Politics wasn’t a thing in my house when I was growing up. We weren’t one of those families that watched a lot of news or sat around the dinner table talking about politics or the day’s top stories. It’s not like these things were never discussed – it just came up way less than other stuff. And that’s pretty much the way politics was for me until the last few years. A non-issue. I never truly cared about who the president was or who my local representative was…and I found talking about politics boring.
I’ve always had left-leaning friends, right-leaning friends and party agnostic friends. The only important thing for me was that they were nice people and enjoyable to be around. And I think, perhaps naively, that a good amount of America was like that when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s.
I wish life was still like that. It’s not.
America, to me, has turned into a borderline police-state country where there is far more hatred, dis-trust and vitriol than there used to be. I don’t think the genie is going back in the bottle.
Six or so years ago, I remember having a conversation with my dear friends Dave and Leo about the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president. Both of them are far more interested and knowledgeable in politics than I am (to the point where I believe they have a seperate text thread about it) and I distinctly remember asking them if any president in their lifetime had ever really, truly had any effect on their day-to-day lives. My point was that all three of us were so lucky to be born white and male and not oppressed by our race or gender as so many others are. We can be empathetic and sympathetic (and we are), but we will never truly know that feeling of oppression. Anyway, I sensed that point hit home with them.
And then came President Donald Trump – and my point about the president having an effect on our everyday lives became, well, wrong.
But let’s get back on track – how did we get here? I’ve always been a fan of Matt Taibbi, ever since he wrote for Rolling Stone. I like his tone and his almost frantic style of writing. I also like his content, so I pay for it. I especially love his approach to politicians and politics – he’s not afraid to call out anyone, anytime, anywhere, any party. So I fully subscribe to Taibbi’s notion that there is one bullseye we can place on why America has turned into what it has: the media and the wild west of the internet/social media.
Think about it:
- Cable News: The advent of Fox News in the early ’90s wasn’t viewed at the time as anything groundbreaking or titanic. It was a greedy white-male capitalist who saw that CNN was having some success and he wanted a slice of that cake, too. It wasn’t until later in the decade when Fox, CNN and MSNBC started to become more outwardly and obnoxiously partisan. All three, and now countless others, are now cesspools and garbage disposals for partisan talking points. Worthless. Just feeding the narrative of what people want to hear, at the expense of truly balanced reporting, which is not easy to find on TV anymore. The national networks (CBS, NBC, etc) have 19 minutes per night and god forbid those broadcasts be too controversial because, well, ad dollars and access. These cable news networks have splintered us and turned us against each other.
- Social Media: this is almost too easy a target. The first wave was impossibly fun: memes, cat videos and the real dopamine hit of connecting with old classmates and friends and also finding like-minded people who you would *never* otherwise meet. The world shrank immediately and boy, was that intoxicating! You mean somebody else in America likes listening to Southern Culture on the Skids as much as I do? Golly! Fast forward to today, and it has turned into a nasty, nasty place where “brave” people hide behind keyboards, feeling emboldened to toss bombs of verbosity at anyone who doesn’t think like they do. Algorhithms only show them the content that feeds only their political beliefs and it all just sucks them further into their netherworld. This is poison. It just pulls the left lefter and the right righter. And yet I can’t seem to fully tear myself away from social media, largely because…cat videos and windows into my friends lives.
Anyway, I agree with Taibbi that these two things have become poisonous and there’s really no going back. No political third party or revolutionary politician is going to lead us out of this as long as there’s partisan media and algorithims to tell us ONLY what we want to hear. If some third political party emerges and becomes a regular factor, it just means another cable news network will come up where that party line will be the exclusive message. The cat is out of the bag – and it’s an ugly hairless cat that pukes up a lot of hairballs. I don’t know the solution. Part of me wants more regulation of these things, but how?
All I can do for now is a) not watch or support cable news to the best of my ability, b) use social media less; Facebook and Twitter are off my phone and c) really, truly try to understand all sides to a story and respect people’s perspectives as much as I can.
What do you think?