The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can We Stop Social Media From Undermining Our Democracy?

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s docudrama, The Social Dilemma, I highly recommend you put it at the top of your “to-watch” list. It’s a deep dive into how Facebook, Google and other social media manipulate its users (us) and what that is doing to American society.

I am a fairly regular consumer of social media. I mainly use it to promote my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, and to publish the blog you are now reading. After watching The Social Dilemma, my thinking about social media has shifted dramatically. While it provides some real benefits, I now understand that these huge companies have become an unbridled threat to our democracy.

The film brings to light that people are highly likely to believe false information on the internet, which, in turn, affects their off-screen behavior. For instance, 64% of the people in extremist groups on Facebook joined these groups because they were unknowingly seduced by information social media feeds them. By using algorithms, mathematical formulas derived from what we choose to look at on the internet, social media sends us computer messages and images that reinforce ideas and products that we have previously viewed. Algorithms often push content that ignites outrage and hate, and also amplifies biases within the data collected from our computer usage.[1]

According to an MIT study, false information on Twitter spreads six times faster than true information because people have a greater emotional reaction to fake news.[2] That’s how former President Trump was able to quickly spread his Big Lie about the election to millions of social media users. This enabled Trump to draw thousands of his outraged followers to Washington on January 6 who were willing to storm the Capitol and attempt to overthrow the government.

The Social Dilemma provides evidence of just how destructive social media is to American society in general as well. Social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt notes a “gigantic increase” in depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide among pre-teen and teenage children, Gen Z, who have been on social media since mid-primary school.[3]

Haidt says that the numbers of teenage girls admitted to hospital for self-harm including cutting were stable until around 2011-13, but in the U.S. these have risen 62 per cent for 15-19-year-olds and 189 per cent for pre-teen girls; “that is horrifying…We’ve seen the same pattern with suicide,” he said. In older teen girls it’s up 70 per cent compared with the first decade of this century and “in pre-teen girls, who had very low rates [previously] it’s up 151 per cent and that pattern points to social media.”[4]

Jeff Orlowski, director of The Social Dilemma, says he feels afraid of political misinformation and concerned about “the breakdown of truth.” If people can’t agree on the truth, he notes, that puts society in jeopardy and makes it possible for democracy to fail.[5]

“We have a machine whose main currency is outrage and anger,” Orlowski concludes, “And if this is the trajectory that we’re being programmed down, if we are constantly being fed the things that made us outraged and angry — and that is our life experience and that’s what we see on a daily basis — how does it not end” in civil war or autocratic rule?[6]

Orlowski hopes his film can serve as a wakeup call that shocks the public into demanding the reforming of social media. We, the people need to lobby Congress to regulate social media just as public utilities like our electric companies are required to meet certain standards.

Rather than manipulating the public for nefarious purposes, social media must serve the public good. If Americans do not heed The Social Dilemma’s wakeup call, we do so at our own peril.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.                                                                                        

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Dilemma

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/it-makes-you-want-to-throw-your-phone-in-the-bin-the-film-turning-teens-off-social-media-20200926-p55zhi.html

[4] Ibid

  [5] https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/09/18/social-dilemma-director

[6] Ibid.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: To Save Our Democracy, Defeat Republican Racism

Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s what keeps the Republican Party ticking. Donald Trump, the party’s racist-in-chief, has made sure of that.

But Trump did not initiate GOP racism. In his new book, It Was All a Lie, Stuart Stevens, a life-long Republican operative, illustrates how racism has long been a central theme in the modern GOP playbook.[1] From Goldwater’s opposition to desegregation to Reagan’s “welfare queens” references to Trump’s command to the white supremacists Proud Boys “to stand back and stand by,” Republicans have rallied their supporters with racist rhetoric for decades.[2]

The Republican Party is all about power at any price. Since playing the race card works in America, it has had no problem using racism to build support and gain power. Consequently, over 80% of Republicans are white compared to less than 60% of Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center.[3]

At the same time, the GOP is actually losing a considerable number of its establishment-type followers due to Trump’s lies about the election and his promoting the insurrection against Congress.[4] As a result, the party is now dominated by Trump’s racist base. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line, like the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, is censured or labeled a traitor by the party.[5]

Consequently, the GOP has become a racist, immoral cult, that employs anti-democratic tactics to gain control of government. And many red states are now implementing more voter suppression measures targeted at minorities to consolidate power:

“Republicans have introduced some 165 proposals in 33 states this year that would make voting more difficult. These include imposing new voter-identification laws, rolling back access to mail balloting and early-voting periods, and adding new hurdles to the voter-registration process.”[6]

In addition, red state legislatures are using gerrymandering to further solidify their clout. Taking the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan legislatures has never been more critical.

