My father was a toddler when Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor in a democratic Germany, and by the time he entered first grade, the world around him had changed beyond recognition. It was only because Americans fought and died that he got to live, finish school, and become a journalist. I’ve thought about him often these past four years as people far more qualified than I argued that America is, or isn’t, going down the path of Weimar. I don’t know the answer to that. But what seems clear is that we are, as Germans were then, at some kind of precipice.
The president has made it clear that no election result other than a landslide for him can be legitimate. Millions are falling prey to a mass delusion about a secretive, cannibalistic global cabal, facilitated by the most powerful media company in the land. The White House is lying about a calamity that has killed at least 210,000 people and reached the highest office in the land. The institution that Americans looked to as the last-resort check on runaway power is about to be turned into a partisan rubber stamp. And that’s just…the last two weeks.
But let’s pause there for a moment.
Authoritarianism has not yet prevailed.
Alternative facts still aren’t facts.
And more and more Americans are seeing through disinformation and division and are ready to fight for “our democracy [to] live another day.”
You in the Mother Jones community are doing that, and I’ve heard from you how hard and lonely and terrifying it can sometimes be, especially when the news grows more chaotic by the day. So I wanted to try and do what you often ask us journalists to do—check the facts, connect the dots, and identify some of the patterns behind the daily swirl. (I’ll also ask you, here and there, to support Mother Jones’ investigative reporting during our fall fundraising drive because I firmly believe that independent journalism is a key part of how we get out of here. But I don’t want you to take my word for that and will give you the facts instead.)
Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. Here are some truths we’ll need to remember in the difficult weeks and months ahead:
Truth #1: The chaos is the point.
The first and perhaps only term of America’s 45th president started with a ludicrous claim of “alternative facts.” It ends with a bonfire of deception that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Millions are out of jobs, out of school, at risk of losing their homes. The broadest racial justice movement in a generation 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 so complete, it seals him off even from the danger to the only thing he cares about—himself.
It seemed so absurd when they first rolled out the term, back in January 2017. Kellyanne Conway stood there, in front of the White House, doubling down on the outlandish claim that Trump had drawn the largest inauguration crowd ever. The photos plainly showing otherwise. “Don’t be so overly dramatic,” she berated Chuck Todd; the White House had just been providing alternative facts.
We didn’t fully know it then, but making sense was not the goal. The Trump M.O. is not to lie convincingly. It is, in fact, the opposite—to distort the truth so blatantly that going along requires a cultish willingness to suspend disbelief.
You are on Team Trump if you repeat his lies, no matter how implausible. And not to do so, to side with Team Reality, is the ultimate “You’re fired!” offense. That’s why he makes such a show of punishing those who resist his gaslighting. “The ultimate goal of this president is to get you to disbelieve what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard,” says Alexander Vindman, whom Trump had demonstratively marched out of his office after he testified in the impeachment hearings.
Sometimes you can see it happen in real time. Remember Trump’s July nomination rally on the South Lawn—the flags lined up with Prussian precision, the maskless faces turned up in admiration? The cringey moment in Ivanka’s speech when she talked about her own insufficiently devoted ways? (“He has caused me and countless Americans to take a hard look at our own convictions.”) Really? Even the golden child had to do the ritual prostration?
I remembered, at that moment, the downcast gaze of COVID response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx back in April, as the boss rambled about bleach. It was such a terrifying moment, and one familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship with a liar or an abuser.
Let’s say it again: Reclaiming power from those who abuse it starts with telling the truth. Birx has not (yet) come forward, but so many whistleblowers have stepped out. Dr. Rick Bright, the Health and Human Services official who revealed how he’d been pressured to sign off on Trump’s pet coronavirus treatment. Olivia Troye, Mike Pence’s former homeland security adviser who resigned because of Trump’s “flat-out disregard for human life.” Even the president himself lets slip a fragment of reality every once in a while—you can hear it in those Bob Woodward interviews from February, as he riffs on how dangerous the virus he downplays really is.
