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Democracy is on fire. Consider this your wake-up call.

Updated: Mar 30

For the better half of a decade now, I have had friends, some family members and even casual acquaintances give me the same excuse. Maybe you’ve heard it, too.


It goes something like this: You know the news is really depressing and I just can’t handle it, so I have just quit watching.


Or folks will say: For the sake of my mental health, I have stopped watching the news.

I chomp down hard on my tongue, fighting the urge to respond with a cliché: Ignorance is bliss.


As a person who reads, reports and is immersed in the news, politics and intricacies of government and the worldwide attack on democratic values, I understand. It is a lot to handle.


I understand that some people are working so much, trying to stay in a house, feed a family or put gas in the tank they may not have time. But that alone should tell us about the state of our country when survival means we can’t even participate in the democratic process.


I understand the dark headspace a person can occupy after consuming a steady diet of news that seems to indicate a growing danger of authoritarianism; of a broken political system that continues to perpetuate dysfunction instead of listening to a public hungry for cooperation and solutions; of one global crisis after another; and of a global climate catastrophe so profound it threatens the very existence of the human species.


Heavy? Like a 40-ton weight bearing down on us.


I realize that writing a column in a news publication about the folks who have tuned out of the news cycle is like trying to sell a semi-truck to a bunch of biking enthusiasts — probably not exactly the right audience. However, this column is about outreach, and a plea to pull your family, friends and colleagues back into the process.


It’s time for folks who have taken a news time-out to come back. It’s time to start paying attention again.


I can’t deny the polarization or the toxicity of the headlines. Those news stories and reports aren’t the fever-dreams of some amped up journalist competing for your attention, they’re merely a reflection of the dangerous and uncharted political territory we’ve slipped, then sunk, into. Quite frankly, that’s why we need every citizen’s help.


As polls show support for President Joe Biden slipping, former President Donald Trump surges in popularity despite the growing reality that he may be prison bound. Undeterred, he continues to outline a plan for a return to power that attacks his enemies and seeks retribution for perceived political persecution, undermining the very foundation of American democracy.


If folks are really so displeased with Biden, a man who has steadily tried to steer the country back to stabilization, this is the perfect time to demand a change: Through the primary electoral process.


And if folks on the other side of the political spectrum decide to go a different way than by selecting a man facing 91 felony charges, who is flirting with imprisonment not for any of those charges, but because he can’t quit jeopardizing his own trials by his posts on social media or his grandstanding on TV, it’s also an opportune time to make a change.


But folks, the most recent rhetoric from Trump during, ahem Veterans Day, had him fully confessing what he’d do if re-elected: Rounding up every conceivable group of enemies, perceived or otherwise, and either jailing them or trying to get rid of them. He used the term “vermin” most recently when describing his enemies, a rhetorical flourish notable because it was one that Adolf Hitler and other authoritarian leaders have used to vilify their enemies, making them seem somehow less human.


I can no longer accept that people are too tender, too busy or have somehow risen above the news cycle. For those of us who never left, it’s exhausting and unfair.


There are many who have decided, despite a news cycle that seems like some kind of twisted déjà vu all over again, that we would remain engaged, following the rattling wheels of American democracy and crumbling stability on a global level.


It’s time to get educated about the issues, understand what the leaders are saying, brush up on the constitution, and demand accountability from leaders in both parties. It’s time to demand straight answers from politicians who have been given a free pass to say only what they want with virtually no consequence from voters. It’s time to re-establish the principle of cooperation and bipartisanship in order to get work accomplished — a message so simple that we teach it to our children in pre-school and then tolerate our highest elected officials who brag about their unbending, inflexible approach to working collaboratively.


We need the adults in the room who could plunge into a sea of Netflix-induced fantasy or reality television that bears no semblance to what is actually happening to come back and spend time researching issues, speaking up and working to reset the country’s trajectory. If that doesn’t happen, the days where you can tune out and go about your own life, blissfully unaware of the struggles in your own city or state, may be coming to an end.


Come back, if not for those of us who have been watching this slow-motion implosion of democracy, then come back for your children or family. Or because this nation was founded upon the radical ideal that everyone should participate by voting therefore, everyone has an obligation to be an informed, engaged citizen. That’s not just part of our Constitution, it’s part of our American DNA.


Let me be the first to say: Welcome back. We’re glad you’re here.


Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: info@dailymontanan.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

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