How has our country so quickly gone from civil discourse to destructive division?
As I view, from a distance, the shockingly violent discourse between the “right” and the “left” in our country today my question is: How did we get here? I am old enough to remember a time when the conversation between Democrats and Republicans was quite civil. That was not, from my point of view, that long ago. It is clear the divide between our two primary political parties is ever widening, and the disdain displayed toward opposing views is ever more vehement.
Why have we moved, in such a short time, from relatively reasonable civil discourse about varying political opinions to the rank vitriol we see today? Is there a logical explanation for what seems to me a definite deterioration in political rhetoric and action in the United States today? Was there a trigger point or a distinguishable change in our world that caused this slide into a great abyss of ideological furor?
While it is certain there are a number of factors contributing to this change in the political life in our country perhaps the single most significant factor can best be described by three letters: CNN. The advent of the first 24 hour news service, which produced a proliferation of 24 hour a day/7 day a week news programs, seems to me the factor that started the downward move and accelerated its progress.
The “nightly news program” that existed on radio and then television for decades was certainly a business, interested in generating high ratings to attract advertising. So attempting to present the news in an entertaining manner to attract and keep viewers was a normal part of the news business. The 24 hour a day news programs, though, have completely mixed the concepts of news and entertainment. In other words, the news became entirely entertainment, and an immense quantity of content is required each and every day, 7 days a week.
But, how could that be a negative thing? After all, a more informed public has to be good in a Democratic Republic, right? If the information presented was all good, honest, and helpful that might be the case. As I view the state of our news media, though, that is clearly not the case. I think there are two reasons why this has, actually, gone terribly wrong.
First, when entertainment is provided to the public it has to, of course, attract the attention of the public. Nothing draws attention more than conflict and controversy. For that reason there is powerful, financial motivation to find, or when necessary, manufacture conflict and controversy. So, our news media is absolutely not in the business of mitigating, or reducing, the struggle between opposing views or groups but rather exaggerating it as much as possible. That is, after all, good for the bottom line. Along with that, it is also good for the entertainment business to create “stars”. People like to follow their favorite media headliner, so we see constant efforts to develop those darlings. You may have noticed that while there are some exceptions to the rule, most of these “stars” are no longer reasonable, thoughtful, fair-minded people. Controversial individuals, like controversial story lines, just sell a lot better than solid, sensible individuals or story lines. Therefore the stage is set for the maximization of controversy, the development of wildly varying opinions that we see today.
Second, the 24 hour news cycle provides the irresistible opportunity to deluge the public with a never ending assault from particular ideologies. The question of whether or not a news outlet is biased is laughable. Every news outlet is clearly, absolutely biased and uses the full force of their air time to relentlessly press the views held by the owners/operators. That is the case with every issue disputed in our country today, including abortion, sexual preference, racism, COVID 19, and of course, the size, scope and reach of federal and state governments. Every issue is forever dissected and regurgitated, always in light of the “proper” opinion on that topic, determined, of course, by the political views of that media source. News is regularly made up and/or the circumstances surrounding real news is distorted according to that opinion.
I contend the malfeasance goes all around, but I would be dishonest if I did not state my opinion regarding the primary perpetrators of this circus. I am not at all sure the Republicans would not stoop to the lowest levels possible if they had the chance, but the truth of the matter is that because they are playing by an entirely different set of rules than the Democrats they are substantially more careful about their presentation of the news. If the Conservative media were to manufacture, or modify, a news event to the extent regularly practiced by Progressives the results would be catastrophic. When reporting by a Conservative source places President Trump in a positive light, and the truth is stretched even a bit to support that view, the media uproar is deafening. I believe Conservative media treads much more carefully through the minefields of media coverage because of the price they pay for missteps. That is certainly not the case for the liberal left, as they routinely, literally many times in the same day, state circumstances as fact that are proven not to be so, or at the very least “suggest” things that have no basis in fact.
Big media personalities combined with ideological extremism are the source of, in my opinion, the ever deeper fractures in our culture. They demand complete allegiance to “their” views, and demonize anyone who dares disagree. When you listen to most of the talking heads you have to come to the conclusion that moderates no longer exist. You either completely embrace the point of view expressed or you are an evil hater of all that is good, an extremist who must be silenced.
It is nothing more than badly done theater operated, for the most part, by individuals who do not display even the slightest honesty, common sense, connection to reality, or any combination of those traits. The old phrase that comes to mind is the inmates are running the asylum. Between the media and the politicians there are enough nut cases to fill a lot of facilities.
The answer? Turn them off. When the advertisers realize no one is watching the supposed “news” shows will be canceled. The onslaught of social media and internet coverage will continue as well unless, of course, no one pays attention to that either. How do we then learn about our country and world? Be discriminating. Find sources of information that seem the most fair, honest and reliable in their presentation of the news, and then thoughtfully, critically question what you hear from them. Even when you listen to or read worthwhile sources, you still must process information and strive to separate the truth from the trash.