Disney Owns a Ton of Shit, and Yes, We Should Be Concerned

If Star Wars is the analogy for Disney as a company, especially in the wake of its prospective acquisition of most of 20th Century Fox’s assets, it’s decidedly more Galactic Empire than Rebel Alliance. (Image Credit: Milli-Jane)

The Walt Disney Company was already a big deal prior to the events of the past week, but with Disney’s acquisition of most of the assets of 20th Century Fox, the corporation just became that much more monolithic. The lineup Disney now boasts in terms of the entertainment to which it has the rights is truly breathtaking, not to mention difficult to recall and enumerate. Concordant with this notion, let’s bring in Derek Thompson, editor for The Atlantic, to set the scene:

The yuletide haul includes some of the most famous properties in television and film. In the transfer of power, Disney would receive the 20th Century Fox film studio, including the independent film maestros at Fox Searchlight (Best Picture Oscar-winners include: Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman), the X-Men franchise, Fox’s television production company (worldwide hits include: The Simpsons, Modern Family, and Homeland), the FX and National Geographic cable channels, and regional sports networks, including the YES Network that broadcasts New York Yankees games. Disney also acquires a majority stake in the TV product Hulu, which it may use to kickstart its entry into the streaming wars.

These additions would enrich an overflowing treasury at Disney, whose assets includes Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, the world’s most popular amusement parks, and, of course, its classic animated-film division. When Mufasa tells Simba in The Lion King that “everything the light touches is our kingdom,” it isn’t just memorable screenwriting. It is corporate guidance.

Movies. Television dramas. Sports and nature shows. And all that merchandise. When Thompson speaks of a “haul,” he ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. So, what is the significance of this deal? To be fair, it depends on who you ask and about which aspect you are most concerned. First, let’s view this deal alongside other recent bids for corporate consolidation, for no mega-merger is made in a vacuum, of course. Just recently, CVS Health and Aetna, Inc. agreed to a $69 billion acquisition agreement, the prospects of which are concerning to any number of outside observers, including those worried about what the merger might mean for consumers. Then there is the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner, which has been challenged in court by the Justice Department. You know, not for any political reasons or anything—it’s not like President Donald Trump has had a feud with CNN that may be motivating this anti-trust challenge. The Disney-Fox merger, if it were to pass, would be the largest ever among entertainment companies. As Thompson explains, in terms of percentages, Disney would control as much as 40% of the American movie business and 40% of the U.S. television business, and potentially yet more of the sports TV landscape between ESPN and regional sports networks. As far as the rich getting richer goes, Walt Disney Co. would be like a giant cartoon octopus with its suckered arms grasping onto all sorts of revenue streams.

Derek Thompson, for his part, has a different analogy, but one that likewise reflects a sense of dread. In fact, the same article from which I’ve been pulling data and quotes alludes to it in its very title: “Everyone Should Be Very Afraid of the Disney Death Star.” As any Star Wars fan, nominal geek, or individual who has seen the first film can at least partially describe, the Death Star is a massive spherical mobile battle station armed with a super-laser capable of destroying an entire planet. Suffice to it say, then, that the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station, as it is officially designated, is indeed something to be feared. Beyond perhaps the obvious that Disney’s relative dominance in the American corporate universe makes the Death Star analogy particularly apt in light of its awe-inducing size, though, what specifically should have us shaking like the proverbial leaf?

In answering this all-important question, it makes sense to step back a bit and consider the motivations of each party in this acquisition deal. For Disney, Thompson explains, it’s about streaming content. Since 2010, in the United States, only one age group has seen an increase in watching “traditional” television: the 65+ crowd. In light of this, the future is clearly with streaming services like Netflix and other cord-cutting avenues, and for Disney to compete, it has to become big enough to have enough rights to enough content that it can hope to compare. Companies like 21st Century Fox and Time Warner, meanwhile, the prospective sellers in these purchases, see the writing on the wall when it comes to their dwindling TV ratings and unimpressive box office numbers. Rather than holding on and bracing for the inevitable job cuts to be announced and made, they’re cashing out. In the particular case of Rupert Murdoch and Fox, it will retain some assets even after Disney’s acquisition, namely FOX Broadcasting, FOX News, and various national sports networks. After all, without FOX News, where would all the angry old people go to get their politics? Shitwhat would Pres. Trump do for hours a day?

