The first and perhaps only term of America’s 45th president began with alternative facts about inauguration crowds. It comes to a close in a bonfire of deception that literally kills. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to “it is what it is” neglect. Millions are out of jobs, out of school, at risk of losing their homes. A broad-based racial justice movement has been discounted and demonized. All because of this, the most consistent feature of Donald Trump’s presidency: He lives in a world of alternative facts, and he doesn’t care if the rest of us die in it.
We knew this four years ago, when the Trump era began, but now we know it in our bones. As we hunker down amid the pandemic, natural disasters, racist violence, an all-out attack on the infrastructure of democracy, it’s clear that we are in an actual fight for our lives. When kids study history in the future—if they are allowed to study history—they will look at how we showed up at this moment.
All of you in the Mother Jones community are showing up in different ways. You are caring for those in need, teaching children, marching, working to make sure that votes are cast and counted. You are scientists and farmers, service members and anti-war protesters, police officers and people who have lost loved ones to police violence. You get discouraged, terrified, hopeless. And you pick yourself up and get back to making a difference.
We were reminded of this when we read through the responses to a recent column by MoJo’s chief operating officer, Jahna Berry, laying out her path to journalism and asking readers why journalism matters to you. A reader named Henry wrote: “Mother Jones is a muckraking publication in the finest tradition of that class of early progressives. The feature stories tell us about situations that we should (1) know about, (2) better understand, (3) tell others about, (4) organize around for some kind of action, whether personal or collective or both.”
Organize for some kind of action, whether personal or collective or both.
America has been here before. This imperfect democracy has gone through eras of mass delusion and corrupt leadership. It has, from the very start, been shaped by systemic and lethal racism. But it has also been shaped by collective action for a civic purpose—abolition, organized labor, the civil rights, women’s, and lgbtq movements, and more. Mother Jones was born of one of those mobilization moments, when collective action changed the course of history. The people who started this nonprofit newsroom believed that uncovering abuses and reclaiming the truth are central to any movement that seeks a more robust democracy.
Now we’re in another moment of mobilization, the biggest in generations. The past few years—and this year, damn you 2020, like no other—have shown the failure of runaway power and wealth, and they’ve shown that some of those who have that power and wealth will cling to it with clenched-teeth ferocity.
But this year has also shown the possibility of change at a scale that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. America confronts a head-on choice about whether we’ll turn away from democracy and the pursuit of justice (and planetary survival), or seriously commit to both. There’s no incrementalism or triangulation on this one.
What does this mean for journalists? “We’re not at war,” Washington Post editor Marty Baron said back in 2017. “We’re at work.” It was a counterpoint to Trump’s claims that the press is out to destroy him. But today, we have to recognize that it wasn’t quite true. The option of not being at war is only available to those on whom war has not been declared. Trump is at war against the press, and against anyone who dares challenge his reach for unadulterated power—whistleblowers, protesters, members of Congress, women and people of color who refuse to stay in their place. His attorney general considered using literal weapons of war, deemed inappropriate for use in Afghanistan, on peaceful demonstrators.
So let’s reframe Baron’s admonition: As journalists, when we go to work, we are in the fight. We fight for a world in which truth matters, and in which people can use it to take, as reader Henry puts it, “personal or collective” action. (This magazine itself is a result of collective action—it would not exist if hundreds of thousands of people had not chosen to support fearless, independent journalism.)
Personal and collective action is ramping up everywhere. Despite the disinformation and chaos from the president and his enablers foreign and domestic, more people may vote this year than ever before. All over the nation, people are signing up to be poll workers, observers, and even de-escalators to help defuse any tensions that might arise at polling places. Thousands of groups, from legal experts to organizing powerhouses, are working together to make sure that the fight for democracy ramps up every day until November 3—and every day after that.
Alternative facts are powerful and infectious, as we have seen. But actual facts have the advantage of being…actual. They create reality on the ground. Let’s go to work.