Ron Brownstein’s recent article in The Atlantic (a must read) clarifies just how urgent this matter is and what needs to be done about it. He explains that Republicans “will likely return to power and control politics for the next decade or more,” if the Democratic Congress fails to pass HR 1 and a new Voting Rights Act (VRA) this year:

“Given the likelihood that, absent federal intervention, red states will enact severe gerrymanders and new obstacles to voting, the decision about whether to end the Senate filibuster to pass these two bills could shape the future of American politics more than anything else Democrats do in the next two years.”[7]

Congress should have the COVID relief bill on President Biden’s desk before the end of March. Once that is done, HR 1, the For the People Act,[8] and a strong VRA must be enacted into law before Congress’s August recess. In order to ensure government of, by and for the people, we all must put maximum pressure on Congress and the Biden administration in the coming months. Write or call your senators and representatives and the White House. Attend their town hall meetings this spring. Let’s make our voices heard loud and clear.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/02/it-was-all-a-lie-review-trump-republican-party

[2] https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-09-29/asked-to-condemn-white-supremacists-trump-tells-proud-boys-hate-group-to-stand-by

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/26/what-the-2020-electorate-looks-like-by-party-race-and-ethnicity-age-education-and-religion/

[4] https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/01/13/republican-voters-leaving-party-after-pro-trump-mob-stormed-capitol/

[5] https://www.voanews.com/usa/us-politics/republican-groups-censure-party-lawmakers-who-voted-impeach-convict-trump

[6] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/02/democrats-need-hr-1-and-new-vra-protect-party/617987/

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.commoncause.org/our-work/constitution-courts-and-democracy-issues/for-the-people-act/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can Dark Days Have a Silver Lining?

Wednesday was one of the darkest days in American history. Pro-Trump fanatics stormed the U.S. Capitol, overran an understaffed security force and forced Congresspeople and their staffs to run for cover. Five people died, including a Capitol police officer who supported Trump.[1]

The assault on the Capitol was a result of Donald Trump’s relentless, unfounded claims that the election was stolen and he actually won “by a landslide.” He had urged his supporters to come to Washington on January 6 for a “wild protest” against Congress’ certifying that Joe Biden had won the presidency. Trump implored his legions to march on the Capitol and take back their government.

Two burning questions immediately come to mind out of this horrific event: First, why weren’t the Capitol police better prepared and ready with sufficient backup for this well-publicized protest that was ripe to turn violent? And, second, will Trump and his Congressional rabble rousers be held accountable for this attempted insurrection? It will take weeks, perhaps months, for these and related matters to be resolved.

As ugly and tragic as that day was, I believe there is a silver lining. Trump has been using his false claims of a fraudulent election to keep a hold on his base and to raise funds for his post-presidency undertakings. Those pursuits include preparing for another possible run for the White House in 2024.

After Wednesday’s mayhem, the chances of Trump winning the presidency in 2024 are nil. While some of his base will surely stick with him, Trump’s insurrection was the final straw for many Republicans and Independents. The size of his following as well as the amount of funds in his campaign chest will surely shrink.

In fact, Wednesday’s insurrection increases the possibility that Trump will land in jail. While there was plenty of evidence of his criminal behavior prior to this week, Trump’s attempt to overthrow a legitimate election only adds fuel to the fire of prosecutors seeking to imprison him for his multitude of crimes.

Additionally, Trump has clearly created a deep chasm in the Republican Party that will take a long time to bridge, if ever. The Wall Street Journal, a Republican icon that had long backed the president, called for Trump’s resignation.[2] Others have suggested the formation of a third party to separate themselves from Trump’s Republican Party.[3]

This can only be good news for Biden, the Democrats and the American people. While the new administration’s task come January 20 will not be easy, having a divided opposition may well enable Biden to form a broader coalition to enact his agenda to help our nation. Already some Republicans have renounced their allegiance to the Party. In addition, Independents will be more inclined to favor the new administration. And, of course, the Democrats capturing control of the Senate will be a tremendous help as well.

