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Theory: Divisiveness is a Good Thing, and Yesterday's Mid-Terms Got Us More of It

Robin Alexander

Posted on November 7, 2018 12:21

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You couldn’t imagine a more divisive time than the late 60s and early 70s. Every institution was under attack – organized religion, the Presidency, universities, the military, Hoover’s FBI; every social standard was questioned – marriage, segregation, motherhood, the Pledge, history itself. We invented “the generation gap” and fought our way through family dinners. It was hardly civil. But divisiveness is different now.

1. Then, the national news came on at 7 pm for 30 minutes (15 minutes until September 2, 1963). There wasn’t time to over-analyze every political statement, let alone every scandal, natural disaster and plane crash. The important facts had to get out there, fast. Perhaps that added to the gravitas surrounding the nightly news. Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America.”

Politicians were always corrupt and always lied, but now we are experiencing an assault on the truth and the media’s credibility as never before. The more politicians lie, the more important the press should become.

But gravitas, weakened and sick for decades, committed suicide two years ago.

2. Then, the news programs we watched were similar. It was our collective town hall. Now, we watch the one mainstream cable news network that contains the opinions and analyses that we want to hear.

Today’s networks are news silos. We can’t have a substantive discussion when we can’t agree on what's happening, what’s important, which statistics to cite, and what words actually mean.

3. Then, news divisions were owned by corporations, but corporations weren’t nearly as powerful and the financial stakes weren’t nearly as high. The news was considered a public service, rather than a money-maker. Now, mainstream news functions as the mouthpiece of the American oligarchy.

That’s why the accusation “fake news” has a dangerous hint of truth to it. It’s not just the spin that distorts; it’s the facts that aren’t reported and the perspectives that aren’t allowed (a claim that requires its own TLT, I know).

The job of journalism is to publicize what people don’t want publicized -- everything else is public relations, as George Orwell possibly pointed out.

We are bombarded 24/7 with public relations – which is a kind way of saying “propaganda”.

4. Then, we argued over policy, principles, and a vision for America. It was a philosophical / ideological dispute (when we weren’t high, okay). Now, we’re divided along emotional lines, party lines, “tribal lines”. You can’t make a logical argument about changing tribes.

Now, anti-intellectualism sweeps the country, as if rural folk don’t have ideas. Who told you that? Wake up. You do.

Real productive divisiveness is not a bad thing.

It’s the spirit of our system. Just as friction between sticks creates the essential tool fire, intellectual debate spawns compromise and new ideas. Our Constitution embodies this tenet.

It’s at the core of checks and balances, not only between parties (unfortunately both now have the same owners), but between labor and management (unfortunately labor is now lost), and between branches of government (perhaps yesterday we got some of this back).

The real scandal is that today’s divisiveness is a fight among factions that should be allied against the real enemy, the American oligarchy. The fight that follows that alliance will be anything but civil.

And may “the news” -- whether mainstream or podcast or online politically neutral website -- play the role it was meant to play.

Robin Alexander

Posted on November 7, 2018 12:21

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