But he’s returned to form since then, reaching for levels of bonkers that shock even after four years of bonkers. He legitimizes a mass delusion that his opponents are part of a secret pedophilia cult. His allies lionize murder in the streets. His attorney general declares American cities “anarchy jurisdictions,” whatever that means (but we know what it’s meant to do). And where to even begin with the barrage of lies and contradictions surrounding the White House outbreak and his own health?
It’s contradictory, hyperbolic, and hypocritical, and that’s no accident: The chaos is the point. The president needs us to be confused and whiplashed because confusion creates the stage for his alternate-reality show. He needs it to appear as if facts and alternative facts are simply equivalent contestants for the prize of our attention.
And in this, shamefully, he has had lots of help from the media. After the first debate—doesn’t it already seem like months ago?—as my colleague Jeremy Schulman documented, headlines all over the country described his rhetorical rampage with both-sidesisms like “Trump, Biden lash, interrupt each other.” News organizations still crank out headlines about “dueling versions of reality” on the campaign trail.
Some of this stems from a misguided idea of objectivity, but some of it is simply craven. It was former CBS president Les Moonves who said that Trump’s antics “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” And we now know that another network chief, CNN’s Jeff Zucker—who at NBC rescued the failed tycoon with an entertainment career—was still flattering “The Boss” and offering debate advice (and a post-campaign show if he lost).
I’ve been asked whether Trump is good for Mother Jones, and a) what kind ghoulish question is that? and b) the answer is no. We don’t rely on viral clicks to stay in business; we rely on support from you, our readers, and we have 44 years of a track record showing that independent investigative reporting matters to you regardless of who’s in the White House.
Truth # 2: Team Reality is a lot bigger than it seems.
Yes, it can sometimes feel as if half the country lives in a bubble of alternative facts assembled for Trump by Fox News or vice versa. As CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter told MoJo editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery recently (plug: Mother Jones’ free virtual events are really good!), “It’s hard to know where Trump ends and where Fox begins. Fox sets the agenda, Fox comes up with the day’s narrative. And the president reacts to that.”
An audience of one is powerful—but let’s not forget that the network’s actual audience is not all that. At the peak of American news consumption last March, Fox reached an average of 4 million Americans, compared to more than 10 million for ABC’s World News Tonight and nearly 10 million for 60 Minutes. Only 35 percent of Americans trust Fox News to give them credible information, while 55 percent trust CNN.
And what of those deep-red or deep-blue Facebook feeds we all live in? Polarization is real. But thanks to internal whistleblowers, we know that Facebook exaggerates it by promoting content that divides us. What we see on social media is a very distorted mirror of the world (more on that below).
This summer, even as Trump celebrated his nomination with a spectacle that wouldn’t have been out of place in 1980s Moscow, about two-thirds of Americans told pollsters that they don’t trust information from the president about the coronavirus. That was an abysmal showing compared to other presidential liars—ahead of the Iraq War, more than 80 percent believed George W. Bush on WMD. Just 36 percent consider Trump “honest” overall; barely 35 percent have confidence in his approach to race relations; and just 32 percent approve of how the president has dealt with the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, overwhelming majorities back basic public health measures. Two-thirds—including half of Republicans—agree that the president was infected because he didn’t take the virus seriously, and only a third think he’s honest about the issue. This summer, despite months and months of disinformation, 75 percent of Americans across income and geographic lines supported requiring masks in public; even among Republicans, nearly 60 percent felt that way. Support for restrictions on gatherings and businesses remains strong, too (note to the Trump campaign: 67 percent want in-person rallies to stop).
“It’s clear we’re seeing surprising unity and agreement” on public health measures, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted. “One might even suggest large majorities are collectively engaged in a deeply civic act.”
