From The Editor: Our Isolation Goes Beyond Trump, Beyond Coronavirus

By Billy Ball

March 30, 2020

A note from our editor on why Cardinal & Pine believes local journalism is the answer to our collective isolation.

Note: “From the Editor” pieces are commentaries written by Cardinal & Pine Managing Editor Billy Ball. For more of these commentaries, click here.

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”

― Thomas Wolfe

Our winter of solitude began long before anyone had ever heard of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, social distancing, or “flattening the curve.”

It began even before the inauguration of President Trump, who feasts upon our division, belligerence, confusion, and ambivalence, whose autocratic formula, noise above all things, has wounded us more than we’d ever dared imagine. 

It began at some unspecified point in time when an ascendant American politician like Trump became possible, when we chose not simply to silo our sources of information but facts themselves.

Do not blame COVID-19, colloquially known as coronavirus, for what we have wrought. We lost empathy long ago, and with it, perspective.

One example: North Carolina’s GOP candidate for governor Dan Forest lacerated incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this month when the latter ordered bars and restaurants closed. Forest claimed that the order would “devastate the economy.” Of course, it would harm the economy, but Cooper—a stolid, sober presence during these miserable proceedings—acted to save lives. He did so at the urging of this state’s healthcare leaders. 

Hours later, when many chided Forest for his shortsightedness, Forest insisted that he’d questioned not the wrong or the right of the order, but its legalities. That Forest’s original attack on Cooper, his depiction of the governor as a callous hardliner, would directly contradict this hardly seems to matter. During a crisis, Cooper looked like a leader while Forest faded. There is nothing more perilous for non-incumbent candidates than obscurity, so Forest heedlessly inserted himself into the narrative. 

And when he was called to account for provocations, Forest simply misled us. 

Noise above all things.

Strange as it may sound, you could compare Forest’s COVID-19 tantrum to his MLK Day address at a predominantly Black church in Raleigh this year. “There is no doubt that when Planned Parenthood was created, it was created to destroy the entire black race,” Forest spouted then. “That was the purpose of Planned Parenthood. That’s the truth.”

It’s not the truth, not even close, but that’s not the point. 

Noise above all things.

Such dishonesty would not be possible without our abandonment of each other. Trumpism is dependent on our existence in a vacuum, devoid of all sense but sound, confounded by the racket, the banging and clanging of the president, Forest, and others.

And we are, in fact, more isolated than ever—not only sequestered physically from others but from others’ points of view. 

This site you’re reading exists because such conditions are unacceptable.

Truth above all things, an idea that’s corny right up until the moment when nobody believes in such a thing anymore.

Those of us behind Cardinal & Pine believe that we’re here because there is a direct link between this madness and the decline of local journalism. It is no secret that local news is in mortal danger. States like North Carolina, plagued by so-called “news deserts,” are a testament to this. And where some see tragedy, others see opportunity. 

Some months back, when I was still the managing editor at NC Policy Watch, we tracked the brief rise and fall of a North Carolina-focused “fake news” group that churned out race-baiting, pro-Trump content on Facebook. The group had tens of thousands of followers before local media attention attracted Facebook’s fickle gaze, forcing the group’s closure. We can take solace in local media’s effectiveness in shuttering this pernicious group, but it is foolishness to congratulate ourselves for removing one head on this hydra. This is a call to arms. 

Cardinal & Pine, part of the progressive Courier Newsroom, is run by journalists who believe not just in the value of our ideas but in facts, in enterprise and investigative journalism. We believe in shoe-leather reporting that implores our leaders and our readers to look harder and deeper, to strive for a more fair and equitable government, to consider the policies and politics that impact North Carolinians in their homes and their communities: public education, healthcare, immigration, climate change, poverty.

We believe in progressive ideas, but we believe, first and foremost, in facts, in truth.  

Truth above all things.

Our team is not assembled yet, but when it is, know this: It will be composed not of the faceless fear-mongers proliferating on social media, but of NC journalists like me who care about this state and its people because we are of this state. We are its people. We write and we report because now more than ever our conscience demands not just that we correct fake news, but that we counter the conditions that make it possible. 

We believe in connection, from the Outer Banks to the mountains, from our urban centers to the flatlands of eastern NC where I was raised, in the connection between North Carolinians and Americans who know that we can do better than this and who know that we will.

News makes connections. News builds community. News and community need one another, not just to exist, but to thrive. 

We will be accountable, transparent, thorough, and determined. Along the way, we will make mistakes and when we do, let us know, because we cannot work or live in an echo chamber. News makes connections. News builds community. News and community need one another, not just to exist, but to thrive. 

I began with a quote from the great North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe, whose novel “Look Homeward, Angel” offered an unsparing portrait of the brutalities of loneliness, disease, and youth. That Wolfe, who succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 37, was a grim sort is a matter of public record. 

I don’t include it to be morose. I include it because it surely speaks to something that we may be feeling now, something we may have been feeling long before we’d ever heard of COVID-19, that interminable creep of fear and loneliness. 

But if Wolfe erred in his assessment, he erred because of his certainty in an isolation that we neither need nor want. 

We are isolated, but we are not alone—something this strange, bewildering time may reveal to us. 

Imagine if, when our health and our families were on the line we saw that no amount of spin, fantasy or political punditry could replace the certainty of science and truth. Imagine if, when we were called to separate ourselves, we saw that we deeply missed those numberless people of the world we don’t even know. And imagine if, when we emerged from our necessary exile, we did so without the burdens we carried into it.

Cardinal & Pine believes that such a thing is possible.

We believe in journalism, in the ascendance of truth, and in North Carolina. We believe these troubled times will pass, and when they do, we’ll remember not what we’ve lost, but what we still have in each other.




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