society than ignorance. We are seeing this on a daily basis today in the U.S. Much of the violence Americans are seeing is a product of ignorance, as is much of the rhetoric accepted by supporters of the GOP.
Donald Trump's apparent ignorance about topics ranging from economics to international affairs has been well documented, but far more troubling is the ignorance of his followers, who do not appear to have the critical thinking skills or perhaps simply the reliable information necessary to see ignorance, lies, and twisted truths when they encounter them.
The fear mongering that Trump has succeeded in using to gain supporters can be successful only in a society governed not by information and intelligence, but by fear and ignorance. Unfortunately, the GOP's leadership champions ignorance and distortion of fact.
When candidates make ridiculous claims such as Ben Carson's publicly expressed view that the Pyramids of Giza were not tombs, but grain silos built by the Biblical son of Jacob to get ready for the famine in Genesis or when Donald Trump comments about Ted Cruz's father on the basis of a report from the National Enquirer, it's a symptom of deeper problems. Such comments would not be taken seriously by a public that was well informed and would be immediately refuted by party leadership, unless of course that leadership is itself stunningly ignorant or cynically willing to turn a deaf ear on the dangers of ignorance and lies in order to gain power.
Nor would these types of comments gain any traction if the news media uniformly called them out on the grounds that they lack verity. As it stands, only parts of the news media see their job as upholding truth.
The Washington Post clearly is one media outlet that recognizes its responsibility in the American democratic system. It just published a full-page editorial on the dangers of a Trump presidency. The newspaper notes that Mr. Trump's ignorance, arrogance, and aggressiveness combined with his "politics of denigration and division" present a clear threat to the American democratic system.
This is correct, but the threat is really much more pernicious. The true danger to American democracy lies in a significant portion of the voting public that lacks the ability or information necessary to recognize what a threat Mr. Trump actually represents. Rather than drawing support, his wanton disregard for facts and open ignorance of the Constitution as noted by the Post should send a shiver through anyone invested in democracy.
Americans are faced with a very serious choice this November. In the past, whether Republican or Democrat, it has seemed clear that presidential candidates have shared a commitment to protecting the Constitution and democratic values, even if their specific ideas about how best to protect those things vary. It is not at all clear that Mr. Trump shares that commitment.
It's a sad reality that the U.S. has arrived at this point, but we are here and it is time for those who support truth, facts, and intelligence -- whether they are conservatives or liberals -- to work hard to protect American democracy. The November election is nothing less than a vote on the future of that democratic system.
If we fail, and elect Mr. Trump, we face a very real possibility of paying that hefty price Walter Cronkite warned us to avoid. Whether it is through libraries, schools, or the media, there is nothing more important than ensuring that our society is well informed and able to recognize genuine threats to democracy, particularly when they come in the guise of claims to make America great again.
As a journalist, Mr. Cronkite recognized his most important job was not to entertain but to educate the public. As members of the Fourth Estate, journalists today need to, perhaps more than ever, recognized that their job is to protect democracy by informing the public. The Washington Post took this responsibility very seriously; one would hope that other news outlets follow their lead.