Two Americas, and the Bubbles They Live In
“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”
— Barack Obama, speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention
I read this story last night, written (as the title says) by a Ken Stern, the former head of the National Public Radio news division, and I’ve been mulling over what I might write in response, ever since. You see, I don’t just study politics and history, I study the people who make both.
This, on the other hand, is about those who record history.
To admit that there is a liberal bent to the media is, I think, an admission of the obvious. I only wonder why it is taboo to do so — why shouldn’t the media admit what they are? And, more to the point, why should they not be what they are?
I am decidedly right-of-center. I have consistently, my entire adult life, advocated for personal, individual responsibility in economics — and in the last few years, I have drifted away from the American conservatives in this same vein, because (from my perspective) they do not advocate for personal, individual responsibility in peoples’ private lives. I can go into that more, if you should disagree, but that would take me off my topic, so I’ll leave that assertion un-guarded for the moment. I have never hidden what I am, and I genuinely enjoy the moments of interpersonal controversy that has given me over the years. No person has ever doubted where I stand — if they were willing to listen to my answers to their questions. And so, those who know me also know how to gauge my viewpoints, in reference to their own.
But I’m not very important, now am I? I’m just some guy, hammering away at a keyboard once in a while, shouting his opinion into the void of the Internet. It might matter more what I think, if I were a member of the elite set of media influencers who live in and around the coastal areas of the country.
I’m going to say something now that will seem so obvious as to be stupid: Gay people are, whether you like it or not, gay. We, as a society, don’t expect gay people to be not-gay. The opinions of Americans are rapidly shifting toward acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle (I express no opinion on that here, I’m merely remarking on that statistically verifiable fact), much in the same way we don’t expect Mitt Romney to drop the hottest rap album of 2018 — that simply doesn’t appear to be in his nature.
And, by the way, if Mitt Romney tried to rap, I think we can all agree that it would be unimaginably awful to listen to. He is very talented at a good many things; I would make a very educated guess that rap isn’t one of them.
So why do we expect the overwhelming majority of journalists, whose thinking is to the left of the political center of the country, to pretend to be otherwise? That is as much a part of their identity as being gay is part of Andrew Sullivan’s identity, or as being an unbearably stiff financier is a part of Romney’s identity — why on earth would anyone expect journalists to suspend their core beliefs when speaking, writing, or reading about the events of the day?
Instead, journalists should proudly advertise which way they lean, and on which issues — so that consumers of media can determine how to properly classify each journalist’s point of view. If that were to happen, perhaps we could grow out of our current media dichotomy of Fox Populi versus Fifty Shades of Left.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Now as a member of the right-of-center cabal, let me point something else out. This may be painful for the media to hear, but it is important: We know you, and you don’t know us. Also, you know yourself, and we do not know ourselves. Bear in mind the above Sun Tzu passage, and you’ll see where I’m going with this.
Our current political climate results in terrible, often cataclysmic shifts in power. These shifts in power are destabilizing to the economy, to the balance of world power, and even to our personal relationships. There are many reasons for this, but only a few are within the complete control of the Fourth Estate. This is one of those things which are.
Conservatives, for the most part, don’t know what that word actually means anymore. It has been so long since philosophy was taught in American public schools, that we are quickly running out of people who know enough to teach it again. Critical thinking isn’t an American forte, anymore — and conservatives in general (with some outstanding exceptions) aren’t very good at critiquing their own viewpoints anymore. Due in large part to the same problem of education, the left are not very good at it either — in general, the left tend to classify conservative viewpoints as one of three things:
— Old and therefore irrelevant (a non-sequitur fallacy)
— Stupid (nearly always presented as a tautology)
— Evil (a moral judgement, presented as empirical, rather than rational, evidence; and also tautological)
This intellectual laziness from both sides would, ordinarily, result in both sides having an equal amount of “fake news” about the other. However, conservatives can’t get away from leftist viewpoints. This results in a greater understanding of leftist views on the rightward side — and anecdotally, that appears to be what Ken Stern discovered in his anthropological study of we noble savages of the Red State Tribe.
I would guess that most people would accept, for the sake of argument, the stipulation that a college degree generally leads to greater lifetime earnings — in short, you have to get a degree in order to raise your economic standing in life. Therefore, many of us who hold right-of-center viewpoints go to college, where we encounter a steady blast of viewpoints ranging from center-left, to the positively Stalinist.
In short, we learn from you, whether we want to or not.
What experience can anyone name that is the equal to that, for those whose opinions are to the left-of-center? We learn, not through formal education, but by the oldest teacher of them all, experience. This is a gift that those of you on the left have given us on the right. And there simply is no equal treatment for you — you must, if you wish to know us as we know you, do as Ken Stern did, and come talk to us. There is no economic incentive for you to do so, at least not one equal to the incentives found in college; but this is no less important.
It is that fundamental belief — it is that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work.
— Barack Obama, speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention
I’m going to head this final section with a quote from the same speech that I began this essay with, in order to make this point: In order to be your brother’s keeper, or your sister’s keeper, you absolutely must know them first. Those on the left have no shortage of good ideas they want to inflict on us — but as I said before, I don’t think you actually know us very well. How are you going to keep me, your metaphorical brother, if you have absolutely no interest in speaking to me first?
And how likely do you think I will be to accept your help, even if I understand that you foist that help on me with the best of intentions, if your help doesn’t match what I want, or what I need?
I am not your enemy. I am not evil, I’m not that old (32, thanks for asking), and yeah, I’m probably way out of touch with a good many things, but I try to learn something new every day — which, I suppose, takes me out of the ‘stupid’ category as well. Belief that I am your metaphorical brother, and that you are in some small way responsible for my well-being, is just fine — I don’t mind you believing that, even if I think you’re nuts for it. But faith requires action to prove itself real, and the first thing you can do as a missionary for your faith is…go talk to someone about it. Someone who doesn’t think like you do. Someone who was raised in, what might as well be to you, a foreign country — a red state. We might surprise you. It looks like Ken Stern was surprised.
And while you’re there, ask for the sweet tea. It’s pretty good, and nothing like what you get from Trader Joe’s.