OK, now that we’ve gotten an idea of Disney’s strategy in all of this, let’s get to the implications of the move, and why people like Derek Thompson are particularly troubled by it. For Thompson, simply put, dealing with a Death Star-sized titan in the entertainment industry is going to be a nightmare for consumers, Hollywood studios, and tech companies alike. He elaborates:

If [this] sounds a little scary for television distributors, or television viewers, then good. Everybody should fear the Disney Death Star. Hollywood studios should be afraid to compete with a corporate goliath that could earn half of all domestic box office revenue in a good year. Every tech company y should be afraid to get into a content war with a company that combines the top blockbuster movie studio, with a top prestige film company, with a world-class television production company, with the most valuable franchises—Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and X-Men—in the world. And consumers should fear too; not just those who are afraid that Disney will water down artsy filmmaking (like Fox Searchlight’s Grand Budapest Hotel) and R-rated superhero films (like X-Men’s Deadpool), but also those who are afraid that too much control of any industry confers monopoly power that restricts choices, raises prices, and hurts workers.

In other words, with an effective monopoly on media content, or at least as part of an oligopoly among the other “goliaths” of the movie and television world, Disney would be able to throw its weight around, and the rest of us would likely have to pay a premium or risk missing out on what it has to offer. Viewing these sentiments alongside the recent FCC vote to repeal net neutrality, the public has every right to be worried access to content in the near future will come with a very high price attached.

For those reading who possess pre-existing knowledge of the Death Star, you may have initially taken issue with the notion that this monstrosity is something to be feared. With respect to its destructive capabilities, it has to be honored that the Death Star can blow shit up. This seems beyond question. In practice, if you will, however, the Galactic Empire’s spheroidal moon-sized battle station of choice doesn’t have a great track record. In the first film—and don’t get me started about which is Episode I or Episode IV; I mean the one that came out in 1977—the Death Star is taken out with a strategically placed shot by Luke Skywalker that travels down an exhaust vent and goes all the way down to the reactor core. Sure, Luke needs the Force to be able to guide his torpedoes down the shaft that sets off the critical blast, but in terms of a colossus like that being able to be brought down by the weaponry of one adversarial craft, such is a design flaw that seems particularly glaring, even for the likes of a brutal galactic regime that, as a function of being evil, is contractually obligated to underestimate the oppostion. In Return of the Jedi, a second Death Star is in the midst of construction, but doesn’t even make it to completion. The Death Star II—let’s call it—is apparently designed with a major weapons upgrade, but alas, the Rebels put the kibosh on it. Another reactor core explosion, another dead Death Star.

If these dadgum Death Stars are so easy to explode, why is Derek Thompson warning of potential danger? Well, Thompson is fully aware of the Death Star’s legacy of destructability, and based on this, he’s alarmed for Disney’s sake, too. From the article:

[H]ere’s the truly weird part: Disney should also be afraid of its own Death Star. (After all, the thing keeps getting blown up.) In the last fiscal year ending in October, Disney’s made $55 billion in revenue, with about 60 percent coming from television and film (the rest came from parks, resorts, and merchandise). That 60 percent is endangered: Box office ticket sales have been flat or declining for years, and television is in obvious structural decline. In many ways, the entire company’s future hinges on its ability to funnel its expansive universe of entertainment into a single direct-to-consumer stream that takes on Netflix, which already has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.

To put this another way, Disney is taking a gamble that it will be able to compete with Netflix, and with the company already so reliant on revenues from an industry on the decline, not to mention already behind the curve with respect to Netflix’s legion of subscribers, it’s not an insignificant risk. So, on one side, if Disney as the Evil Empire is successful in its bid to rival or even surpass the top dogs in the streaming world, Imperial forces will be that much better able to impose their will on the consumer and content producers alike. On the other hand, if Disney fails to upend its prospective competitors, this can mean canceled projects/divisions, lost jobs, and other negative outcomes. Who or what do we root for in this situation? A draw? For the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance to work out their differences, and maybe hug it out as an affirmation of their newfound bond? How likely does that seem?

Much about this deal is up in the air as far as we plebeians know, including whether or not the acquisition will make it past would-be government regulators in the first place. Reportedly, Amy Klobuchar and other congressional Democrats are requesting hearings about the Disney-Fox deal because of their concern about what this agreement might mean for consumers. Almost assuredly, there will be jobs lost as part of the takeover. Regarding the FOX Broadcast Network, there are presumptions that it will begin to be yet more sports- and news-oriented, potentially putting the future of original shows like Empire and Family Guy at risk. In the milieu of the silver screen, the acquisition of Blue Sky Studios will give Disney and Universal Studios a major leg up on any future competitors with respect to animated feature films. In the streaming worldthe very crux of this dealDisney will now own a majority stake in Hulu, but whether this service is to be improved or merely designed as a complement to a forthcoming new behemoth stream service of Disney’s design is likewise not clear. Amid all the excitement about the Marvel brand and the X-Men franchise being on the same ticket, so to speak, there is every probability that a Disney-Fox merger would result in much upheaval, and those concerned with antitrust matters are right to be wary of having so much power in the hands of one company.

