Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Sturm und Drang of US Politics

Hello Bloggers! It would seem that "hope and change" for some is "chaos and confusion" for others. The highs and lows of American politics are not new, but except for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, our generation may be living through one the most contentious and divisive periods of our history.

Americans stood together during the world wars, but today we seem more inclined to curse, abuse, or even harm one another.

Dangerous Republican Anger and Frustration

The radicals are everywhere, on both sides. Still, there are differences. One group refuses to acknowledge last year's election results; dismisses the whole concept of majority rule and the legislative process by calling it fascism (when they're not in control at least); is hell-bent on causing as much trouble as possible (disrupting town halls and more); uses propaganda filled with incredible lies to sway public opinion their way; "disrespects" the office of the president by calling him a racist and a liar; and worst of all, is threatening violence and revolution.

Those are serious differences. Ordinary Democratic Americans may have been angry with Bush and the Republicans - and called them names like "war criminals" for all kinds of good reasons, but the difference is that leading Republicans and trusted sources across the media spectrum are now doing it. It's all pretty despicable. Even moderate Republicans are beginning to talk about how embarrassed they are by it all. I don't blame them. It's been pretty ugly.

After eight years of shoving policies, laws and lawbreaking down our throats, they are now acting as though we are intruders in their home. Being the majority is not enough for them. Despite our true mandate, they need us to pass our laws with solid Republican support (by over 70% in the Senate). If not, they call us fascists, socialists or communists. They seem to come up with new names every week. It's insane.

They never allowed us any input while in power. They controlled everything in every committee, along with floor debates. They were the worst majority party in the history of Congress. So, after treating our attempt at bi-partisan politics (electing Barack Obama) like crap, why should we care?

It's simple, they're angry because they're out of power. It's not about the American people; it's about power. Now it's 24/7 lies, hate and bile all encouraged by today's ratings-based, corporate media. They may not see it, take responsibility for it, or even know they're doing it, but they're doing it. The sad thing is, except for losing the big election, their behavior is unprovoked. We try to be bi-partisan, and they spit in our face. It's tiring.

They're refusing to acknowledge the election results. Instead, they're resorting to lies and distortions in an attempt to annul our victory.

It all needs to end. It's getting dangerous. As I've said before, somebody is going to get hurt or die. We need to find our way back to real issue debates, and find a way to filter out all the lies. We need to convert the radicals. We need to clean our political house.

Before we can stop it we need to identify the source of the anger, which will help us get rid of it. What is different about today? The answer will help us.

What is the Source of the Anger?

I would say it's the decline of truth in media and the subsequent decline in American intellectual curiosity - especially as it relates to real news and facts. I often talk about propaganda in media today, but it's also important to acknowledge the decline in America's appetite or desire for real news. Sadly, facts no longer seem important to people. Opinion - especially coming from pundits - seems to be more important today. So, what caused it?

Did Americans lose interest in real news, or did real news abandon Americans first? It's complicated, but I blame Ted Turner and his network buddies. Sorry Ted, but somebody had to be first, and that means you get the blame. Ted launched CNN in the eighties as America's first 24/7 cable news channel. The quality was good at the beginning. Along with MTV it thrilled Americans, but unfortunately a nasty rot soon set in.

First, CNN became very successful. Ted was making millions (enough to sell his empire to Time Warner for billions), which caused the big broadcast networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) led by their corporate parent companies to do the unthinkable. Greed and jealousy drove them to merge their once great independent news divisions into their larger entertainment media groups, forcing them to compete as big corporate profit centers. That was the beginning of the end.

Second, CNN's success in the post Reagan era of money, power and deregulation (the late 80s and 90s) drove big corporate media men to take great risks. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and General Electric's NBC soon launched their own 24/7 news channels. Rupert joined forces with Roger Ailes and the Republican Party (FOX "News") while NBC joined forces with the high tech world of Microsoft (MSNBC). Both launches represented large corporate initiatives designed to consolidate power and influence while attracting huge profits.

Along with CNN at the time, they were willing to sacrifice their journalistic ethics for more tangible gains.

It was the beginning of the end for real news. Money from advertisers who were inappropriate - due to conflicts of interest - poured millions into the 24/7 news companies. Greed replaced ethics and the old divisions between "church and state" crumbled into dust. 24/7 news channels morphed into 24/7 "news" (some say entertainment) channels. I consider them "news" channels only because I don't know what else to call them. I suspect many people feel the same way. To me, they are corporate shills, or corporate whores.

If you're a fan of Orwell, I would also call them the "big brother" networks.

Our Drive-thru News Culture Today

Quality news still exists (NewsHour, NPR and the BBC), but they are drowned out by the less serious and more entertaining 24/7 competitors. Americans have grown accustomed to seeing their "news" peppered with anchor celebs, car chases, human interest pet stories, hype, sex, and the prolific he-said/she-said interviews where the interviewer cares more about the drama than real facts.

