Turn off the TV

Grandma Ann and Grandpa Red

When I was little, Grandpa Red got addicted to CBS soaps because CBS was the only channel that came in without static. He would park himself in front of the old Magnavox, with its tin-foiled rabbit ears, and watch The Young and The Restless, As the World Turns and The Guiding Light, scolding the female characters as if they could hear him. “You old witch, having an affair with a married man,” he might say, or “Go on, dress like that and get what’s coming!” and worse. Much, much worse.

Grandpa was a resentful, angry man, which he often took out on grandma in both word and deed, and watching his soaps every day, right on schedule, kept the devil awake in him.

I often hear that, because I am a Democrat, I am evil. I have a “radical left agenda,” someone might say, a “woke” woman focused on “pronouns” who wants to “defund the police” with “cancel culture” while giving away “free money” to people who aren’t “real Americans.”

To which I say please, turn off the TV.

In “The Unwinding: An inner history of the new America,” National Book Award winner George Packer describes how, decades ago, Newt Gingrich realized voters “got their politics on TV, and they were not persuaded by policy descriptions or rational arguments. They responded to symbols and emotions. Thy were growing more partisan, too, living in districts that were increasingly Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Donors were more likely to send money if they could be frightened or angered, if the issues were framed as simple choices between good and evil.”

Gingrich was famous for sending memos and cassette tapes to fellow Republicans with lists of words to use in speeches and on TV to indoctrinate the masses: betray, cheat, corrupt, destroy, disgrace, elite, evil, gay, liberal, radical, sick, soft, status, taxes, welfare, to name a few.

It worked. It continues to work.

A few weeks ago, my dad called at 6:30 a.m. to wish me happy birthday and, no joke, it went something like, happy birthday, do you know that monkey pox is another gay thing, drugs are pouring over the border because Biden is soft, China is taking over our country, and the woke liberal elites do nothing but give away free money?

My dad watches Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. Can you tell? And by God, is he mad.

The same goes for CNN and MSNBC, albeit with better facts. These people are not there to give you news, they are there to entertain you, to keep your eyes on their channel, to make money. As Appalachian writer Skyler Baker-Jordan put it, “Cable news is basically ESPN for politics, but with a fewer ethics and higher stakes.”

Cable news anchors make millions using Gringrich-isms every night to keep their audiences angry and tuned in, groaning of late about the forgiveness of predatory student loan debt. Funny, I do not recall them mentioning men like Oklahoma GOP Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who received more than $1.4 million in forgiven PPP loans. Or Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania who tweeted, “Asking plumbers and carpenters to pay off the loans of Wall Street advisors and lawyers isn’t just unfair. It’s also bad policy,” after he received $987,237 in PPP loans, also forgiven.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on TV last week, “We will fight the woke in our businesses, we will fight the woke in government agencies, we will fight the woke in our schools, we will never, ever surrender to the woke agenda.” Mr. Gingrich sure would be proud of his boy.

I have been told that, because I am a liberal, I want to “defund the police,” even as I have lunch with the Lawrenceburg Police Department once a month or so. I love those guys. I support them. Ask a local police officer if I want to defund them.

I am often told I am “woke” and “radical,” the irony being I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I believe all Americans deserve private, affordable, accessible healthcare, that good teachers are like gold, and that all human beings are equal and deserve care and respect. If this is woke and radical, I’ll take it. Jesus was radical. What might some Christians think of him today?

And can someone explain how it is wrong to support those in marginalized communities like LGBTQ who are so often the subject of ridicule and cruelty? I would particularly like an answer to this question from local pastors who preach about the “evil” of being homosexual, that “Disney is coming for your children,” and that we are currently in a “civil war” against the other side.

Is this what Jesus would do? It seems some pastors would do well to turn off their TVs, too.

When I remember Grandpa Red, I see him sitting in his chair, eyes glued to his TV, spitting a stream of epithets like curare darts at female soap opera characters, angry at the world. He kept a giant, heavy roll of white butcher’s paper in the corner, and during the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., as he watched his soaps, he would roll the end of the butcher paper up onto a TV table, open his Bible, and meticulously copy verses in black ballpoint, with the zeal of a student, in the perfect penmanship of the architect he never got to be.