Collective action for a civic purpose? That is the greatest threat that wannabe authoritarians can imagine. (Collective action for a civic purpose also perfectly explains Mother Jones’ funding model and mission: Please join us in the latter with a donation if you can.)
Truth #3: Facebook owns this.
Nearly seven months ago, I had what turned out to be my last in-person meeting of the year. It was with Carole Cadwalladr, who sounded the alarm about Facebook and democracy earlier than most. We talked about Facebook’s decision to let politicians lie, a choice that seemed tailor-made to protect the Trump campaign. What or who, we wondered, could protect America from a tsunami of propaganda? Would Silicon Valley’s rank and file blow the whistle on their corporate bosses? Would Congress finally investigate? (Carole is now part of a project that tries to bring the kind of outside scrutiny to the company that politicians are still failing to bring: a citizens’ oversight panel that is holding unvarnished public hearings each week with the company’s critics.)
A few weeks after our meeting, Carole published a column that named the problem in sharper terms than most on this side of the Atlantic have:
America, the idea of America, is on the brink. And at the cold, dead heart of the suicide mission it has set itself on, is Facebook. Facebook and America are now indivisible. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, these are now the bloodstream of American life and politics. A bloodstream that is sick.
Don’t take Carole’s word for it: The warnings about Facebook’s enormous power to amplify hate and disinformation have come, over and over, from its own employees and allies. Tech investor Roger McNamee, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s early mentors, has written about how he pleaded with Zuckerberg in 2016 to take Russian disinformation seriously. Two years later, as the Wall Street Journal discovered, a presentation to Facebook’s senior executives warned that “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” And just a few weeks ago, a Facebook whistleblower posted his resignation letter on the company’s internal message board: “Every day [Trump’s comment that] ‘the looting starts, the shooting starts’ stays up is a day that we choose to minimize regulatory risk at the expense of the safety of Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” he wrote.
Note the reference to “minimizing regulatory risk,” shorthand for pandering to the powers that be in Washington.
In another anguished internal memo, a senior Facebook employee wrote of how she found political actors in many countries spreading dangerous disinformation—and, over and over, the problems were ignored or the response dragged out. “The truth was, we simply didn’t care enough to stop them.”
Nor do they care enough about the devastation of the news media whose content they’ve sucked into their algorithm’s maw. No advertising-supported news organization can produce quality journalism with the crumbs left over after Facebook and Google capture most of the audience and advertising. Even a company like HuffPost, which has done its level best to play by the tech giants’ rules, is on the block.
Yes, there are people and teams within the tech companies dedicated to helping journalism and elevating facts. But they are, sad to say, mere lifeboats on the ocean liner of disinformation.
Back in 2016, Facebook and other social platforms might plausibly have argued that they did not know what it was they were enabling—from the spread of Russian and other disinformation to the targeting of Black voters that the Trump campaign wanted to “deter” from voting. Sure they were warned, but Cassandras are never heeded at the beginning.
Now there’s no longer any excuse. In perhaps the most consequential act of the moral nihilism that pervades the tech industry, Facebook has answered the question of whether it cares more about giving democracy a shot or maximizing profit. We know where it stands.
Truth # 4: When we go to work, we’re in the fight.
If I had a nickel for every time an earnest (and usually white and male) colleague from a big East Coast newsroom gently scolded me for our “advocacy journalism,” Mother Jones would have a fat endowment. But we don’t, and we don’t have skittish investors or funders either, so I can say without beating around the bush: Enough of that BS.
MoJo’s journalists don’t carry anyone’s water. They don’t choose stories to push a policy or endorse a candidate. They work hard to seek out differing viewpoints, and they are put through the wringer by fact-checkers who question absolutely everything. And we know that that’s how you, our readers, want it.
