Of all the messages I have shared over my career, as a field reporter, from the anchor chair, and most recently through my platforms on social media and this Steady newsletter, this is among the most important. At least to me personally.
I hope those of you who have followed and supported me help me share it widely. I hope those who have been my critics read it with an open mind.
For what I wish to share is an answer to a question that has animated my life now for many years.
It is a question that I ask myself daily in an effort to keep myself honest.
It is a question that my longtime collaborator on these recent efforts — Elliot Kirschner — and I have discussed over hours of conversation and long text message chains.
The question has a lot of complexity around it, but it can be boiled down to one word: Why?
Why have I taken such a strong position in opposition to Donald Trump, the public officials and others who have supported him, and what they represent?
Why do I spend so much time talking about and analyzing the political environment of the United States?
Why am I so consistently focused on this story?
I am not blind to the fact that there are people out there who, though they don't know me personally, have made judgements about my political beliefs and the fairness with which I have done my job.
I often say, because I believe it, that I am not left wing, right wing, or chicken wing. I'm just another American who loves this country and is trying as best I can to do my job. I acknowledge I am flawed, as all humans are. And I have made my mistakes.
But I can honestly say I have tried to follow a journalist credo I learned as a cub reporter more than 70 years ago — pull no punches, play no favorites, ask questions of those who need to be held accountable.
Another part of this credo was that our job is to report and not to advocate. Our role in American democracy is to be a check on power, regardless of which political party is in power. Whatever beliefs we have on a particular policy position or candidate should have no bearing on how we report the facts. It is up to others to decide what to do with the news we share.
I have always liked the quote from a character in an Oscar Wilde play who said, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." It's a reminder that life is full of context and complexity. It's an important caution for journalists against painting the world with a brush of simplicity.
We should hold ourselves as arbiters of truth, while recognizing we can only aspire to get as close to the truth as is humanly possible. And truths for one era can prove to be a distorted lens for viewing another.
Take a long-held truth in newsrooms that journalists should cover political stories from a position of equivalence between the two major parties. But what if the truth of our current time strikes at the very bedrock notion of apolitical fairness?
With the rise of Donald Trump, I came to the conclusion early that this man could pose a danger to the fundamental nature of the United States as a constitutional republic based on the principles of democracy. I desperately hoped that I was wrong, but I saw a man who stoked division, scapegoated, lied with reckless impunity, and had no regard for the norms by which our nation has functioned.
Over the course of his run for the presidency, his time in office, and the wake of his defeat in the 2020 election, everything we have learned and witnessed further and more completely confirms his unfitness for office. It has only escalated the danger he poses to the safety and security of the nation.
We have also seen that the pestilence he embodies is not limited to him. It has spread throughout the Republican Party, as evidenced by the number of people in office and running for office who have embraced his bile, his lies, and his authoritarian instincts.
This isn't a matter of conjecture. These are the stated, public positions of the former president, his enablers, and those who pay fealty to him — which at this point represents the majority of Republican officeholders.
This is the truth.
I don't think it is controversial to say any of this. Or it shouldn't be. There are many rank and file Republicans who see this truth and haven't been afraid to say it. This isn't about politics per se, as in a competition for votes and ideas around specific policies. And this isn't to suggest that Democrats are right on any particular issue, be it taxes, education, immigration, you name it. I continue to believe that people of good faith can disagree about remedies and causes for action. That is what a healthy democracy is all about.
But there should be areas where there is no disagreement, regardless of political party.
You can't disagree about whether a loser of a fair election has lost, or should summon up a violent mob to hold on to office.
You can't disagree about whether a former president should be above the law.
You can't disagree about whether corruption should go unpunished.
You can't disagree about whether it's okay to lie.
It gives me no joy to be in this position, to see the country and people I love in a place of danger. I have spent my life in journalism, and I see so many stories around the world worthy of our attention. But I don't think there is a bigger story than the current threat to American democracy. It weaves together so many of the threads of our national tapestry. It is about power and race and the rule of law and economic opportunity and the very notion of what freedom should be.
I am about to enter my 92nd year as a citizen of these United States. As long as I have my health and my voice, I am going to use it to share what I see. If it means writing about this threat over and over and over again, so be it. If it fuels some people's misconceptions about me, so be it. If it shapes my reputation and how I am remembered, so be it. I have lived my life. I have earned my livelihood. If I am reluctant to speak, what example would that set for others who don't have my privilege?
To my fellow journalists, I know this is difficult. We are in uncharted waters. The old rules for covering politics no longer apply. In the end, false equivalence is just another way of obscuring the truth from your readers and viewers.
The truth is what it is. It is damning. It is dangerous. And it is the direct result of those who are undermining our democracy.
Not the ones calling them out on it.
© 2022 Dan Rather