How to survive this election year

By now, you’re probably aware that later this year, we’ll be having a national election that will decide who occupies the White House, who controls the Senate and House, and who gets to address our current issues (world strife, huge deficits, climate change, political polarization, domestic terrorism, racism, financial inequality, healthcare reform, educational funding, the war on women).

But, you ask, what does that have to do with me and my desire to remain sane and not rip my ears off and tear out my eyeballs? Glad you asked.

The current 24/7 news cycle makes it very difficult to stay informed in an even-handed way while maintaining sanity. When I was young and first in the news business, the idea of 24-hour news was just getting started with CNN.

In those days, you got a morning or afternoon daily newspaper, listened to news on the radio or watched the six o’clock news after work, or caught up at 11 p.m. as you were nodding off. Most news was fairly even-keeled and objectivity was in fashion for most news professionals.

What that really meant was that you were not bombarded constantly with information of dubious quality, by hyper-partisan sources with agendas that had nothing to do with objective journalism. So how do you manage to stay informed with today’s spewing fire-hose of daily media insanity? Well, it’s possible with a couple of simple steps.

Step one: Decide if you’re interested in actual facts or you just want your current world view reinforced.

Step two: Choose a news source or sources that, by the standards of most sane people, achieve that goal. If you’re happy with the world as it is, stay tuned to Fox News (an oxymoron for a foreign-owned propaganda organization). If you’re upset or frankly scared poopless, then go for CNN, BBC, CBC, NPR, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, CBS, or maybe The Altamont Enterprise.

If you notice that I included two foreign news sources, you’re paying attention. The reason is that both organizations are historically pretty objective and also have no vested interest in skewing news about the United States, which to them is a foreign country.

Step three: Take small doses. Read no more than a story or two at a time or view no more than 30 to 40 minutes of a broadcast. Afterwards, think quietly about what you just learned and take many deep breaths.

Ask questions. If you’re still in the dark on an issue, try researching it on the internet, but again, watch your sources and don’t spend more than 30 to 40 minutes at a time online; it can rot your brain pretty fast.

Step four (final step): Form a tentative opinion based on what you learned. But, be prepared to possibly modify that opinion, as things do tend to change as stories develop and issues become more fully explored.

Congratulations. You have now gathered information, thought about it, and formed an opinion. This is what people did in the old days before people shouted at them 24 hours a day and told them what to think.

This set of steps, repeated over the coming months will allow you to remain reasonably sane (though medication might also be in order for some). By the time the actual election comes, it will allow you to vote in an informed and conscious manner. A few other tips are in order though.

First, ignore all campaign advertising, even from candidates you think you might want to support at the voting booth or, Goddess forgive, financially. All campaign rhetoric is suspect as it is meant to further ambition, not truth.

The problem is that there is no such thing as an honest politician. No matter their party affiliation, sex, orientation, color or flavor, they are interested in winning at any cost.

I realize that’s a harsh and cynical stance, but I’ve been in the journalism business in one way or another since the 1980s and can honestly say no politician I have studied, has ever been truly honest. Many have been decent people (Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, FDR, Ike, Ted Kennedy to name a few) but even they had many flaws and faults, and made lots of mistakes. Sadly, all politicians share a common trait: They’re human.

Next tip. If a story comes out, or a photo or video surfaces that is just startling, shocking, or hard to believe, chances are it’s been faked or taken out of context. Examples of these stories (look into the term “deep fakes”) and images, are already popping up and being debunked on a daily basis.

Be prepared for a lot of propaganda from all sides and especially from sources that actually originate outside this country. Make no mistake, we have enemies in the world, and they are waging war on us via social media and regular media.

They did in 2016 and it has never stopped. So, as we approach the next major election, foreign influence will be a real issue and the current administration has done little to stop it, and some say, much to encourage it.

Final tip. Keep your eyes on the prize. Distraction is a major weapon of anyone who would keep people from the truth.

Don’t get distracted by the silly stories that always pop up about a candidate that have little or nothing to do with the current state of things. Be wary of stories that ignore real issues or that smell of a set-up.

Much of what was printed and broadcast in 2016 about Hilary Clinton was based on distraction. Here we are, four years later, and nothing she was accused of ever came out as true or real. Keep that in mind as this election moves forward.

The only truth I can give you is this: 2020 is going to be a truly historic election and a truly challenging one. Many forces are at play here; more than usual, and it will make our job as media consumers and more importantly, as voters, very tricky. Just stick to basics, sip at the media fire hose and for the sake of all that is still good in this world, do one thing: VOTE.

Editor's note: Michael Seinberg notes he is a trained journalist, award-winning columnist, ex-newspaper editor and photographer, and all-around professional cynic. He also votes. Every. Damn. Time.