But here’s what we also don’t do: pretend to live on some higher plane where we merely observe the massive struggle over justice and democracy and the planet’s habitability playing out beneath us. We are in the fray with our personal experience, our blind spots, and our passions. “Every story has a frame,” Alan Jenkins, a professor at Harvard and founder of the social-change communications organization Opportunity Agenda, told me recently. “The key is being intentional about which frame it is.” In our business, this is often referred to as “voice.” Mother Jones reporters can bring their own voice because they also bring the facts. (Sinduja Rangarajan did this powerfully in her data-driven investigation of the Trump administration’s war on immigrants like herself.)
Here’s Mother Jones’ frame: We knew democracy was in danger four years ago, when the Trump era began, but now we know it in a different way. Now, as we hunker down amid the pandemic, natural disasters, racist violence, and an all-out attack on the fundamental infrastructure of democracy, we know we are in the fight of—and for—our lives.
Many of you in the Mother Jones community are in that fight. You are caring for those in need, teaching children, marching, working to make sure that votes are cast and counted. You are teachers, librarians, scientists, farmers, veterans, organizers. You get discouraged, terrified, hopeless. And each time you do, you pick yourself up and get back into the work.
A month or so ago, MoJo’s chief operating officer, Jahna Berry, asked in a column why journalism mattered to you and what drew you to Mother Jones. Henry, a reader on Long Island, 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 for some kind of action, either personal or collective or both.
Organize for some kind of action, either personal or collective or both.
So many of you told us that that’s why you value Mother Jones’ reporting: You know where we’re coming from, and appreciate that we’ve got the factual goods so you can make up your own mind and choose your own action.
“Mainstream” journalism (a misnomer, given how few people were represented by it historically) still struggles with declaring its frame. Take Washington Post editor Marty Baron’s admonition, back in 2017, that “We’re not at war. We’re at work.” It was an important counterpoint to Trump’s claims that the press is out to destroy him. But it was also…not 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 he is at war against anyone who dares challenge his alternative facts because by all measures, he is at war against democracy. When we go to work, as journalists, we are in that fight—not against him or his party, but for the values that he is attacking.
And when we pretend otherwise, we risk becoming handmaidens to the lies. As a new study from a team of Harvard researchers points out, the president is a superspreader of false claims around voter fraud, and he takes advantage of “three core standard practices of journalism” to do it:
“These three are: elite institutional focus (if the President says it, it’s news); headline seeking (if it bleeds, it leads); and balance, neutrality, or the avoidance of the appearance of taking a side. He uses the first two in combination to summon coverage at will, and has used them continuously to set the agenda surrounding mail-in voting through a combination of tweets, press conferences, and television interviews on Fox News. He relies on the latter professional practice to keep audiences that are not politically pre-committed and have relatively low political knowledge confused, because it limits the degree to which professional journalists…are willing or able to directly call the voter fraud frame disinformation. “
There is a rich tradition of journalism that is intentional about its framework, from community newspapers and radio and alternative weeklies, to what some call “movement journalism.” In the words of Manolia Charlotin, the co-founder of the media collective Press On, that means putting “the community at the center. The stories have a purpose. They’re supposed to expose, hold accountable, help do a narrative shift, or move something forward. We’re not movement megaphones, but we are record keepers. We are accountability holders.”
Truth #5: It’s about minority rule.
My colleague Ari Berman has been reporting on voting rights and the infrastructure of democracy as his singular focus longer than pretty much anyone in journalism. (Focusing on a critical beat like this is what reader support allows us to do even in an incredibly uncertain environment!) I owe to him an insight that really illuminates why the president and his party weaponize the entire machinery of the federal government against the American people: This is about minority rule. In both political and racial terms, it is the ultimate identity politics.
To Trump, and to those Republicans who have laid down their principles in allegiance to him, the majority of Americans who are not white conservative Republicans are, in key respects, not really part of this country. You see that when the president talks about “blue states” as if they were foreign entities coming to the federal government—that they pay for—as supplicants. Or when the attorney general looks into using a weapon designed by the military to make targets feel like their skin is on fire against peaceful protesters. You see it when we see grassroots Republicans celebrate a white teen for shooting strangers on the street, but are silent on the killing of a Black woman in her bed. And that’s why a Senate Republican leader whose caucus represents 15 million fewer voters than his Democratic counterparts is about to confirm another Supreme Court justice nominated by a president who lost the popular vote.
