The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Novak: America’s Anonymity Problem

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Controversy has been swirling this week over the New York Times op-ed supposedly written by a senior administration official bashing President Trump.

The allegations in the editorial are actually nothing new. President Trump has been described as running a chaotic White House by people who have been willing to go on the record for more than a year. People who have been extraordinarily happy with the actions of the White House and Trump’s policies overall seem to be taking the latest hysteria in stride. Those who disagree with those actions and policies are more likely to be climbing the walls.

Same old, same old.

But the problem is this “anonymous” business. It’s a problem not just because it undermines the credibility of the author and veracity of the claims, but also because it’s part and parcel of the disease of no accountability that’s infecting this country right now.

Let’s start with this particular author’s credibility. The question for him or her is simply: Why be anonymous? Most of the news media and political establishment has made it clear that it’s eager to reward anyone from the Republican Party and especially the Trump White House who turns on the President. People like James Comey, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Omarosa Manigault-Newman, whom the left and the left-leaning media vilified before they became Trump critics, are treated like heroes as soon as they make that turn. Why not come out of the shadows, get a big book deal, and do a fawning media tour instead of nameless op-ed?

The answer is one of two things. The author could just want to keep his or her job more than actually help “save the country.” If that’s the case, the allegations in the article should be ignored simply because we’re dealing with someone who thinks their job is more important than the dire circumstance he or she is describing.

The other possibility is that the author truly believes it’s his or her sacred mission to stay in place and save the country from President Trump. If that’s the case, we’re dealing with an unelected bureaucrat who fancies him or herself more important than the democratic process. If saving the country is so important, bring specific evidence of President Trump’s dangerous misdeeds first to Vice President Pence so he can enact the 25th Amendment’s process to remove the president, or bring them to Congress so it can begin impeachment proceedings.

Otherwise, clam up.

But let’s get back to the how this anonymous thing is indicative of a national problem. Today’s America is inundated 24/7 with a steady stream of anonymous hatred, rudeness, and inappropriate commentary on social media. Millions of Americans, and people from heaven knows where, log on each day to bash everything and everyone with none of the accountability that comes with identifying oneself.

We have millions of others on social media who do identify themselves but don’t have to follow the norms we do in face-to-face debate. Let’s face it, almost all of us are meaner, snarkier, or just plain more obnoxious when we interact with one another on Facebook or Twitter. I know I myself have been guilty of this many times … although I’m truly working on it. The point is, going after each other online is easier because it offers real or near-anonymity. And when we’re anonymous or nearly anonymous, being nasty is a lot easier.

Contrast that with what we do as a community on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During the seminal Al Chait prayer, we not only list every possible sin and apologize for them, we do so out loud and in a very close public setting. By not hiding behind silent prayer or singling out only some sins here and there, we choose the extreme opposite of anonymity and all the ethical problems that come with it.

Not only are we seeing the ugly opposite of that among regular American citizens, but it’s clear politicians from all sides have embraced the non-face-to-face nature of social media and played it for all its worth. Yes, President Trump is a big offender here. But he is just the most visible person using social media to play his message to his own ends. Just like politicians changed their styles to fit radio in the 1930s and TV in the 1950s, now they’re looking to succeed on the social media stage. The medium is the message, and with social media the message is uglier and meaner.

In a better world, our elected leaders would be moving away from the public’s worst instincts and habits. But in America, it’s the opposite. And America can’t move in a positive direction until the scourge of anonymous and quasi-anonymous commentary, activism, and representation goes away.

Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.