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    Be Not Afraid

    Dad’s obsession with outrage media gradually alienated him from nearly everyone as he crawled into a cave of conspiratorial logic and monomania.

    By Joseph M. Keegin

    January 3, 2022
    • Bruce Hollenbach

      You've made some good points, but unless you plan to turn this essay into a book, you haven't written enough. Otherwise, you may have written too much. In the late 1950s my high school guidance counselor suggested that I really should be reading beyond the front page of the newspaper, in order to expose myself to more than what someone else had decided was the main stuff. I think it was good advice. What would be an equivalent recommendation today? The ground has shifted, and I'm not convinced that anything that I read in the news, from either "side," can be trusted as reliable. I doubt that I could average out Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow, and arrive at a trustworthy median. And I think that I need more input than that which I could derive from friends and family, however rational and sane our conversations might be. The best that I can do is to try to identify those commentators who over time have impressed me as having principles and integrity, who don't seem to bend with the wind, who don't seem to be owned by anyone else. I suppose I could go to the extent of taking a journalism course, but are the people who teach journalism courses without bias themselves? I'm not trying to be clever. I am truly confused. I will say that I believe that truth exists and that I believe that there is a God of truth who wants me to know the truth that I need to know. I also believe that he wants me to do the truth. There may be fewer people who believe these things today. That may be part of the problem. I am surprised by your mild swipe at Hillsdale College. I have never sent them any money, but I'm sure that they profit financially because of their free publication Imprimis. That said, the writers that they publish strike me as well chosen and as people that write good sense, people that I can trust. Does that make me naive? How would I ever find out?

    • elaine

      This article presents such an unbalanced viewpoint. I think in includeing an article like this in the Plough, a similiar article with a counter point of view should be included.

    • Deb Quilty

      This is a good analysis of the problems caused by "outrage media" but unfortunately there is no solution, and those offered by the author, Joseph M. Keegin, have been tried and found wanting. All you can do is walk away, and separate yourself to some extent. Even trying to join them in their mindset will fail, as they will always see the slightest differentiation in viewpoints from their own as a great divide. Anything more than a cheerful "yes and amen" and "you are right!" will be found fault with. You can, like the author's aunt, try to love and accept them as they are, but in the end "can two walk together except they be agreed?" The only comfort I find is in the "Serenity Prayer" the "Gestalt Prayer" and prayer in general.

    • Sh.

      Thank you for writing this. May all that your beloved father did not possess be yours in abundance and overflowing in grace, peace, power In Him. Oh, you are free.


    This story is a chapter in a new Plough book, Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year, a collection of the best essays and reflections published on, a web commons set up during the pandemic to probe society’s assumption and imagine what a better future might require. This volume, written in real time during a year that revealed the depths of our society’s fissures, provides a wealth of reflections and proposals on what should come after.

    The machines whirred in my father’s hospital room, the monitors beeped, the drips dripped. Through the window the Sandia Mountains shone crimson as the Albuquerque sun made its evening trip earthward, filling the room with warm, golden light. It was January, and a dusting of white snow lay gently atop the peaks, softening the desert’s crimson intensity and serving as a reminder of water and of seasons. And in the cardiac wing of Lovelace Hospital, in a dull stretch of city set between the mountains and the Rio Grande, my father lay dying in a hospital bed.

    I got the call just days before from his girlfriend of nearly two decades. “Your dad’s back in the hospital,” she quavered over the phone, “probably for the last time.” She’d spent at least fifteen years hating me, so her willingness to make contact itself demonstrated a sense of urgency. My dad’s congestive heart failure had made him a regular visitor to the cardiac ward for as long as I can remember, and he’d undergone countless surgeries and procedures to try and bring life back to a withering organ determined to quit. It was a long, ugly fight, and he was finally losing.


    Photograph by Kelly Sikkema

    My dad was a difficult guy, and our relationship was strained. My parents had separated when I was six, my mom taking me and my sister with her to Florida while my brother stayed with my dad in Marion, Arkansas. A mutual silence held throughout most of my teens, broken only by my reaching out to him through email in my early twenties, in a spirit of curiosity and clemency. It was a strange reencounter, an adult son getting to know his dad for the first time as a person rather than simply a parent. We wrote each other about our lives and dreams; he shared insights on music, gleaned from a lifetime of being a virtuoso tenor saxophonist. But I was soon surprised to find that one of every three emails he sent had to do with politics: the Libertarian Party newsletter, Ron Paul articles, conjectures about Obama’s birth certificate. (In March of 2011, he sent a wave of articles excitedly weighing the possibility of Donald Trump running for president.)

    As the years passed and we grew closer, my dad’s obsession with outrage media intensified. Most of our discussions would include a tirade about Obama, a wingnut book recommendation, an anguished plea for people to “wake up.” I watched how this obsession gradually alienated him from nearly everyone he knew; friends and family fell by the wayside as he crawled deeper into a cave of conspiratorial logic and monomania. His mind had become a receptacle for slogans and buzzwords that circulated within conservative-branded political media. And while I sat holding his hand in his hospital room, stumbling through the last few opportunities for conversation we’d ever have, his attention regularly drifted to the television overlooking his bed that played Fox News and OAN on a constant loop. Even in the active unfolding of his death, with the certainty of his end staring him right in the face, his consciousness remained absorbed in the engrossing frivolity of the TV screen.

    After he died, I learned that my dad – who, at the end of his life, had hardly any income and no savings, and who lived off the generosity and naïveté of his partner – had been sending most of his meager Social Security checks to the NRA, Project Veritas, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and Hillsdale College. My dad had neither a firearm to his name, nor a college degree. What he did have, however, was a deep, foundation-rattling anxiety about the world ubiquitous among boomers that made him – and countless others like him – easily exploitable by media conglomerates whose business model relies on sowing hysteria and reaping the reward of advertising revenue.

    Read the rest of “Be Not Afraid” by Joseph M. Keegin

    Contributed By JosephMKeegin Joseph M. Keegin

    Joseph M. Keegin is a writer and editor at Athwart and The Point currently living in Chicago.

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