What Happens When a Proud Progressive Listens to Nothing but Right-Wing Media for a Week?
On the second Tuesday of November 1988, I followed my father into my elementary school cafeteria. The tables were pushed to the side and curtained booths had been set up in rows. We entered one of the booths, the curtain closing behind us. My father flicked a few switches then pointed to the red-handled lever. I pulled it, opening the curtain behind us. I had cast my first vote for Michael Dukakis. I was six years old and I’ve been a card-carrying Democrat ever since.
Nine months ago, I relished in the surety that I had cast a vote for our first female president. I was wrong. I channeled my grief into a slight obsession with politics. Today, I subscribe to no less than five political podcasts, I constantly scroll through a Facebook feed full of Huffpost, NPR, and Reuters updates, and my phone regularly sends me alerts when a new Washington Post or New York Times article comes out.
We’ve been hearing a lot about “information bubbles” since the election, and I admit I might be in one. Facebook and Google feed us the news we want to hear and filter out the stuff that doesn’t conform to our already held notions. The information world I live in is a lot different from that of a typical Republican. I don’t understand how some people can believe the things they believe; but then again, I’m not processing the same data they are. But what if I was?
What if, for an entire week I traded in CNN for Fox News, Buzzfeed for Breitbart, and Pod Save America for the Glen Beck Program?
I decided to find out, so last Sunday I laid the ground work. I unsubscribed from all my podcasts, I unfollowed all my Facebook news sites, and I replaced them all with right-wing news sources.
Monday dawned with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.
Would my moral fortitude hold true? Would I survive the week? Would I need to find $800 to replace my iPhone when I had a total break down and threw it out the window in the middle of rush hour traffic on the LIE?
I downloaded an episode of a podcast called The Renegade Republican. It started with some coverage on the deep-state effort to sabotage Trump and included an argument against a universal basic income. Even the commercials on this podcast had a Republican feel to them. Gone were my Blue Apron ads, and in their place was a pitch for a month’s supply of emergency food in case of the apocalypse (after Trump’s “Fire and Fury” comments Tuesday, this actually seemed like something I should consider). During the day, I read a few Breitbart articles, and on the way home from work I listened to The Glen Beck Program — well, part of it anyway, because it was two hours long. I got through about half the episode before I got home and decided to turn off the politics in favor of an old episode of Game of Thrones.
Tuesday was my day off from work, so I didn’t have any commute time, but I did listen to some Sean Hannity during my run.
I skipped breakfast, but I fueled-up with a hefty dose of anger and moral superiority. Hannity gave it off in spades. I lost track of how many times he used the phrases “Clinton e-mails” and “Susan Rice unmasking” in the first 10 minutes alone (I think someone’s holding a grudge). During the day I tried to watch some Fox News, but I don’t have cable, and Fox isn’t available on SlingTV. Maybe if no one tells Republicans that talk radio and cable news are a thing of the past, their antiquated ideas will fade into the night like their preferred media sources.
Wednesday was dominated by North Korea talk.
It’s about time we had a strong President who stands up for America and makes idle threats about nuclear war — right? I also read a few Breitbart articles; one on how terrible it would be if Mark Zuckerberg ran for president (if I give one point of contention to the right this week, it’s this — I agree that Mark Zuckerberg should not run for President), and another about how Starbucks is spreading tuberculosis by hiring refugees (would you like some TB with your covfefe?).
Wednesday night, I capped off a 12 hour emotionally exhausting day at work with some Alex Jones. This was a very bad idea. His incoherent doomsday ramblings, like something out of The Book of Revelations, finally broke me. “What the f&%k am I listening too? Why am I doing this to myself?” I screamed at my car. My dog was completely unfazed and continued to snooze away curled up in my niece’s car seat. I had no answers to the questions that had bubbled up out of me, but I was almost home so I kept listening anyway.
Thursday morning I turned on some more Glen Beck, but my tolerance for crazy bullshit had increased dramatically throughout the week, and Glen Beck was starting to sound almost reasonable.
Reasonable was not the point of this little experiment of mine, so I switched back to Hannity who was suggesting that assassinating Kim Jung Un might be our best way out of this North Korean Cold War.
I also listened to some of the Mark Levine Show, except there was someone standing in for Mark Levine. He started out with a with a well-reasoned (but wrong) argument on why both science and faith are necessary for Western Civilization. I almost turned the channel since I wasn’t feeling like this was crazy enough, but then he started in on Ashley Judd. This lead in to a diatribe on how conservatives are, in general, much happier than liberals. They are more likely to be married and have kids and liberals only care about politics because it gives our sad, little lives meaning.
On Friday, the end was in sight, but I realized I had forgotten some important conservative voices.
I listened to the Laura Ingraham show on the way to work. I also tried to listen to some Rush Limbaugh, but I learned that you need to subscribe and pay for the privilege of listening to Rush and I just wasn’t that committed to this project.
Saturday was a sobering day.
Seeing the hate and division in Charlottesville reminded me why I was doing this to begin with — to see if there was a way to bridge the gap and start to understand the other side a little better. Unfortunately, it was starting to seem pretty hopeless. Sure, even in the right-wing media most people did what their President wouldn’t — denounce the KKK and other white supremacist groups, but it was often still tempered by a dose of whataboutism. “Neo-Nazi’s are scum, but what about Antifa and BLM? They were throwing rocks and water balloons filled with urine, and blocking the road.”
News-flash everybody — blocking traffic and throwing rocks is wrong, even if it is at white supremacists. Mowing down a crowd of people protesting hate and bigotry is evil. They are not even remotely in the same vicinity and your false equivalencies sound ridiculous. I went to bed feeling disenchanted about the state of our world.
Sunday came, the final day of the project, and something funny happened.
I woke up and was suddenly against gun control and government regulations, I was for corporate tax reform and totally believed in trickledown economics. Just kidding; I was still a Democrat.
The truth is, those classic conservative platforms were barely even mentioned all week. Instead, I spent most of my time listening to the right talk about how the left is dividing this country with identity politics while feeling nothing but division from them. I, as a liberal was the enemy. To them, conservatives are the real America and liberals are just the power-hungry people on their TV or running Facebook and Google, and maybe a few of us are crazy, latte-drinking hipsters. Liberals are intolerant snowflakes who want to shut up any opinions we don’t agree with. I spent far more time listening to anti-liberal rants then I did listening to actual news this week.
I don’t think I came out of this experiment empty-handed.
I learned what we’re all doing wrong (on the left and the right). Each side has created a villain out of half a country. We bond with our own side by name-calling and bullying. I was never going to become a Republican this week, partly because I am secure in my moral values, but also because I was the enemy to them and they took every opportunity to make that clear. Leftist-liberals are destroying this country, shutting down free speech, and trying to steal the election from the Americans who voted for Donald Trump. That’s their refrain. The left creates demons on the right too — Martyrs for the other side to rally around, ensuring they will never see reason.
I keep hearing people say, “you can’t win an election by being against something, you have to be for something too.” Well, apparently, they’re wrong because the right did win an election that way and they’re still singing the same old tune. Personally, I’d still rather be for something any day. Righteous indignation is addictive, but unless we come down off our high horses and see people as individuals instead of as just allies or enemies, this country will continue to grow farther and farther apart.
*PS- Want to see hear even more about my week — or just watch a crazy person rant at her phone? Check out the daily Facebook Live updates I gave.