President Obama and President Trump couldn’t be more different in their policies and political styles (and I’ll admit I have my preferences). But they’ve both been equally reviled and vilified by their ruthless political adversaries and a thoroughly biased media and public. Why is that?
Our nation is tenaciously binary. From our Western religious traditions, we acquired a dualistic sense of people as good or evil, right or wrong, saved or sinful (and even correct or incorrect).
From British political traditions, we devised a binary Congress, and against the better judgment of the Founding Fathers, two dominant political parties, conservative or progressive, right or left.
English common law gave us a binary legal system, a litigious, adversarial kind of justice that categorically asserts guilt or innocence, good or bad — affixing blame and punishment upon losers and letting winners go scot-free. Other legal approaches recognize and address the shortcomings and wrongdoings of all contributors to the problem at hand.
Changes in media law, the 24/7 news cycle, the rise of Donald Trump, and a shift in ad revenue to Craigslist propelled much mainstream media into news outlets catering primarily to one of the two predominant political perspectives, thus reinforcing the biases of their one-sided and increasingly rabid audiences.
With some exceptions (e.g., mainstream media outlets like this award-winning newspaper, which supports a variety of independent voices) most mainstream news outlets have turned into zero-sum slugfests — to the detriment of America’s standards of journalistic integrity, excellence and trustworthiness.
Continuously pitting the political left and right against each other by stirring up complicated, contentious, often irrelevant political sagas and bitter election cycles might be good entertainment, but it’s bad journalism and bad politics. Instead of useful, truthful information, opposing news teams foment ever more audience gullibility, prejudice and polarization.
Many Americans (including myself) believe that Big Money has thoroughly corrupted American politics. By Big Money, I mean personal wealth so humongous that we can hardly conceive of it.
Big Money is the biggest beneficiary — more even than media — of a citizenry hopped-up and gorged on a steady diet of hysterical outrage and hate, because Big Money needs a voting public so continually distracted by political chaos and confusion that we barely notice that neither our red nor our blue representatives in Washington are getting the people’s work done, even while they’re quietly undoing previous good work.
Nothing tightens Big Money’s grip on our politics (and country) like unrelenting political polarization. Are we at risk of losing our democracy? Who knows? Who cares? That’s the way Big Money likes it, and they have the determination and resources to keep it that way.
Given a representative and honest political and media context, we could all freely, civilly and effectively express ourselves without attacking anyone. And given half a chance, effective local public servants leading from positive values and building consensus could break through the noise and nonsense to lead the country where it wants to go.
My best hopes for the future lie in the brilliance and courage of new generations; in today’s increasingly accessible information and easier communications; in urgently awaited technological breakthroughs; and in the widening vision and deepening compassion of leading citizens everywhere, in every walk of life.
There are impressive candidates out there offering interesting political alternatives. An overwhelming wave of thoughtful voters might yet elect great leaders who will wisely and boldly address the urgent issues threatening our democracy, future, planet — our everyone and everything.
I’ll vote for brilliant, visionary, morally courageous leaders who are educated, informed, thoughtful, rational, caring, hardworking, experienced, and energetic, have strong values, are good communicators, are humble, confident, open-minded, unifying, politically savvy, honest, authentic, not small or petty — and fun would be nice too.
Writing from Clover Hill, Nancy Pace just checked out fearless truth-teller Matt Taibbi’s delicious new book, “Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another.” Hilarious, astute, invaluable Pulitzer stuff.