News is no longer about news. Interviews teach us nothing. Follow-up questions no longer exist. It's all about who is more convincing at the time. Interviews are more like duels - the truth be damned.

It may sound devastating, but America's "tabloidization" of the news is almost complete. News today is, for all intents and purposes, crap! Quality news and journalism is in decline, and sadly American intellectual curiosity along with it. I doubt journalism schools even teach ethics anymore. They probably focus more on hype. The days when real issues were discussed and debated and corrupt people everywhere worried about the investigative or confrontational journalist are over.

America's Fourth Estate has evolved into a bad joke. Corporate propaganda has replaced it, and it is now the engine that drives the ratings and money in media. It is corrupt, on the take, and in the tank.

That corruption leads us to the next big reason why things are different today - media's unhealthy influence on politics. Politics has always partnered with media, but not like today. There's something different. The 24/7 "news" channels have had a serious corrupting influence on today's politics. Instead of learning about issues and finding real solutions, politicians are spending inordinate amounts of time on public relations, communications and getting re-elected via the media. Sarah Palin is the archetypal modern media candidate - all BS and no substance.

Today it's all about getting a sound bite and form over substance.

The 24/7 Effect on Politics Today

We've established that modern politics is being eroded by the lies and manipulation of our corrupt 24/7 corporate media. It's unclear just how far the damage has gone, or will go, but it is clear the system needs to be fixed. Now we need to salvage what is left. I don't know how much faith I have left in the system, but President Obama and the Democratic leadership need to so something before it's too late.

The whole situation is made worse yet by the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case about the 2008 election-era Hillary Clinton movie. If the justices rule in favor of corporate money supporting candidates, the Democrats and our whole democracy may be at risk.

I realize that President Obama and the Democrats have a lot on their plate, but this is a critical issue. We may need to act soon. If not, we may never hold power again. Incredibly, the rest of our achievements may ultimately become meaningless unless we can prevent a potential corporate takeover of our political culture.

So the "system" is corrupt, polluted with misinformation, manipulation and media control - among many other things. Unless we can change course soon, our nation is at risk.

What Can We Do to Stop It?

It's time for us all to stop watching the 24/7 "news" channels, and that includes those of us who love to hear the "good news" on MSNBC. The same goes for FOX "News" fans, but my gut tells me that the 30% of Republicans who enjoy the FOX echo-chamber are even more loyal than Democrats - based on the ratings and cult-like fan base.

Besides ignoring the 24/7 big brother networks, we need to focus on education. Though our Republican friends deny it, the Reagan Administration started the process of dumbing-down America. It began when they started to dismantle our federal education standards in the 1980s. The process continued under Bush Sr., yet thankfully slowed under Clinton and Bush Jr..

We need strong national education standards. It is the only way to help reverse the damage.

We need to promote national excellence in math, science, civics and other critical subjects. We need to teach kids to doubt what they read, to question sources, and to think for themselves. We need to discourage home schooling and encourage respect for education, intelligence and learning again. Americans need to stop embracing leaders who cannot speak, read or write. America needs to move forward, not backwards.

The things I've written about here are important. If we don't recognize what has gone wrong and try to fix it, we will become less competitive as a nation, and ultimately suffer a national decline. The Sturm und Drang (storms and stresses) of modern American politics are difficult to control, but it's clear that unless WE THE PEOPLE try to improve things ourselves, we may never recover our freedom.

Tuesday's/Wednesday's/Thursday's Political Rant - Michael


Holte Ender said...

Michael - I couldn't agree with you more. In my 25 years of living in the US I have never experienced such bad journalistic integrity. Celebrity, multi-millionaire presenters pushing their own agendas. News used to stand apart from the networks push for the bottom line. Not anymore. My scapegoat is Rupert Murdoch, he buys the rights TV sports, NFL here, Soccer in the UK, and the pushes his brand name, Fox here, Sky in the UK. Everything he touches turns to sleaze, but he gets ratings, so gets imitated by the more established networks, the ones who used to have some pride in their news division. He hates the BBC and NPR. Rupert's son, James, is the head News Corporation's Europe and Asia division, recently he called the BBC a threat to independent journalism. He called the BBC "Orwellian." What we have here is a kettle, pot, black thing.

Infidel753 said...

What is the Source of the Anger?

Well, the main issue is not just anger but their being out of touch with reality (death panels, Obama as a Kenyan, Nazi, Communist, etc.). I think the root of the problem the way American conservatism over the last few years has become almost completely identified with religious fundamentalism. Religious belief inherently promotes delusional thinking and an attitude of outraged demonization toward any opposition.