The emergency staring us in the face
On reading the news with the purpose to act
There will be a coup in the U.S. in 2024, less than two years from now. That's what The Atlantic's first issue of the New Year says. The articles came out three days ago.
I'm writing to you from three days into absorbing The Atlantic's take, so, basically, writing to you live. And I'm wondering whether I will really do what I believe is right—to take action to prevent the coup and the violence that is sure to precede and follow it, perhaps for many years.
From the pieces I read or skimmed, I get the sense that there are at least two themes I could act on:
Protect the integrity of voting. Votes need to be counted and honored.
Help people who aren't Trump-people to get government offices, up and down the ballot.
They're huge goals and they’ve been of concern for… years now, but with this new perspective they feel even more urgent, and they have clear, small parts that any of us can help to do. Having sifted through the Barton Gellman and George Packer and others’ journalistic prose, I'm glad to have someplace concrete to start.
As I sifted through the articles, however, thinking about how I might write to you all about this topic, I wondered if that was a third theme for action:
Read the news for action, not only for information.
Despite having dedicated six of my working years to NPR, a remarkable mainstream news organization, I've never really gotten the hang of consuming the news. I've had streaks, where I always listened to Planet Money while folding laundry, or I read The Daily Beast’s “Cheat Sheet” or Vox Sentences every morning, or I watched John Oliver's Last Week Tonight each week when they weren't taking their rightful breaks.
Inevitably, I lapse into avoiding the news, having found the world overwhelming. There's so much wrong, so much to fix. And my high school social studies classes and alma mater's activist spirit can only motivate me so much.
I used to be ashamed for this inadequacy and wished I could find a way to rise above it. But today I’m wondering if my typically limited interaction with the news is a strength, rather than a disadvantage. When I saw the capital yellow letters—"How Donald Trump Could Subvert the 2024 Election"—in the terrifying Instagram post that teased Barton Gellman's cover article, I didn't freeze. I pushed through and I found the actions, and I shared them with you. Hell yeah.
It is nearly impossible to be a responsible citizen in a culture where the news has kept up with the speed of its technological delivery, rather than being mindful of what its consumers can meaningfully understand. I used to think that this was a problem that journalism needed to solve, but now I think we can work from both sides.
Journalists used to rush to get their story into the morning paper; now we and they are trapped on the exhausting treadmill of the 24-hour news cycle. If we're always on it, we have no time, no energy to take the action we need to create the world we want to live in.
So, I hope you will join me. When we have the energy, we can learn more about what Trump supporters are doing, and why. We can learn how we can stop them. We can learn whether these preventative actions are in progress where we live. And through local organizations and our own ingenuity, we can find actions to take, and take them.
Understanding isn't enough right now. Having an informed opinion isn't enough. I’d even say that donating alone isn’t enough. We have to step up.
If I'm consuming the news, I'm going to do it with the intention of informing my actions. And if I can't commit to more actions, instead of the news, I'm going to do something that's taking care of myself or my tiny community or is just fun.
That's what I'll be doing. Wow, I'm terrified. Literal political action is not my comfort zone. But without these actions, our future could be much worse than simply uncomfortable.
When I have more to share, I will report back on what I’m doing to resist the next coup. Hold strong, friends. Have grace. We'll need it.
Mentioned in this issue: Since The Atlantic only allows 3 articles read outside it's paywall each month, I recommend starting with Packer's more to-the-point piece from the January/February 2021 issue; Planet Money from NPR; The Daily Beast’s “Cheat Sheet;” Vox Sentences; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
PS: The title for this issue of Finding Out is a quote from Packer’s concluding paragraph.