You have no one to blame but yourselves. You can point all the fingers you want, but in the end, your relentless desire to place the blame at someone else’s feet is only contributing to the endless string of mindless attempts to place someone else at fault. So blame yourselves, because you are cowards. This is your fault.
Barack Obama did not divide this country. Donald Trump did not divide this country. This is simply a divided country; in many ways, it always has been, and in many ways, it always will be. But there has been a paradigm shift in recent years. The divisive rancor from both sides of the political spectrum has deteriorated America from a great nation that thrived on great discourse from great orators, to a nation of anonymous social media avatars and slanted biased “news” sources whose sole purpose is not to foster a civil and productive discussion about the best interests of the collective nation, but rather, to push a polarized agenda which only serves the interests of the few at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
Of course, feel free to Ignore Me, seeing as how I’m just a criminal; but I have a unique vantage point: I do not use social media (other than the automated Facebook and Twitter pages which merely mirror this website, and which I personally don’t even use), and I am not allowed to vote in any election on any level. Both of these are a result of me being a lowly parolee in the state of Kansas, a penalty which I readily accept for my crimes. However, though the state can take away my right to vote and my privilege of social media, they cannot take away my intellect (which, I know, is a stupid and cliche thing to say, and even as I type those words, the better writer part of me cringes a bit, but it is no-less true, so I’ll leave it). Therefore, since I cannot participate in either of these activities, I can honestly step back and objectively observe the status quo — and it is grim.
The slanted and partisan news is actually, in my opinion, the lesser of these two cancers plaguing society’s dying political body. Fox News blatantly caters to the Right, MSNBC blatantly caters to the Left, CNN seems to get blamed for being either too Liberal or too Conservative, based on which side doesn’t seem to like what they are reporting on any given day, and local news often caters to the political leanings of their geographical demographic. We literally live in a nation now where people can choose their facts. Statistics mean nothing anymore and mathematics seems relative to the person quoting the numbers, not the numbers themselves. Stories that would have been op-ed pieces thirty years ago are now being reported as factual breaking news. News anchors are being seen as cultural icons based on their opinions rather than their ability to report and relay the news. Far-Right media figures like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, as well as Far-Left media figures like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman — these people are not reporting the news, they are reporting their politically-fueled opinions as fact, using fear and rhetoric to scare-out the vote. This is simply wrong. It is the responsibility of the free press, protected by the Constitution, to report the news and allow the American electorate to come to their own opinion. But this is not the case in contemporary news media. Now, people are merely told what to think based on their own political leanings, and they simply follow-suit; Republicans mindlessly nod to Fox News and Democrats mindlessly nod to MSNBC. There seems to be no difference anymore between Fox News and Breitbart, or between MSNBC and the Huffington Post. The line between fact and opinion hasn’t simply blurred, it has completely vanished. Many Americans on both sides of the aisle have become a nation of sheep, shockingly mimicking the scariest parts of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
But the slanted news media pales in comparison to what happens on social media. The perceived anonymity of social media has given ordinary Americans the sense that they can haphazardly say whatever they want to whomever they want, and nowhere is this more evident than in the comment sections of political news stories. As I said, I don’t use social media; but my wife does, and on numerous occasions, she’s been scrolling through her Facebook feed and found a story by one of our local news stations regarding politics. She often points-out the horrid comments made by people of both political persuasions in the comments sections of these posts. The thing is, I have frequently noticed that many of these profiles were: a) fake profiles (based on the ridiculous name); b) real profiles without an actual profile picture (thus, maintaining some sort of perceived anonymity); or c) real profiles with pictures designed to be overtly political. What’s more, the general lexicon of these rancorous online personas is every bit as repulsive. “Libtard” is a common one used by the Right, apparently deciding to use a tragic mental disability as a political insult. “Mouth Breather” is one used by the Left, somehow implying the Neanderthal nature of Republicans. “Snowflake” is one used by the Right, which many of them think is an emasculating or weakening insult, but is actually a reference to Nazi concentration camps (the falling ashes of those burned in the Nazi crematoriums were called “Snowflakes”). Both sides call the other side “racists” (with little-to-no justification). Both sides accuse the other of dividing the nation (though by doing this, they are, in-turn, dividing the nation). Both sides accuse the other of being the polarized version of themselves (either “alt-Right” or “ultra-Liberal”), though a vast majority of people would fall in the “moderate” category. Both sides use “memes” and pictures to make their “arguments” rather than fact-based information. Both sides feel that name-calling and degradation are the most productive ways to make (and win) their arguments.