“Every time I hear Republicans say, ‘We have the support of the people,'” Ari pointed out on the Mother Jones Podcast, “they’ve never had the support of the people. There’s never been majority support for Trump. There’s never been majority support for Mitch McConnell or the Republican Senate.” At every level of government, Republicans routinely get fewer votes than Democrats and win majorities nonetheless because they have built the advantage right into the system.
“That’s why they care about the courts,” Ari added. “Because they know if they can control the courts, they can lock in white minority rule for decades.”
This is a grim perspective, but one familiar to anyone who studies authoritarianism. As Jan-Werner Müller, a Princeton professor who does just that, has noted in an article chillingly titled “Populists Don’t Lose Elections,” such politicians often refer to how they represent “the real people,” and “citizens who fail to support populists do not truly belong to the people at all.” The only true Turks, Hungarians, Russians—or Americans—are those backing the leader, and therefore no electoral loss for the leader can be legitimate. Trump has made it crystal clear that that’s how he sees it.
Again the warnings are coming from inside the house. A senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency recently announced that he’d quit because Trump was increasingly looking like the autocrats he’d studied in his job:
I saw several patterns repeated in the behavior of foreign leaders who lacked majority support and refused to respect their constitutions and constituents. They ignored or manipulated facts, rejected legitimate criticism, sought to disenfranchise opposition voters, invited foreign interference, and planted seeds of doubt about their own institutions and electoral processes. They also identified security elements willing to spy on their own citizens and to use force to put down protests.
Check, check, check, check, and check. As Alexander Vindman has noted, the best explanation for Trump’s Putin pandering is that he wants to be that guy: “He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances.”
But here’s the second part of that Pentagon analyst’s argument—the part that can help lift us out of the miasma of fear and chaos.
I have seen several authoritarian leaders attempt but ultimately fail to subdue populations deeply committed to advancing democratic values – including Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia and Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso. In these cases, massive turnout for elections and non-violent protest as part of disciplined and enduring social movements were vital to resetting the course of countries on our current trajectory. These basic acts of civic participation, undertaken by millions, help rebuild the foundations of democracy and bolster governing institutions against efforts to tear them apart. It is up to all of us to ensure historic and safe participation in this election, and to be prepared to peacefully reject any efforts to subvert the will of the people.
These basic acts of civic participation, undertaken by millions.
If Trump looks to foreign autocrats as his role model, the rest of us can look to global democracy movements as ours. And we’re going to need to. “Let us not hedge about one thing,” the Atlantic‘s Barton Gellman wrote in an article that, if you’ve read it, has probably been haunting your nightmares. “Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.”
Autocratic power grabs are not in most Americans’ political vocabulary, but they have happened elsewhere, and been resolved by people determined to protect their civic and civil rights. People who stayed grounded in facts and core values, and who mobilized massive, peaceful resistance. It happened in Burkina Faso and Gambia, in Serbia, Armenia, and Ukraine (all places where investigative reporters fueled and informed democratic movements, sometimes paying for it with their lives). It’s the struggle going on now in Belarus and Hong Kong. Once these movements might have looked to America for support and solidarity. Now we look to them.
Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is… us.
The other day I caught Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist, and Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair, on MSNBC. They talked about the heartbreak and rage of seeing virtually no prosecution in the killing of Breanna Taylor in Louisville. And then they talked about the president’s signals that he may not accept the results of the election. “I’m a journalist,” Robinson said, looking straight at the camera. “I don’t advocate for candidates. I don’t even put up yard signs for candidates. But if this guy actually messes with the process and the results of our election”—his voice caught a bit—“I’m in the streets.” Steele nodded vigorously, and you could just picture them, shoulder to shoulder, in a mass of people near the Lincoln Memorial.
