This past Wednesday, the country witnessed what happens when different parts of our population adopt different truths. Although social media has amplified the volume of conspiracy theories and alternate truths, I believe the problem goes back to the Reagan era and the demise of the fairness doctrine. First instituted in 1949, the fairness doctrine required broadcasters to present contrasting viewpoints. The demise of the fairness doctrine allowed the rise of broadcast stations and networks that offer a steady stream of extremely biased commentary, masquerading as “news”.
The political right wing was quick to take advantage of this, promoting programming such as Rush Limbaugh and his non-stop bashing of everyone to his left. There were some efforts on the left to counter with talk radio programming of their own, but at least in my experience, they were absolutely boring compared to the right wing stars like Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh has a knack for pushing the emotional buttons of his listeners, or “dittoheads” as they are known.
Some of the left wing programs I’ve tried to listen to push a different button…the one that makes me want to call the dentist and ask if I can volunteer for a root canal. Painful doesn’t even begin to describe listening to them.
At this point, the fairness doctrine would probably be irrelevant anyway. Anyone with a webcam can produce their own podcast and say pretty much whatever they want. Like talk radio and TV, the goal is to attract enough eyes or ears to generate advertising revenues. The more outlandish the claims, the more fascinated we seem to be. The truth is frequently lost in the process.
What can we do? We can start by being intelligent consumers of news. Just because someone expresses an opinion does not automatically make it true.
While editorial comment is fine, it should be limited in nature and clearly identified as such. Fox News is probably the worst of the major broadcasters when it comes to editorial content masquerading as news, but I’ve seen it on other networks, especially CNN. The Sunday talk shows are the worst offenders. Fareed Zikaria’s GPS being the exception that proves the rule. It is excellent and I find the discussions thought provoking, with a variety of viewpoints.
I would caution you about accepting the lie that the Main Stream Media (MSM) is the enemy. The implication being that we should only listen to fringe propaganda outlets instead. Don’t fall for it. I’d go so far as to suggest that, if you hear a politician or broadcast personality bashing the “Main Stream Media”, it is time to change the channel.
When someone in the media or a politician makes an outrageous claim, they need to be called out and made to prove it. “Truthiness” is not enough. The claims that the 2020 presidential election was somehow rigged or the subject of massive fraud fail the test: Dozens of groundless lawsuits, two appeals to the US Supreme Court, and multiple recounts all indicate that the elections results were a reflection of the will of the American people. These false claims have now resulted in people losing their lives.
Another step we can take is to stop demonizing anyone who doesn’t agree with us. Turn off the talking heads that are attempting to pit us against each other. Try to avoid calling your facebook friends racists, fascists, socialists, or communists. If one of your facebook friends goes off the deep end on some political issue, consider hiding their posts for 30 days or even unfriending them. Within facebook’s rather broad guidelines, they have the right to say what they want, but you have no obligation to listen to them.
Being a Republican does not make one a racist or a fascist. Likewise, being a Democrat is not even remotely the same as being a Communist. To smear all members of the other party as being extremists is both untrue and counterproductive. The truth of the matter is that most members of both parties are loyal Americans that want our country to succeed and see things get better as we move into the future. We may disagree on how best to accomplish that, but it does not make us enemies.
The animosity between the national parties is why a significant part of the population has essentially decided that NEITHER party speaks for them. Our own county is a good example. About 40% of the voters are registered Republican. About 30% are registered Democrats. The OTHER 30% are either registered to minor parties or have no party affiliation. The same holds true in Florida and at the national level. To sum it up: Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you are in a MINORITY and your party doesn’t speak for the majority of residents of our county, our state, or our country.
Elected office holders need to recognize that our country gets more done when we work together and try to craft compromise solutions that work for everyone. That is something that we’ve lost in Washington. There are stories of how Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill would go toe to toe on some issue and then retire to easy chairs and drinks afterwards. Likewise, Joe Biden and John McCain had a warm personal friendship, even though they were from different parties. They were able to work together to fashion compromise solutions to the issues they faced. The relief checks arriving in mailboxes this past week only came about because a bipartisan group of legislators were able to work together to make a deal. The first step in making America great again is to restore the civility we’ve lost in our political discourse.
I’ve been blessed to work with fellow council members with a diverse range of views. I often comment that, both literally and figuratively, I’ve got two council members on my right and two on my left when we sit as a city council. The best decisions we make are the ones where we work through issues and come up with something that then is approved on a 5-0 vote. It doesn’t always happen and I’ve been on my share of the losing end of 4-1 votes, but each of us knows it isn’t personal and we move on to the next issue. Do we get everything right? No, but we do the best we can and the results are obvious as you look at the progress our city has made over the past few years.
We need to debate issues, not ideologies. Ideally, we’d tackle each issue separately. Do we need more financial support for families to get everyone through the pandemic? Do we need to rethink the naming of military bases for Confederate heroes? Do we need to change how we fund our prisons? Do we need to rethink how we fund our roads, bridges, and highways? All of these are legitimate questions that deserve to be addressed individually rather than buried into “must pass” 5000 page omnibus bills that even congressmen don’t see until hours before they are asked to vote on them.
Our country has been through a traumatic period. Voices of those that would tear us apart and pit us against each other have gotten far too much attention. Add in a global pandemic and nerves are frayed and people are on edge. It only takes a small spark to ignite the sort of things we we saw this summer and this past Wednesday. It is past time to turn down the volume and put an end to the toxic rhetoric. It has been my experience that more gets accomplished when people talk civilly to each other rather than screaming at each other through megaphones.
We have a new president being sworn in in just over a week. This is an opportunity for us to all commit to a new fresh attempt to find the things we can agree on. Only then can we address the great issues of our day and truly make America even greater than she has ever been.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor