If there’s one voice in the media I’ve been missing more than any other during this upside down political year, it’s Roger Ebert.
As much as others have tried to explain The Rise of Donald Trump and the threat he poses to our system of government, freedom of the press and our pluralistic society, few have done it with the clarity, courage and humanity that were the hallmarks of the late, great Chicago journalism icon and film critic.
I use the word “voice” figuratively, of course, since Ebert lost the power of speech years before he died in 2013. But through powerful essays on his blog and countless social media posts, he elevated public discourse to a new level.
A few pertinent excerpts from Roger Ebert’s Journal:
- THE ONE-PERCENTERS (April 9, 2011): “The most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which ‘contestant’ he will ‘fire’ next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, I suspect it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don’t viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today’s America?”
- THE ANGER OF THE FESTERING FRINGE (October 1, 2009): “I am frightened by the climate of insane anti-Obama hatred in this country. I’m not referring to traditional conservatives or Republicans. They’re part of the process. I’m speaking of the lunatic fringe, the frothers, the extremist rabble who are sweeping up the ignorant and credulous into a bewildering and fearsome tide of reckless rhetoric. . . . With the zealous True Believers there is no debating. They feed upon loops within loops of paranoid surmises, inventions which are passed along as fact. Sometimes those citing them don’t even seem to care if you believe them. Sometimes they may not believe them themselves. The purpose is to fan irrational hatred against our president.”
- THE REPUBLICANS EXIT HISTORY (July 20, 2011): “Large elements within the Republican Party are abandoning the middle ground of American opinion and pitching in with fringe ideologues. Here and there, this decision may lead to electoral victories. But the tide of history runs against them. It is time for the party to declare its independence from its radical fringe and embrace common sense.”
I’m not the only one who wishes Roger were still here to offer us his wisdom at this troubling time.
“I have no doubt that he would have helped us make sense of this presidential campaign before we got this far down the road,” Chaz Ebert, Roger’s widow, told me Monday. “Instead of seeing it as just harmless entertainment in the beginning, I would like to think that he would have been blaring an alarm, warning us not to stray too far from our moral compass.
“Perhaps he would have written the magic words that would have kept all the hatred and venom contained under at least a veneer of decency and civility. And that would have exposed this foolhardy ruse for what it really was. Roger, could you have opened our eyes and our hearts? Or is there a higher purpose for all this? What are we supposed to learn? Is this to mobilize us to action?
“Some days I can just picture him at his computer writing furiously and speedily, turning out missive after missive passionately imploring us not to lose our collective minds. He had a facility for getting to the truth of the matter, and for skewering those who deserved it in a gentlemanly fashion. But exposing them all the same, and sometimes forcing them to crawl back into their holes. But the computer has been silenced. . . . So I seek out the roadmap from others.”