And why is all of this possible? Because social media provides a false sense of anonymity and freedom for people who would otherwise never say the things they say online to a person’s face; and nowhere is this concept more accurate than in the arena of politics. However, the truly frightening part of this is the simple fact that many Americans are not discouraged or put-off by this divisive and disgusting trend — many are actually energized by the hate and dismay produced by this . . . shit. And yes, “shit” is the only viable word for what is going on with social media anymore — “Diarrhea of the mouth,” to steal a line from Sue Ellen Bridger’s short story, “The Beginning of Something,” a story I used to teach as part of the standard curriculum (or in the case of social media, diarrhea of the fingertips).
I have personally been on the receiving end of this, having been on the news (and subsequently on social media) when I was being reported after my arrest, after my sentencing and when I was interviewed regarding an article I’d written for an independent website about Halloween. In all those cases, the names I was being called were reprehensible, whether they were deserved or not. And the same thing is happening in politics. People are being judged as unintelligent, uninformed, and immoral, not because they genuinely are any of those things, but because a perceived adversary’s opinions and beliefs do not align with their own — thus, many Americans have adopted the mentality of, “If you disagree with my opinion, you’re wrong.” The whole agree-to-disagree concept simply does not exist anymore. The idea of compromise simply does not exist anymore.
Social media is the worst thing to happen to American politics and American discourse — ever. Civility no longer exists and the condition will continue to deteriorate.
I suppose this is the point in an op-ed such as this when the writer puts forth a perceived solution to the problem in which he/she is examining. That would be ideal if there really was a realistic solution. But the truth is, there’s not. There really is no solution. Telling America to just chill-the-fuck-out and just try to coexist is ignorant naivete. So I won’t even pretend to pose a solution, other than to say that it is your fault if you feed into this online hate, because you are only making the problem worse.
But I have a theory. It’s not so much a “conspiracy theory,” but it is a theory, and there are indeed conspirators involved. But I won’t call it a “conspiracy theory.” Chuck Klosterman wrote in his book But What If We’re Wrong about why that term is ill-advised:
“You can say, ‘I suspect a conspiracy,’ and you can say, ‘I have a theory.’ But you can’t say, ‘I have a conspiracy theory.’ Because if you do, it will be assumed that even you don’t entirely believe the conspiracy you’re theorizing about.” (p.133)
So this isn’t a “conspiracy theory.” But here’s the thing: The partisan news media and the rancor-driven political social media is all driven by money. People are literally getting rich by driving hate and dividing the country. As everyone knows, the news media is fed by ratings and ratings feed advertising dollars and advertising dollars fund the networks (and the network CEOs). Thus, news media (and all channels, for that matter) which draw the highest audiences have more lucrative and valuable advertising and commercial time. And since society appears to be thriving on the divisive nature of contemporary American politics, the ad-buy potential increases as the divisiveness increases. This is basic and everyone knows this. But social media and online traffic is different. Web traffic advertising is most often driven by “click counts;” the number of people who access an article, read it, and are then simultaneously exposed to the sidebar and banner advertisements on the website. Thus, social media’s news coverage has become populated by “click bait” headlines which are either ambiguous or infuriating, prompting users to click on the article, driving web traffic to their site, and therefore increasing the marketability of the site to advertisers. Simply put, social media posts are now designed to prompt users to increase web traffic, thus increasing advertising dollars; and divisiveness does this most efficiently.
Media conglomerates are banking — literally — on the hate and dismay of the divided American electorate. And the reason there is no end in sight is simply because greed will overshadow civility every time. Too many media executives are getting rich from the American sheeple. Of course, not all Americans fit into this category. I still have faith in the nation which has more-or-less expelled me. But until the rationally moderate voices speak-up, America’s Civil Cold War will rage-on.
I wish I could say I was hopeful, but the mainstream news media lies enough as it is, so I won’t insult you with a lie of my own. I’m not hopeful, I’m not skeptical, I’m not even fearful. I’m nothing, because I am nothing — at least not in this context. I can neither vote nor use social media; and lately, I seem to be perfectly fine living without both.
But like I said, feel free to Ignore Me. I’m just a criminal.