Go on to any news, entertainment or social media website in 2017, and you’ll find the same thing on every story. Vile and hideous comments that represent the worst of society. Political junkies accuse leaders of being Hitler, others cook up absurd conspiracies about those who follow one religion or another and no one comes together with those on the other side of an argument in any form of agreement.
That’s the status quo we are now dealing with in the United States.
We weren’t always this divided. According to a 2014 study from the Pew Research Center, the portion of Republicans and Democrats who have a highly negative view of those in the other group has more than doubled since the 1990’s. So what caused that change?
Some blame the rise of networks like Fox and MSNBC, while others feel the advancement of technology and increased anonymity alongside it has caused a coarsening of public discourse. Both have played a role in the rancor Americans and others around the globe feel towards those they disagree with, but neither are the answer. Instead, it is the fragmentation of the media landscape where we consume our entertainment and get our information that is doing the country in.
When it comes to the things we watch for entertainment, very few events are a topic of national conversation anymore. Yes, most people gather around each year to cheer on one team or another at the SuperBowl, but that’s more the exception than the rule. According to a recent report from entertainment-industry website Variety, there are over 400 different television shows airing on networks and streaming services. If a gun owner and a control advocate can’t find common ground, thanks to both having tuned in to see who shot JR on “Dallas”, how will these individuals or others with wildly differing beliefs ever solve the serious problems plaguing society?
With respect to the news media, things are just as fractured. Communities generally got their information from the same news outlets before the World Wide Web made its debut in the ’90s. The internet disrupted print news just as cable transformed television. Sure, your neighbor watched CBS and you were a regular viewer of NBC, but at the end of the day you both read the same newspaper and accepted its reporting.
Now you and your peers only go to outlets that cater to the opinions and mindsets that you hold dear. There’s ThinkProgress, Slate and The Intercept for more liberal individuals. Breitbart, The Wall Street Journal and One America News for those on the right. When each side shows a different reality, how will anyone ever know what the right thing really is?
What can we do to resolve this? One can never be certain. But the divide can’t continue. Those with different political beliefs have had their heads in the sand on issues relating to age, generations, geography, class, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality and too many more fault lines to name. As my fellow students will tell you, its time they resurfaced and listened to the other side.
I wrote this as the intro to a student-written and published book I worked on with my peers in a class on Race, Community and Ethnic reporting during my graduate studies at American University in Washington, D.C., if you’d like a copy, message me for a PDF. The book is not available anywhere online for purchase at this time.