There are many culprits for why so many Americans of different political persuasions today have trouble maintaining or even starting a rational dialogue on controversial topics without angry emotion and name-calling soon taking over.
Before TV, we were a far more literate society where folks read much more and thought in a more rational, linear manner. But TV is arguably a much more emotional medium. A long time ago, people asked, “What do you think?” about an issue. Now it’s “How do you feel about that?”
The rise of 24/7 cable news networks bringing on a never-ending news cycle and the ascendancy of openly biased journalism, have further politicized us. So have all the biased talk radio and internet news sites.
These new media love to frighten folks into watching, listening to or reading them. Everything becomes “a crisis” requiring immediate action. This creates far more fear and even panic — look how easily the press and politicians exploited the coronavirus.
When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, everyone read the same local newspaper, which was usually unbiased except on the editorial pages. We all watched the same 30-minute CBS, NBC or ABC newscast, and there was virtually no talk radio and no internet.
Now conservatives read the Wall Street Journal, listen to Sean Hannity, read the National Review online and watch Fox News. Liberals read the New York Times, listen to NPR, read Slate online and watch CNN or MSNBC. So the two sides have vastly different views of the world since they literally do not share remotely the same information or opinion sources.
The rise of identity politics has enormously exacerbated our divide. So many politicians, professors, teachers, journalists, ministers, moviemakers and political activists have worked so hard in recent decades to condition folks to stop identifying as individuals, fellow believers or Americans who should independently think for themselves. Instead, people — especially students — have been indoctrinated to have a deep emotional identification with their race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and/or socio-economic class.
We’ve been trained to think in terms of groups instead of individuals, and taught equity trumps freedom and personal merit. Identity politics teaches folks to be hyper-vigilant to any perceived sleight against their group. Context, nuance and circumstances take a distant second place to the primacy of group solidarity and feelings.
The rise of cultural Marxism in many colleges and K-12 schools has also caused way more Americans to see the world as divided between oppressors and the oppressed. It’s an expansion of Marx’s economic class conflict to so many other areas of society: white v. non-white, male v. female, straight v. gay, religious v. secular, first world v. third world, haves v. have-nots, etc.
So conservatives and liberals now choose to lead far more ideologically segregated lives than ever before. We have different family structures and religious orientations and live in different neighborhoods, cities and states. We no longer even watch the same entertainment shows or choose the same college majors or careers.
So Republicans and Democrats no longer date or marry each other remotely as much. Thus, there are likely far fewer families having healthy political discussions between family members with different views who still love each other.
With all this voluntary segregation based on ideological/religious/cultural orientations, no wonder there’s tension when we’re thrown together in the same setting to discuss controversial issues.
There really is a cultural war in America. This helps explain why there’s such a battle royal fought over which history and other textbooks will be used in the schools (the 1619 Project v. the 1776 Project) since they present opposite views of our nation, world and life in general.
Dennis Prager argues we also have too many affluent, secular and bored Americans with too much free time in search of meaning. So they eagerly latch onto political causes. Their religion is politics, their faith is their political ideology and their church is their political party.
We can’t even agree on what words to use. This is why there’s always a fight over the terms of each debate: “pro-choice” (who could possibly oppose this?) v. “pro-life” (well, who could possibly oppose that?). Is someone “pro-Second Amendment” or a “pro-gun fanatic”? Is another “pro-illegal alien” or “pro-undocumented immigrant”? A case can be made that whichever side controls the terms of the debate will prevail in public opinion and, ultimately, policy.
With big tech now censoring political expression and many political elites demanding the destruction of major and minor news outlets on ideological grounds, for the first time in my 59 years, enormous numbers of Americans even fear losing their basic First Amendment rights.
And, with government intruding into our lives far more than ever before, today’s chasm between our major parties means there really is a massive amount at stake in national elections.
Douglas Young is a retired University of North Georgia political science professor.