Stating the obvious, our country is woefully and detrimentally divided. The tension between Democrats and Republicans is palpable and the constant bickering has left us all feeling like the unwitting casualties of a national divorce.
There’s no doubt that hyper-partisan entertainment journalism bares a sizable portion of the blame. Television performers operating under the guise of journalism have exploited our deepest fears in the name of ratings. Now we’re all so aghast with the stench of injustice that any comment in perceived opposition of our own righteous truths is met with a firestorm of indignation. Such incredulity makes compromise through conversation impossible and leaves us retreating to our safe spaces, both digital and geographical, where our biases can’t be challenged. We’re self-tribalizing, and the health of our democracy weakens as the fissures of our discord widen.
Our politicians, too, have mastered the art of public disgust in order to elevate their own positions. Tearing down the opponent is a much swifter path to election success rather than doing the hard work of lifting up the electorate. As a result, we now vote against a candidate rather than for one as we gravitate toward the person most likely to protect us from the perceived evilness of the opposition.
These self-serving, greed-driven tactics have permeated the soul of our society and dimmed the light of our democracy. So how do we keep the flicker of the American promise that remains from being completely extinguished?
Some have argued that the return of the Fairness Doctrine would be a good start. Established in 1949, it required that television and radio stations with a Federal Communication Commission license dedicate airtime to opposing points of view on topics of public interest. In a time before cable news when the three major networks held great sway over viewers, ensuring balanced reporting made sense. Although the rule withstood a 1969 Supreme Court challenge, the eventual advent of cable television meant that viewers had numerous options for consuming all manner of news, arguably negating the need for forced impartiality. In 1987 the FCC revoked the rule altogether, opening the door for the partisan news outlets that are now the bane of our existence.
Yet resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine, or some form of it, would be futile. Today, in addition to the influence of cable news, is the influence of social media. While the FCC may still regulate their licensees, much of the news we now consume is not under the purview of the FCC, and with no governing body regulating content on the internet there’s no mechanism to ensure compliance for fact-based reporting. Even if there were, the onslaught of First Amendment challenges would be overwhelming.
So where does that leave us?
In so much as our government is unable or unwilling to regulate a return to functional civility, reason would dictate that it’s incumbent upon us to do so, but how? Although it’s easy to say we will commit ourselves to only consuming fact-based media or we will only elect someone who will reach across the aisle, the reality is different. The entire tone of our country must shift before compromise and bipartisanship are even possible, and that is going to take leadership — extreme leadership.
Not since the late senator John McCain famously defended his opponent and then presidential-candidate Barack Obama from town hall comments expressing fear and mistrust of Obama, has our country experienced the kind of leadership we now need.
Extreme leadership is doing what’s right in the face of the opposition. (McCain was jeered by the crowd for his comments.)
It’s putting focus on results over party.
It’s making decisions based on the electorate, not the election.
It’s embracing America’s diversity.
It’s acknowledging everyone’s humanity, even the opponent’s.
It’s inspiring the citizenry to believe in something better.
It’s using the full weight of American might to think big and aim high.
It’s affirming the universal right of dignity for all.
It’s upholding our Constitution.
It’s revering the institutional necessity of checks and balances.
It’s being strong, decisive, measured and moral.
It’s exemplifying unwavering courage and strength on the world stage.
It’s instilling faith in our institutions.
It’s setting an example of service.
It’s finding common ground!
Yet, despite two rounds of Democratic presidential debates, it appears we are in for more of the same. Media looking for ratings and sound bites encouraged candidates to attack one another and candidates looking for political points attacked one another. Americans expect vigorous debates of the issues and for distinctions to be drawn between the two parties and between candidates, yet personal attacks need not be standard fare. Politics as usual can no longer be acceptable. Something must change. We deserve better.
What if, instead of the goal of the next election to be to remove the current inhabitant from the Oval Office, we focused on creating a system where another Trumpian candidate could never be electable in the first place?
What if we focused on the masses and not the fringes?
What if someone inspired hope instead of fear?
What if the majority of Americans felt our system of government worked for them and not against them?
What if we created a system where bipartisanship was expected, not a novelty?
To do any of this will require the lifting the fog of greed and self-interest that hangs over Washington, yet, it is possible if we all do our part. To start, commit to fact-based media. Ryan Dube of MakeUseOf.com has made it easy with this list, at the top of which is AP News. After that, turn off the noise; keep your outrage in perspective; and when an extreme leader rises, vote. If one never does, vote anyway. We must start somewhere.