This is a real possibility, and one we will do well to prepare for in our own ways. There may be marches on a scale America has not seen, from big cities to tiny towns. There will be lawsuits, too, and door-to-door, person-to-person organizing. Here’s one coalition, Protect the Results, preparing for this; another group, Frontline, is training “deescalators” who can help defuse tension at the polls and elsewhere. And here’s a great story from Mother Jones’ Pema Levy explaining the groundbreaking approach behind a lot of this—“relational organizing,” which every one of us has the tools do every single day.
This will be hard, and seemingly hopeless at times, and (as my colleague Jamilah King wrote about the Black Lives Matter movement) entirely necessary. Because this moment, right now, is what future generations will ask us about.
America has been to places like this 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, and the civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ movements.
Mother Jones was born out of one of those moments of mobilization, when collective action created big change. The people who started this nonprofit newsroom believed that uncovering abuses and reclaiming the truth is central to progress.
Now we’re in another mobilization moment, perhaps the biggest in two generations. I can’t wait to see the ball drop on 2020, but this cursed year has done one thing for us: It’s shown the direct, wrenching impact of runaway power, political and economic, in all our lives, in a way no one can deny. (Fact-check: Perhaps a few can—the ultrawealthy for whom the pandemic has produced a $685 billion windfall.) COVID, economic meltdown, wildfires, hurricanes, voter suppression—they’re all part of the same story.
But 2020 has also shown the possibility of change at a scale that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. After decades of incrementalism and triangulation, the choice before us is now stark: We could be at the cusp of a third Reconstruction, the decarbonization of our economy, a rebirth of democratic institutions. Or we could be accelerating on the path of authoritarianism, minority rule, and violence.
Those are the options, and they are as daunting as they are clarifying. There is no one who will save us, no billionaire or foreign power who will step in. There is only us—the collective power of millions.
Things are going to change from here, one way or the other. And we’re all going to play our part.
Here’s what our fight is at Mother Jones: To shine a light on abuses of the system, but also on the system itself—the “normal” way things work—when it perpetuates inequity and injustice. No matter what we’re reporting on, we find ourselves looking at these questions:
- Where is the power, and how is it being abused?
- Who is spreading disinformation, and how?
- Who is being hurt the most?
- How is change being made?
If you want to call that advocacy journalism, so be it. I call it reporting on what matters right now. And the only way that it can happen is if you support it. I know I’ve given you a lot of words here, trying to shed light on this moment that we’re in. Most of them were not about how to keep Mother Jones’ journalism alive. But this paragraph is. If you think the kind of reporting I just described is part of the fight for democracy, please consider a donation at whatever level works for you. If you’re curious what kinds of stories I’m talking about, I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Here’s a scandal I would have missed had it not been for my colleagues David Corn and Dan Friedman: the explosive whistleblower complaint from the man who until recently ran the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security. He claims he was told to stop providing intelligence assessments on Russian election interference and to, as David summarizes, “lowball intelligence on the domestic threat posed by white supremacists and pump up the possibility of violence from ‘left-wing’ groups.”
We’ve all long since gotten used to the not-normal—the president uses government agencies to spread disinformation, ho hum—but David sharply articulates what this really means: “Trump has ordered the US government to stand down in the face of an attack from an overseas foe.”
Here’s another story: Back in December 2016, when many in the media were still speculating about when Trump might start acting presidential, Russ Choma published a powerful roundup of all the president-elect’s debts. “The biggest conflicts Trump faces,” he noted, aren’t related to what he owns. “Rather, they relate to what he owes.” Last year Russ revealed (after about a year of digging) how a $50 million loan from Trump to Trump looks more “like garden-variety fraud,” as one expert put it. When Russ called the New York Attorney General’s office for comment, there was a lot of consulting back and forth on the other end of the line until he was told that the office hadn’t really looked at the loan before. Now this same loan is among the key Trump financial arrangements being investigated by that office.