In turn, this will assist the Democrats in holding onto Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024. The more they can accomplish for the American people in the next two to four years — whether it’s providing greater COVID relief, creating a living wage or reigniting the economy — the better the odds they will be rewarded at the polls by the voters.

Lastly, Trump’s disgraceful final act has given some Republicans the courage to stand up to him. With his reduced stature, his threats to find primary candidates in 2022 to run against Republicans who crossed him no longer will be the kiss of death. The fear of Trump’s wrath has lost a good deal of its potency.

American democracy has survived a deadly attack. But, let this be a vital lesson: we the people must not let down our guard. We must vigorously protect our democratic institutions and hold accountable those elected officials who do not.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/brian-sicknick-capitol-police-officer-dies/2021/01/08/5552e036-51bc-11eb-83e3-322644d82356_story.html

[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-final-days-11610062773

[3] https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/07/donald-trump-us-capitol-takeover-gop-split/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Hate in America

While our country is deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, another long-term, deadly infection has raised its ugly head once again. The police killing of an unarmed, black man, George Floyd, is just the latest example of the pervasive American curse of Hate.

We can no longer call the recurring killing of unarmed black men the use of excessive police force. The truth is these are hate crimes. In 2014, the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by police officer Darren Wilson shocked the nation. In 2015 alone, the police killed over 100 unarmed black people, the great majority of them male.[1] The risk of being killed by police if you are a black male is almost three times as great than if you are white.[2]

Still, hate in America is not limited to racial bigotry. Immigrants, gays and lesbians, Jews and others have continuously been subjected to hate crimes. Today it’s gotten to the point where one’s political affiliation can make you the target of hate. Recently, a man in a Cowboys for Trump video proclaimed that “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”[3] While the man goes on to say he really only meant killing the Democratic agenda, if that’s the truth, he could have just said that. Clearly, he was inciting hate.

Then, none other than our bigot-in-chief, Donald Trump, retweeted this video on his official Twitter account, stating, “Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico!” While hate in America certainly preceded Trump, he has done a great deal to foment and condone hate and bigotry in our country. In fact, Trump appears to be creating a “hate movement” to further his re-election prospects.[4]

A few months ago, after a Sikh temple in California was sprayed with white supremacist and neo-Nazi graffiti, Trump targeted leading Democrats and the Sikh community. He retweeted a doctored image showing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer wearing a turban and hijab while standing in front of the Iranian flag.[5]

Why is there so much hate in America? And, more importantly, what can we do about it? Studies have shown that fear underlies hate. A certain segment of our population feels threatened by those who are different from them:

“The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.”[6]

This same phenomenon occurs whether the difference is racial, sexual preference, religious or whatever:

“People who hate tend to think, feel and behave from an “in-group” versus an “out-group” mentality….The “ins” use the “outs” as scapegoats for the social, economic, and political woes of the community….The underlying insidious presence of contempt and disgust – a deep dislike for the other who is considered unworthy of respect.”[7]

According to Psychology Today, “The change in our behavior as a society can only be sustained if we challenge the underlying beliefs and assumptions that maintain this toxic behavior.”

As always, it is up to us, the people, to speak out. We must stand up for our American values of inclusiveness and compassion. Let Trump and his bigoted followers know that we will not tolerate their hatred.

Call the White House to register your objection to Trump’s hateful rhetoric at 202-456-1111, or email at https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/. See https://fundersforjustice.org/organizations/ for organizations you can support that are working on police accountability and racial justice.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[1] https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed

 [2] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/after-ferguson-black-men-and-boys-still-face-the-highest-risk-of-being-killed-by-police

[3] https://www.theroot.com/trump-shares-video-claiming-the-only-good-democrat-is-1843732030

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/07/18/trump-is-leading-hate-movement-world-is-watching/

[5] https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-sikh-center-california-nazi-graffiti-1482045

[6] https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-of-fear-and-hate-and-what-each-of-us-can-do-to-stop-it-113710

[7] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-fear-and-hate/201803/the-psychology-hate