With size and power, there is also the worry that Disney will use its newfound leverage to try to be a bully to the press. It’s not like there isn’t past precedent for this either. Disney banned Los Angeles Times critics from advanced screenings of Thor: Ragnarok because of the paper’s investigations into whether or not the Walt Disney Company is paying its fair share for the benefits it reaps based on its relationship with the city of Anaheim. Disney eventually reversed the ban, but not before a significant amount of media scrutiny and public outcry. This is a similar tone adopted by the Trump administration, one that views a free press as the enemy and seeks to silence or otherwise delegitimize the news media that dares to turn a critical lens on any of its misdeeds. Speaking of Trump, he happens to be a good friend of Rupert Murdoch’s, and as we know, is an avid watcher of FOX News. That the Justice Department swooped in to legally challenge the AT&T-Time Warner deal and has seemingly not met the proposed Disney-Fox merger with the same antitrust zeal is definitely bad optics, and very well may belie a streak of favoritism that already plagues the current administration.

Josh Spiegel, co-host of a Disney movie podcast and writing for /Film, shares the sense of pessimism Derek Thompson and others feel surrounding this deal, and as a Disney fan, his troubled outlook is as spiritually-minded as anything else. Using the setting of Pixar’s WALL-E as an all-too-appropriate metaphor, he writes:

A couple years after Disney bought Pixar, the animation studio released one of its best films, WALL-E. That film doesn’t spend a ton of time on describing how the remaining vestiges of the human race became so fat that they couldn’t walk around on their own two feet. We just see plenty of happy, wildly unhealthy humans rolling around on floating recliners on an outer-space cruise ship as they enjoy the spoils of what appears to be the only corporation left in humanity: Buy-n-Large. The few shots we see of abandoned BNL stores call to mind the Super Targets or Wal-Marts that appear in various metropolitan markets around the country. But BNL’s influence extends beyond the superstores of the 21st century; the last footage we see of a live-action president (played by Fred Willard) suggests that he was part of the BNL corporation as well as being a politician. By the time that WALL-E finds himself on the cruise ship Axiom, there’s no separation between BNL (referred to in a nursery overseen by robots as “your very best friend”) and any of the services offered on the ship or even the clothes the humans wear.

Disney is not at the level of BNL…yet. One of the side stories of Disney buying Fox is that its current CEO Robert Iger will extend his term at the top of the company through 2021, meaning that those pervasive rumors earlier this year about him running for President in 2020 are now moot. But it’s hard not to see some parallels between the rise of Disney over the last decade-plus (there was once a time when they didn’t even own Pixar, let alone Lucasfilm, Marvel, or Fox) and a massive conglomerate like BNL. Disney does not have superstores like the BNLs of the real world, but its products are everywhere to a point of maddening ubiquity. It’s not like Disney buying Fox would be the first time they’ve expanded their growth, but this time, it suggests something more disquieting and engulfing.

For all its cute cartoon characters and heart-warming tales, the Walt Disney Co. itself is not the underdog we traditionally like to root for in the stories it sells. It is a Goliath intent on churning out blockbusters and selling truckloads of toys, dolls, and other merchandise, and this promotes real trepidation among those who enjoy products outside the Disney vanguard. As noted, it’s troubling to fans of various programs aired on Fox, in that Fox might be envisioning a strategic shift and Disney might not have any use for them, imperiling their future. From a cinematic perspective, 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight have produced material that is geared toward adults and has garnered its fair share of critical praise and recognition from the Academy, but there exists the fear herein as well that their releases will become watered down, or otherwise will fail to be prioritized in Disney’s money-making enterprise. Meanwhile, in the streaming wars, who knows what a Disney-vs.-Netflix battle might look like? There is every reason to worry the relative dominance heretofore of Hulu and Netflix in the streaming market will allow them to put the squeeze on we consumers. Perhaps the existence of competing services like DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and Sony PlayStation Vue as well as the growing demand “among cord-cutters” will be strong enough to counteract such a trend. Perhaps not.

