Happy New Year! A Reflection on 20 Years at Truthout

The New Year’s holiday is a time for memories, for an accounting of the span you’ve just passed, for an assessment of where you are now, and for looking down the road and making wild-ass guesses about where you’ll be a year from now.

This New Year’s Eve is particularly poignant for me, as January 2022 marks 20 years I’ve been writing and working for Truthout. Trying to wrap my mind around it is a challenge, to say the least… 20 years! When I started this, I was a 30-year-old writer and teacher with almost no gray hair, a manageable waistline and a strangely sunny disposition given the circumstances. September 11 had just happened, the Afghanistan War was barely underway, and the serial horrors of the Iraq War were yet to come.

Now? Let’s just say that sunny disposition has a few dings and scuffs in it. I’ve been riffling through memories as this anniversary has approached, and each has left me more gobsmacked than the last.

There was the upstate New York hotel I overnighted in to give a book lecture at some college up there in late spring of 2003, after the Iraq invasion was well underway. Donald Rumsfeld and his pack of wreckers had been working overtime to convince the American people that Iraq was bristling with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and that an attack was imminent. I happened past the hotel manager’s office, and what do you know? A whole pile of plastic sheeting and duct tape was piled up on the floor awaiting installation, in case Saddam Hussein decided to gas New Paltz.

There were all the times George W. Bush lied and got away with it, thanks in no small part to a co-opted, timid, post-9/11 “news” media. There was the time Dick Cheney refused to give his official papers to the National Archives because, he argued, the vice president’s office was not part of the executive branch. There was also the time he shot a guy in the face, and the guy wound up apologizing to him. The time when Barack Obama blew off Abu Ghraib and the horror of CIA black sites with a blithe, “We tortured some folks.” The time when Donald Trump was actually president for four years. The time when President Biden (!) had his domestic agenda sabotaged by fellow Democrats.

The time… God save us all, the time…

In the very first article I wrote for Truthout 20 years ago, I concluded with the following paragraph: “It is one thing to coddle and court a corrupt energy company for political and financial gain. It is quite another to coddle and court a murderous terrorist-supporting regime, hindering anti-terrorism investigations in the process, for the purpose of exploiting valuable natural resources. The former cost a number of people their retirement funds. The latter has cost thousands of people their lives. One is criminal. The other is abominable. George W. Bush is deeply implicated in both. There will be hell to pay.”

That’s the thing, though: There wasn’t, hasn’t been, and probably never will be any hell paid whatsoever. If you told me 20 years ago that things would be worse today, I’d have found it hard to believe. Yet here we stand, mired in a lethal global pandemic with no end in sight. Mothership capitalism, always bad, is worse. Because of this, the climate is demonstrably worse and now poses an existential threat. The practice of politics is also worse, and the money in politics is worse by an order of magnitude. Gun violence is worse. The Republican Party’s hard right turn toward overt fascism is worse. The Democrats’ ossified leadership and its talent for dropping bombs on its own boats is worse, though the newly muscular Congressional Progressive Caucus may have words about that ere long.

I got into this to try and make things better. I stuck with Truthout because we are a union shop devoted to that same cause, and because we are beholden to none but our reader-donors and to ourselves. No hedge fund scumbag is going to wake up tomorrow and decide to sell Truthout for parts.

You cannot imagine what that means for a writer of politics in such an untethered time: I am able, because of the freedom provided by our generous readership, to be entirely myself in every word. After 20 years, I can say with joy in my heart that I never, not once, sold out my principles or beliefs in print to mollify a pissy stockholder or a nervous advertiser. None of us here have. Not once, not ever.

Enough for now. If I could make any wish, it would be to get another 20 years to do this, if only for the chance to sit here two decades hence and talk about all the good shit that went down after we cured COVID, kept Trump out of office, vanquished fascism, found a way to turn CO2 and methane into marijuana fertilizer, and shot all that sea-bound plastic into space.

Likely as not, though, I’ll be back here in 20 years talking about the day we lost Boston and New York to the Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe not. That’s the thing about tomorrow: It’s only a rumor. The rest is up to us.

Happy New Year, all. Thanks from my heart for the 20, and God help us, here’s to 20 more. Stout hearts.