Democracy is undermined when truth is a commodity

Sedition in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 was shocking, but frankly, no surprise.

Living online means we’re caught in the crosshairs of Borg-like algorithms that infect us with dis- and misinformation. The goal: to assimilate us into buying products ranging from cat toys to conspiracy theories.

Democracy is undermined when truth is a commodity, not a necessity.

Our reality is becoming reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984“ as autocratic governments use technology as tools for terror. Think Russian hacking of U.S. federal agencies; the imprisonment of Chinese publisher Jimmy Lai and arrests of pro-democracy Hong Kong activists; and Choi, a North Korean fisherman publicly executed for listening to banned Radio Free Asia.

Even U.S. federal agencies dedicated to democracy and press freedom implement cruel decisions when poorly led and inadequately challenged. The U.S. Agency for Global Media, parent of Voice of America and RFA, recently denied visas to international VOA reporters who live and work in the U.S.

They’re slated for repatriation to their home countries, where they risk harassment, imprisonment, and perhaps torture for reporting the news.

American workers are increasingly reliant on food pantries, nonprofits and government handouts to cobble together the semblance of a middle-class life.

Ongoing protests about racist policing and the recorded killing of George Floyd increased fear and polarized our country, yet revealed an inequitable nation with millions of citizens prevented from attaining the American Dream.

Federal debt skyrocketed from pandemic panic and fiscal carelessness, yet we must provide Social Security and healthcare for the aging and infirm.

A few gargantuan technology companies build wealth for stock market investors, yet decimate jobs and tax revenue in Small Town America with the ease and economies of scale online purchasing offers.

In Ohio, the FBI lifted a rock last July, revealing worms of corruption within state government: corruption encouraged by bad federal law.

The squigglers include $60 million in dark money donations that ensured a supermajority political party remained in power and a $1.3 billion tax-supported nuclear energy bailout.

In the mix are gerrymandered voting districts with elected officials who suppress alternative energy options and ignore green jobs they could create. Despite the statehouse speaker’s and four others’ arrests for racketeering and bribery, the political machine hums on.

A stand-your-ground gun law has been approved by our governor, a law that may ironically increase gun violence, not curb it.

Overlaying all our problems is the urgency and irrevocability of a warming world. It’s clear we must turn our backs on fossil fuels and implement green, sustainable energy solutions. Activism and entrepreneurialism may be our best hopes to kickstart and accelerate good policy and law.

The year is young; the clock ticks. Will President Biden implement a master plan for the future that strengthens democracy, creates green, sustainable jobs and allows social justice for all?

The good news: our problems are of our own making. We have the solutions within us. Our action-- or inaction-- this year may well provide a template for the future.

Melinda Zemper is a writer and longtime community volunteer from West Chester, Ohio.