Assuming the acquisition will be allowed to pass, Disney will own even more shit than it already does. For consumers, content providers, Disney fans, and arguably the Walt Disney Company itself, this is something of which to be afraid. After all, empires fall, and even Death Stars have been known to explode from time to time.


Beat the Press: America’s News Media Under Attack (Literally)

“I will literally slap anyone who asks me a question about our botched raid in Yemen.” (Photo Credit: JStone/Shutterstock.com)

For better or worse, I seldom give updates to specific stories I reference in my posts. Usually, I’m more concerned with the overarching theme as opposed to the nuts and bolts of these events; if you want the news, Lord knows there are any number of services that can give you up-to-the-minute headlines and analysis. Besides this, I tend to be more forward-oriented in my thinking. Again, this may be for better or for worse; while this gives me direction, I may lack for a more historical perspective, a notion aided by my relative inexperience in these matters. In this instance, however, I’ll make an exception, because it’s relevant. Remember when last we left Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, who managed to defeat upstart Democratic challenger Ron Quist despite, you know, body-slamming a reporter on the eve of the special election? Gianforte was arrested and charged based on his conduct—alas, insincere apologies don’t suffice in the court of law—but after pleading guilty to the assault, Gianforte was sentenced only to 40 hours of community service, a $385 fine, and some anger management classes. A figurative slap on the wrist after grabbing Ben Jacobs, reporter for the Guardian, by the neck with both hands, slamming him to the ground, and proceeding to punch him. Oh, and after a civil settlement with Jacobs and an admission of fabricating his account that the reporter was the aggressor. That Greg Gianforte—what a standup guy after assaulting someone and blaming him for it first. I’m sure he’ll make a great representative for the people of Montana.

Ben Jacobs, to his credit, says he hopes to one day interview Gianforte and also expects him to be a “strong advocate for a free press and for the First Amendment.” Not sure if he’s trolling Greg Gianforte by saying as much, but dude just got assaulted, so let him have his moment, OK? Still, it’s not all puppy dogs and sunshine in the aftermath. For one, Jacobs correctly pointed to the idea that Gianforte initially lied about the affair in a “defamatory public statement.” In some respects, this may even be considered worse than the physical abuse, and certainly, a case of adding insult to injury. But Jacobs also saw his incident as one in a series of disturbing encounters between political candidates and the press, and used a platform he never sought to address this unnerving trend. From Jacobs’ statement to the court:

If this incident were simply between myself and the Congressman-elect, that would be one thing. But it’s had national ramifications on our politics and our culture. While I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common. In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop.

There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society. However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I just hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system.

“This needs to stop.” Hmm, quite a different tone conveyed by the likes of Ben Jacobs as opposed to, say, the putative leader of the free world. If people like Jacobs are aiming to be the angel on the shoulder of political discourse in the United States of America and abroad, then Donald Trump is the unrepentant orange-faced devil on the other shoulder, stoking the fires of discontentment among his supporters and his detractors alike, and setting his crosshairs on the mere concept of the free press. In just a short time as President, Trump has exhibited a pathological willingness to not only throw people close to him under the metaphorical bus, but to get behind the wheel and grind them into the pavement for good measure. The media, derisively referred to by the catch-all “fake news,” is a special project for Pres. Trump, particularly because an unbiased and inquisitive press is his worst nightmare. His dealings with Russia, his defrauding of investors, his umpteen ethical conflicts, his unwillingness to release his tax returns, his past degrading comments about women, his lies upon lies upon lies—I could devote an entire post to the topic of Trump and his administration’s malfeasances, but that strikes me as not only relentlessly aggravating, but boring as shit, too—these are details that eat away at his credibility, his vague air of mystique as the consummate deal-maker, his cult of personality. So, what does Donald Trump do because he must? Undermine the institution that possesses the greatest threat to this identity, an identity built on exaggeration, fabrication, falsehood, and misdirection. Thus, the mainstream media becomes “fake news.” The “enemy of the American people.” Hell, Greg Gianforte wasn’t committing a crime and lying about it to try to save face—he was doing us a valuable service! That man is a goddamn hero!

To my knowledge, Donald Trump hasn’t physically battered a member of the press. (For those Trump resisters among us, no, even this probably wouldn’t get him impeached at the rate we’re going.) Then again, he has all but undressed a representative of the news media during a press conference—recall his shouting at CNN’s Jim Acosta, referring to his employer as “fake news,” and refusing to answer his question. Even if we’re relegating the discussion to instances of bodily injury, though, while Trump may not be the one pulling the trigger, as many would assert, he has repeatedly loaded the gun, cocked the hammer, put it in the hands of someone with the intent to do harm, and pointed him or her in the direction of the target.

