Back in the good old days, there were only a few network news channels and a hand full of papers from which we distilled our notion of reality. In a time of so few outlets, one couldn’t afford to alienate large sections of the population. The country as a whole was a single bell curve politically and the center was where the audience was at.

There was a time once when Sen. Everette Dirkson got together with Lyndon Johnson and together they hammered out the important features of the Civil Rights act of 1964 over coffee. Or agreed over a phone call to stop a presidential candidate from intervening in foreign affairs prior to an election. There was a time when President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neal would sit down over a couple of beers to decide how the budget should go the next year. I don’t understand. When did compromise and comity become treasonous?

Today every person can find an echo chamber for their views no matter how rancid or how bizarre. Whether you are a truther or a birther or a Trumpocrat or a Hillarycat you can immerse yourself in web & cable experiences that will only reinforce what you already believe. “Objective data” no longer exists, as every outlet and interest group today cherry picks and massages the data to support whatever version of reality is being pushed. There is never a need to confront a different POV as anything but “not one of us”. It is a time of “alternative facts”.

This leaves the country an overlapping set of bell curves based on whichever political scheme one favors. (Like a two-humped camel.) Politicians have discovered that the more agitated and angry the voter, the more money they’ll give and the more likely they’ll vote. Likewise, as is the case with most advocacy groups, the more committed you are to the extreme the faster you rise thru the ranks. The centrist curve is still out there but they’ve largely stopped voting, a  “pox on both your houses” response. Nowadays, an election is close because the left wing curve is the same size as the right wing curve. Nobody tries to appeal to the center because the party activists won’t accept it.

Once you have accomplished that level of intellectual isolation the “us vs. them” syndrome kicks in. Tribal animosity builds. Soon people start to hate the other side. The right and left dehumanize each other as surely as would any two nations in a bitter war and whatever bad thing you might say about the “other” must obviously be true. Regardless of victory or defeat, we all retreat to our corners and come out fighting in the next round.

fistfight

 

This isn’t just a Right or Left wing phenomena. It is what happens whenever we don’t need to relate to people we disagree with.

The leadership of every American based news network is immensely political. It was painfully obvious that Fox and OAN were pulling for Trump and all the other networks were in Hillary’s pocket. If a Trump supporter tried watching MSNBC, they’d have been personally insulted by every commentator. Why would they even want to hear what the other side was really saying? Same thing true of Clinton supporters and, say, Fox News.

The same thing is going on with personal web sites and fora and bulletin boards. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter users. If you didn’t vote my way you are a hater and I hate you for it. (The irony of this is always lost on them.)

I’m not sure how to curb this. There can’t be any forced desegregation of web sites. No way to make MSNBC and Fox news take an honest look at both sides. My Jewish wife found Al Jazeera America (no longer with us) to be one of the most objective news channels out there. BBC America is another one. The reason is simple… they had no dog in the fight.

I suspect it is one of those times when there is simply nothing to do but wait it out. I’m NOT saying we should all forget our principles and let the government (left or right) have its way with us. I am saying that a polarized electorate is going to be the reality for a while. The system will eventually evolve to a different state which will present a different set of problems. Civil war seems unlikely, as does a hard-fascist state. (Of course, that is just IMHO.)

Probably the very best thing we could do would be to vapor lock government until then so that only ideas with overwhelming support can be implemented. (I use “we” as centrist voters in general.)

I know that as a political creature I pull left when the government goes right and vice versa. The division of power between the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary was not the only division of power intended to limit the government’s ability to oppress. The other division is between the Federal, the State, and the civilian population.  While we keep the legislature locked up, preferably in opposition to the President, it may just be time for us to reassert our own 9th and 10th Amendment powers in response to any federal abuses.

I’m not holding my breath for it.

One thought on “The Echo Chamber and the End of Civil Discourse

  1. I grew up in Gouda (Yes. Where the cheese comes from!) The smallis city was VERY ‘stratified’. We KNEW which radio programs, later tv, our neighbors watched. Which newspaper they read. Which party they voted for etc.. We lived with it. Accepted it ( I’m sure. I was only 12, when we migrated to Australia.) I believe that we were just, basically AMUSED by those differences and were still pretty civil to each other. (Perhaps / maybe…. the fact that the Queen was the ‘Head of State’, helped a little.

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