I’m generally an optimist—to a fault, some of my friends and colleagues would say. I find the bright side in almost anything and focus relentlessly on the possibility of change especially when things are tough. But that doesn’t mean living in a fantasy, and it doesn’t mean refusing to acknowledge challenging news.
So here it is: Mother Jones’ end-of-year fundraising is falling short of what we’d hoped, and my sense is this is true at other organizations too.
This kind of urgency is normally reserved for the capital-letter LAST CHANCE emails you see this time of year. I get those too, and I never know how seriously to take them. And since the whole proposition of reader-supported journalism here at Mother Jones is to level with you, our readers, I wanted to explain more clearly what is happening and share a broader question that it raises for me about moments like this in the Trump era.
For the past few years Mother Jones has made a big bet that reader support can keep fearless, truthful investigative reporting alive in a way that traditional models like advertising or wealthy owners often can’t. Readers have invested to make this happen (thank you!), and we’ve put all of your support right back into the work. But we also have to sustain that level of effort because there are no endowments or other guaranteed sources of income for our journalism—we have to earn your support over and over again, every year from here on out.
I believe that’s possible, because our newsroom is stronger, our audience larger, our impact deeper than before. I believe it because the Mother Jones community has shown that you value independent, high-impact investigative reporting, and our reporters have shown that they can deliver it when it matters most. If you’ve already contributed this year, thank you so much. If you haven’t yet, please considering pitching in with a year-end gift before the calendar turns over into 2020.
In looking back at the last two election cycles, I realized that 2012 was when our team broke the 47 percent scoop, and in 2016 they uncovered the Steele dossier, Trump’s emoluments problem, and the mainstreaming of the extreme right. That didn’t come about by happenstance. It was the result of building a newsroom with the time and flexibility to go down rabbit holes. Reader support made that possible, and that’s why this year-end fundraising drive is so important—because in 2020, everything we’ve seen in the Trump era so far is about to go into overdrive, from the lies and propaganda to media coverage trapped in false equivalency. With your support, Mother Jones can serve as a counter to that.
Now for that other question that’s been nagging me as I watched other nonprofits struggle with their fundraising too—one that I couldn’t put my finger on until I found myself in the quiet of the holidays.
This time of year is, in so many ways, a celebration of generosity. Gifts to loved ones but also kindness to strangers, and the generosity of thought that allows us to recognize and embrace someone else’s humanity. No matter what seasonal tradition resonates with you, that’s what they all seem to lead back to.
But Donald Trump has embodied the opposite of that spirit, a pervasive avarice that is personal, political, and cultural. He has been personally averse to giving—using his foundation as a personal piggy bank (and to buy a portrait of himself), breaking promises to make charitable donations, bragging about gifts he exaggerated or never made. Not to mention the stiffing of vendors, the nuking of his employees’ retirement funds, the “beautiful card” as a present to the first lady.
Politically, the core message of Trumpism is I got mine. Ripping children from their parents because “our country is full.” Denying birth control to working women. Growing entire (for-profit) bureaucracies to block people from a tiny allotment of food stamps. Tax cuts and Cabinet positions for the recession profiteers who cost millions of people their homes. Using critical foreign aid to extract personal favors, or spitting on Americans suffering from natural disaster.
And it’s an intellectual and emotional avarice, too. The contempt for those who dare to disagree. The cruelty to anyone seen by Trump as “weak”—women, kids, black and brown Americans, people with disabilities. Money, power, and knowledge are for hoarding, not sharing. It’s Scrooge without the epiphany.
The fear, when my optimism gets shaky, is that this avarice could prevail—or perhaps that the likes of Trump could simply engineer the system so it tilts that way.
As one example, the same tax reform that handed billions to the wealthiest also took away the incentive for smaller charitable deductions. Has that influenced people’s decision-making? Does it accelerate the concentration of charitable giving in fewer hands?
And, more worrisome, does the avarice of mind that has dominated politics end up infecting us all? Are we becoming spiteful, vengeful, focused on scoring points? I’ve heard friends say they would be cheered by the deaths of public figures. When did we get this way? Are we—audiences and journalists alike—worn down into cynicism, ready to give up on our ability to hold the powerful accountable?
That’s what I ask myself when I can’t sleep, which has happened more often lately.
But eventually, I always land on the same answer: No. Not when things like this, this, and this happen. People remember what generosity of spirit and action looks like, and the one thing I’m sure of about 2020 is that they will show it. People will drive others to the polls. They will stand in front of supermarkets registering voters. They will make phone calls for causes they believe in. And yes, I hope they—you—will support the journalism that you consider essential for a stronger democracy.
And I hope you’ll help us with a year-end donation today. We need all hands on deck heading into 2020, and if we come up way short, we’re going to have to make some tough choices—there will be rabbit holes we can’t go down, stories we can’t pursue. Whether you can pitch in $5 or $500, it all makes a difference, and I can promise you that we’ll put everything we’ve got into delivering for you.