See, Ben Jacobs isn’t the only one who sees a danger in the making in the tone set by #45 vis-à-vis the press. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, details, press advocates view Donald Trump’s rhetoric and incidents like the Gianforte-Jacobs encounter as interrelated, and as you might expect, there are plenty of instances of aggression against journalists to go around. Farhi recounts four of these recent examples of confrontations between politicians and reporters: 1) Nathaniel Herz, reporter for the Alaska Dispatch News, was slapped by state Sen. David Wilson as he was trying to question him in the state capitol; 2) CQ Roll Call‘s John Donnelly was pinned against a wall by security guards when trying to question FCC chair Ajit Pai and commissioner Michael O’Rielly; 3) Dan Heyman of Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested trying to get a response from Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway; and 4) the Greg Gianforte episode.

These all occurred within the span of a month, no less, and this quartet doesn’t even include events like Corey Lewandowski, then-campaign-manager for Donald Trump, grabbing and bruising the arm of former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields when she tried to ask the Republican presidential nominee a question, or Michael Grimm, state representative from New York, threatening to throw NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony and break him in half “like a boy.” These are the sorts of happenings that were rarer once upon a time and should be rarer across the American political landscape—and yet they are shockingly and unsettlingly common in our present recollection. This is what happens when you say that members of the news media are among the most dishonest people on Earth and publicly call on them to be jailed. Lock her up! Lock them up! Never mind that our jails are overcrowded! Nothing says “democracy” and “freedom” like putting folks behind bars!

Arguing and providing “alternative facts” against the clear visual evidence the size of his inauguration crowd paled in comparison to Barack Obama’s. Barring journalists from events at his various resorts. Discussing effectively evicting the press corps from the White House. Insulting various news outlets on Twitter and to their face. Suggesting The New York Times and other purveyors of the news have been inciting protests against him. Traveling without reporters on trips outside the White House in violation of protocol. This is the state of journalism under President Donald J. Trump, and that there is neither a greater sense of solidarity among members of the press to stand up for their beaten and berated comrades, nor that much of a sense of disgust or outrage from the American public when these scenarios do play out, is—ahem—some scary shit. Granted, media outlets are jockeying for ratings and subscriptions and clicks, and overall, there has been an erosion of confidence within the public concerning various institutions. Even so, the war on the media and on exercise of free speech without fear of rebuke or threat of violence perpetrated by #45 is particularly frightening because it is not what we would consider a hallmark of an ideal democracy, let alone America’s brand of democracy.

With this in mind, while not merely to overstate the case of Trump and Co. murdering the First Amendment, and while, relatively speaking, the state of reporting in the United States of America is still superior to that of any number of countries, it still may be instructive to take a gander at the situations in some of those more restrictive nations and begin to comprehend what Trump’s actions and rhetoric, if left unchecked, could do the freedom of the press in the U.S. At the very least, this should help convey the sense of importance of upholding the journalistic latitude members of the news media are currently afforded. Back in January, Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, analyzed Pres. Trump’s leadership style both in terms of historical analogs and other present-day paradigms marked by a restrictiveness, if not a downright hostility, toward members of the press. On the historical front, Khazan referenced a study conducted by political science professor Kirk Hawkins at BYU of over 100 current and former world leaders across more than 70 countries. Within the study, which looked at leaders defined as “populists”—”charismatic leaders who portrayed the world as a clash between a downtrodden ‘people’ and a conspiring elite”—and spanned the period from 2000 to the present, Hawkins found that the longer these types of figures are in power, the more freedom of the press tends to decline. Thus, for the moment, someone like Trump calling the news the enemy of the American people/the “opposition” and specific media outlets “garbage” is still uncommon, and for some, even patently laughable. Over the long haul, however? Trump’s fixation on the media’s desire to engage in a “witch hunt” against him (a bit of the, ahem, pot calling the kettle black, but you know—that’s our Donald), to his most ardent supporters, may be a rallying cry to defend his honor. Hey, he’s already got Republican figures such as Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich in his corner. Who’s to say others won’t join in the fray, incensed by how the President is being treated so “unfairly?”

