Here is a tree. It is straight and tall. It blooms in the spring and bears lovely gold leaves in the fall.
It has a name. I enjoy its shade and its graceful sway when the wind blows. It’s real it’s solid — and it’s true.
In this foggy time of COVID and political transformations, we face daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) information invasions that define (distort) our view of what is real and truthful. My tree doesn’t move, but it does transform; it will eventually die, and another will grow in its place.
Cultural and political changes are not so predictable or kind.
My recollections go back to those halcyon days when Dwight Eisenhower was President, and my world was secure and straightforward. Nearly everyone in Congress, the President included, had served in World War II.
The value of a military record was an essential part of a successful politician’s credentials. In the 1950s, all adults had memories of life during wartime, either on foreign soil or the home front where food was rationed, Victory Gardens were commonplace, and many citizens had invested in the war’s success by purchasing bonds and saying goodbye to loved ones.
The peace of the 50s was the earned reward for their sacrifices. Korea and the threat of spreading communism was a long way away from our lives.
Serious newsmen like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley brought us news of such things. During the 1940s and 1950s, journalistic standards were sacrosanct. Reporting the facts was paramount. Vetted sources were vetted — mistakes were both noted and corrected.
Opinions were separated from news. There were few television stations and one, possibly two, daily local newspapers. Even the New York Times was considered a local paper. There was no USA Today.
Then came the 1960s. The Baby Boomer generation, coming of age in the post-war era, asked, “Why are we living this way?” The restrained, conservative world of post-war America slowly disintegrated. Young people demanded more freedom in politics, culture, and society.
The 60s also brought key legislation that transformed some progressive social concepts into law: Medicare, Medicaid, and Civil Rights. It was a violent decade, too, with protests against both school integration and the Vietnam War. Even discarding Betty Crocker’s pearls for tie-dyed miniskirts brought controversy.
Old notions don’t die quickly. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; his brother was killed in 1968, the same year civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, was also assassinated.
Whereas Walter Cronkite’s announcement of President Kennedy’s death was sad yet calm, Dr. King’s death was met with an outpouring of long-simmering rage and frustration.
We realized politicians lie to us: Consider the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Iran-Contra.
Undercover reporting brought to light the Pentagon Papers and the Woodward/Bernstein investigations.
The expansion of cable television brought more choices of news sources. Ted Turner launched CNN on June 1, 1980, creating the 24-hour news cycle. Multiple news and entertainment channels followed.
“Reality television” was introduced. It was inexpensive to produce, and viewers loved it. The 1990s marked the start of the internet boom, followed by the social media explosion a decade later. Digital technology now makes it much easier to distort pictures and create whole new realities. Social media is designed to grab attention and inflame with little regard for whether the underlying facts are accurate.
It is easy to distort reality and build one lie upon another. With each historical progression, we have strayed farther from being able to tell truth from fiction.
So, I focus on this tree.
It is imperfect and beautiful. The seasons will come and go, and the tree will change. At some point, it will die. I will mourn the loss, but a new tree will replace it that will grow and transform my worldview.
The tree is simple and true — or as close to the truth as it’s possible to get.