When I was in 10th grade, my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Gustafson, encouraged us to “read everything you can get your hands on.” He was referring to news, and in particular, newspapers. It was the difference between being an intelligent citizen and becoming a victim of the system, he said.
All these years later, I still believe that. However, what passes as news today is considerably different than what passed as news 25 years ago. The stories on CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC hardly count as news, they’re sharply biased opinion pieces or edutainment, at best.
The problem with this is multi-fold. In the dying wake of print news, television journalism has become a bit of an oxymoron, and quickly Americans are finding themselves in a news drought. Kind of like food… we’re surrounded by it, but very little of it is of any notable quality.
The end game of this change is scary, and we’re seeing the beginnings of it now, though the tide has been shifting quickly and dramatically over the past decade. As journalism becomes increasingly scarce, and as information becomes more accessible, our collective appetite for it diminishes. (If it’s always accessible, why take the time to digest it?) So increasingly, the public has become prone to persuasive mini-soundbites, taking a cue from the page of a master marketer’s playbook. Half-truths, mistruths, distortions and outright lies pervade our political landscape. Honesty and integrity are dead.
The outcome? We have two political parties that are so horrifically unable to govern, that we are becoming victims of those that “lead” us. Republicans have learned that out of chaos comes control, and will spend every last moment undoing or unraveling any institution to create ever-more chaos. Democrats have learned that spineless government can weasel its way in to our lives in many ways, and will slither in to every corner of life.
Rhetoric has become meaningless and vocabulary has become charged with ignorance. “Canada,” “Socialist,” “European,” “Collective,” have all become swear words that enrage, incite fear, and shut down discussion rather than encourage it. The average square-state American has been lead to believe that the American way is the only way: Canada has it wrong. The U.K. has it wrong. God forbid, Sweden or Denmark, they might as well be hell on earth. Yet this same square-state American cannot reconcile this ignorant and myopic world view (made more narrow by her/his inaccessibility to actual news) with the ennui she/he feels at the state of affairs in America today, and it’s this insular stupidity that will be the undoing of this country.
Scarily, the crazy fringe—Dennis Kucinich, Sarah Palin, Jesse Ventura, Ron Paul, Lou Dobbs—seem to have a handle on this, and will continue to tap in to the ennui and confusion that the average American encounters daily. What will be the outcome of this? A multi party system like (gulp) Canada? A new enlightenment (unlikely). Or, more confusion? Probably the later, which will allow the Republicans to cultivate confusion and chaos, and allow the Democrats to slither in to every corner of our lives through tax or regulation.
I’m going to change my affiliation to Independent. Stay tuned, it can only get more interesting.