As for current challenges faced by journalists in countries known for suppression of the free flow of information, Olga Khazan relies on anecdotes from reporters who have met with adversity in such foreign lands, and who perhaps were not afforded the same courtesy and protections traditionally enjoyed by members of the news media in America. Ways in which members of the press have been intimidated and outright threatened include being arrested and jailed, held at gunpoint by gangs sympathetic to the populist government, or simply fired, in the case of state-controlled media. When the specter of violence is not the modus operandi, stall tactics may suffice; in China and Russia, for instance, reporters often only have access to officials via a fax—and that is liable to go unanswered, to boot. Through their struggles to access information, Khazan notes, these reporters have, through necessity, come up with some pretty ingenuous ways of gaining access to begin with. I’ll spare you the details, but the point is this: American journalists might learn a thing or two about trying to do their jobs in the age of President Trump. As is abundantly clear, the availability and candor of politicians at every level of government is far from a guarantee. For that matter, the same applies for these reporters’ safety.

The notion of a press under attack by politicians both here and abroad takes on added significance in light of recent events, specifically that of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, while practicing for a congressional baseball game. At this writing, Scalise was yet in critical condition, but improving. A lot of commentary has been made on talk shows, on social media, and otherwise concerning the idea that Rep. Scalise and others were assaulted by James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer. A lot of it, unfortunately, has not been good. Outlets like The New York Times and CNN wasted little time making the connection between Sanders and this act of violence. You saw those leftists threaten to burn the building down at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention in the primary season! They’re a bunch of loose cannons! If they all had guns, who knows what havoc they might try to wreak in the name of socialism! Just as all Muslims are not terrorists, not all Sanders supporters have a latent bloodlust lurking deep down in their psyches. Also, as usual, you had the familiar talking points about gun control. He was deranged and should’ve never had a gun. Maybe if everyone had a gun there at the field, this could have been avoided. Really, we need to address the issue of mental health before we talk about gun control. Stop. This is not a forum for the merits and demerits of gun law reform, though this is an important subject, nor is it a discussion of mental health, though this is also an important subject. Hodgkinson supported Bernie and had a gun. He could’ve been a Hillary supporter. He could have been wielding a knife or throwing rocks.

The who and how, I would argue, don’t matter nearly as much as the why or even the what. “What,” as in, “What the hell is going on here?” This violence levied against elected officials is to be condemned regardless of political affiliation, but I see the attacks on the media and the attack on Steve Scalise as two sides of the same bloody coin. When anger, hate, and mistrust pervade our political discourse, fueling the fire of discord, it is only natural that this blaze continues to consume everything in its path. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. Mistrust begets mistrust. And yes, violence begets violence—I firmly believe that. Sure, it would be irrational to say an event like the assault on Ben Jacobs caused the shooting of Scalise. These are isolated events. And yet, they seem to come from the same place, spiritually speaking. In the Trump era, unless you believe what the President is selling—and this requires more and more ideological/moral gymnastics as we go along—I feel as if there is no true happiness. There is anger, there is despair, there is embarrassment, there is fear, there is sadness—and only temporary relief when something like the travel ban is struck down. As one of my friends from a separate chapter of Our Revolution put the feeling, it’s like being in a nightmare every bleeping day without being able to wake up from it. Donald Trump is President of the United States of America. There is nothing we can do about it. May God have mercy on all our souls.

On this sobering note, if nothing we do matters concerning Donald Trump’s impeachment—and if you ask me, that’s not even all that great a prize considering Mike Pence would succeed him—does this mean we should abandon all hope and do nothing? Of course not. There are any number of causes in which to invest oneself as part of the Resistance, replete with lawmakers to petition and marches to attend. Fighting for the sanctity of the First Amendment, and materially supporting journalists and the publications they represent, too, are such an issue around which to rally. Support your local newspaper, especially if you’re like me and take issue with the accountability of the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post (and they are probably the best of the bunch!). Champion the value of good investigative journalism, and share informative pieces with people you know. Especially, um, that aunt or uncle who’s a registered Republican and feels the need to argue with you on whether or not climate change exists. You know the one.

Simply put, information is power, and to fail support a free press, a key cog in a truly democratic society, is an abdication of your responsibility to participate as an American. Moreover, it’s exactly what the knuckleheads in government want, in particular, Trump: for you to become disengaged from what is going on so that they can less visibly advance their agenda which favors donors and other special interests before authentically representing you. The Post has more recently adopted the slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” It may seem melodramatic to some, but I, for one, agree wholeheartedly. There is a dark cloud hanging over the state of journalism and political coverage today, one that has led to hostility and violence. If we do not stand with the news media as they continue to come under attack, that cloud stands to blot out the sun completely.