Two final examples: For the last two years, your support has allowed reporter Ali Breland to go deep on the disinformation beat. Ali realized earlier than most how much potential the QAnon mass delusion had to spread in our paranoid political environment. In a video that has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, Ali showed how Trump rallies functioned as superspreader events for the conspiracy theory. And here’s a great example of how MoJo’s newsroom can approach a big story from multiple angles: Senior editor Kiera Butler further investigated the mainstreaming of Q by documenting how it has spread in online moms’ groups.
None of this is easy to keep going.
This year Mother Jones has faced the daunting costs of the pandemic and the constant rollercoaster of the publishing economy. We’ve had to defend against multiple lawsuits—none of them substantive, but each of them designed to harass and run up our legal bills. We’ve had to put together a budget in the middle of it all, and a number of us took a pay cut because the alternative—dialing back our journalism—seemed unthinkable.
So here’s the challenge we face right now: Everyone, all of you, is getting a ton of fundraising appeals right now—your email, your mailbox, your text messages are full of appeals about a BIG DEADLINE. And if you’re like me, you feel the biggest deadline, November 3, in your bones.
But we know that this year, there is more on the ballot than just candidates—it’s democracy, truth, and decency. And that fight doesn’t end on November 3. We know, because the president has told us, that the struggle with authoritarianism and “alternative facts” will continue. We know that even if democracy prevails, it will be a long road to build a more fair and just system. We know that independent truth-telling journalism that is supported by its community of readers can help guide us down that road, and we know that there are a lot of us together on that journey.
Brian Hiatt, who works with me on our online membership work, always tells me that a goal and a deadline are important to motivate people to give. Ours is to raise $350,000 by the end of this month, and that’s a good bit more than we typically raise in three weeks—but now is the time to go big: It’s all hands on deck for democracy. And it will stay that way on November 4, November 5, in December, and even well beyond January 20, 2021, when the oath of office is next administered.
But our budget is small beans when the foundations of our democracy are in the balance. It’s going to take sustained work for change, and sustained work from all of us to hold power to account. So as much as we need to raise that $350,000 this month, the truth is that we simply need as much money as we can possibly get to do as much reporting as we possibly can. And we always will: Without risk-averse investors and advertisers calling the shots, the only thing that holds Mother Jones back are the resources we have to let reporters do their work.
If you think journalism like Mother Jones’—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that will look where others don’t—is needed for all that’s ahead, and you’re able to right now, I hope you’ll consider a donation during our fall fundraising drive—and if it works for you, a monthly donation would be amazing, because it would help ensure that we can stick with the work for as long as it takes.
As hard as all this has been and will be, I’ve felt so lucky. Because of you, every single time one of our journalists has brought us a story that might get backlash—from Shane Bauer taking a job at a private prison to David Corn revealing the story of the Steele memos, to Eddie Rios and Sinduja Rangarajan showing how reopening demands from white residents in many states put Black communities at risk—our editor-in-chief, Clara Jeffery, has been able to say: Go for it.
I hope you’ll do the same for Clara and the rest of our team. I hope you’ll tell us to go for it, without fear, through this terrifying year, and beyond. “Take agency,” Barton Gellman wrote in that story about how Trump might not concede. “An election cannot be stolen unless the American people, at some level, acquiesce.” I can promise you right now, MoJo will not acquiesce.
My father would have been 91 this year, and no doubt he would have been sharp, but quiet, just as he was when he sat at the kitchen table late into the night listening to my pontificating (this 15-year-old aspiring journalist had opinions). After I made my home in the US, he came to visit a few times and enjoyed getting to know a country that had played such a decisive role in his life. If he were here now, talking to his US-born grandchildren, I can imagine him saying that 2020 was the year that America learned that it is not exceptional. But it can also be the year when America shows it can be great.