We Cannot End Political Divisiveness Without First Changing Our Media.

Following the era of so-called “Yellow Journalism” from the early 1900s during which newspapers wrapped themselves in shame by focusing on sensationalism to the point of creating false stories, journalists found their better selves. After the Great Depression and World War II, journalists focused on exposing and reporting the truth. Not coincidentally, during that time period, our nation thrived. For the most part, our politicians and leaders served their constituents’ needs because the media held them accountable.

The truth was more important than readership, ratings and sensationalism.

More recently, especially following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, our media chose a different path. They became obsessed with profits. That meant they intentionally sought out controversy and sensationalism. “If it bleeds, it leads” became their operating mantra. Real issues – those of politics and governance – were pushed to the background to be replaced by reports of crime and corruption, both real and perceived.

No longer interested in truth, the media instead focused on “balance.” Conflicting views were each handed a microphone and the “journalists” merely sat back to watch the ensuing arguments. This philosophy has now reached its zenith as demonstrated by NBC’s Matt Lauer’s performance at the “Commander-In-Chief” forum. During Hillary Clinton’s interview, he pushed her on already discredited accusations related to Benghazi, her private email server and the Clinton Foundation. Not because he thought he could find anything new of substance, but because they were sensational. On the other hand, when it was Donald Trump’s turn, Lauer asked softball questions refusing even to challenge or expose any of Trump’s many lies.

Lauer was offering viewers balance. What he was denying them was truth.

Such an approach does NOT qualify as journalism. It is mere entertainment, and not very good entertainment at that. It denies viewers the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls. It allows a liar and a bully who has done absolutely nothing to serve our nation to galvanize support. And Matt Lauer is certainly not alone. There are many other faux journalists who either hide behind “balance” or ignore the tenets of objectivity and real journalism to take sides. Worse, it encourages candidates and leaders to lie…to tell people what they want to hear without regard to reality or the facts.

To relate this to a sporting contest, it’s like a football or basketball team that has decided to commit as many fouls as possible in order to win knowing that the officials can’t, or won’t, call them all.

And things are only getting worse. Mainstream media ownership is in the hands of a very few. Thanks to Citizens United, the wealthy and powerful are able to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money to purchase elections. And on-line media has fragmented to such an extent, it is easy for voters to get one-sided “news” that panders to their ideologies.

All of this begs the question, “What can we do?”

The answer is for our citizens to exert some degree of control over the media. To demand that mainstream media replace pundits with journalists and to, once again, focus on the facts and the truth; to hold the media accountable; to demand that any organization that calls itself a news organization to operate in the public interest as judged by a bipartisan commission that includes real journalists; to acknowledge that falsehoods and partisanship do not help our nation. Indeed, they do it great harm. As was the case under the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, those media outlets that do not meet the standards of the commission should be denied their ability to operate and to collect advertising dollars.

This is not about censorship. It’s about truthfulness. We should teach our children that truth matters then demonstrate it to them.

How Can We Ever Hope To Bring Americans Together?

Regardless of which candidate wins this year’s presidential election, it’s all but certain that Americans will be more divided than ever. We’re divided by far more than politics. We’re divided by ideology; by media choices; by attitudes toward guns and violence; by attitudes toward the environment; by a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body; by energy policy; by foreign policy and military intervention; by acceptance and tolerance for those who are different than ourselves; by faith.

As the US, like many other nations, lurches farther to the right, it seems that we cannot agree on anything. One side accepts science while the other relies almost exclusively on faith. One side believes in evolution while the other side believes in creationism. One side works to abate climate change while the other side calls it a hoax. One side embraces other cultures and ethnic groups while the other side chooses to discriminate against them. One side accepts authority and bullying while the other fights against it. One side supports corporatism (aka fascism) while the other supports individuals. One side celebrates wealth and power while the other side celebrates the working class. One side worships individualism while the other side worships community and collectivism. One side demands status quo while the other side demands expanded civil rights.

No matter which candidate wins in November, roughly half of the population will vehemently oppose the winner’s policies.

It would seem that the only thing that can possibly pull our nation together is a disaster – a military or terrorist strike against our nation or a financial calamity on the order of the Great Depression. Ironically, the burst of the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession were not enough to create unanimity. Ignoring the facts, each side simply blamed the other for their hardships.

In order to seek more palatable solutions, we must first look at how we arrived at this point. It began with the Nixon-Agnew strategy of divide and conquer. It continued with the GOP’s embrace of southern bigots and evangelicals along with Paul Wyerich’s strategy of voter suppression. It accelerated with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed electronic media to choose up sides and lie at will. And it was cemented by Newt Gingrich’s embrace of parliamentary-style politics which disdained any form of compromise.

So what can we do?

1. To begin, we should all demand more of our media by reinstating a Fairness Doctrine that would require all media, both electronic and print, to operate in the public interest. That means to tell the truth and hold politicians accountable.
2. We should overturn voter suppression laws and make voting easy, maybe even mandatory, for all American citizens.
3. We should bring transparency to campaign finance and overturn Citizens United.
4. We should, once again, make it illegal for corporations to contribute to political campaigns.
5. We should break the lobbyists’ hold on Congress by passing laws to end the revolving door from Congress to lobbying groups, and to limit lobbyist access to Congress.
6. We should end all forms of gerrymandering by passing laws to put control of congressional redistricting into the hands of independent commissions.
7. We should demand that the IRS reinstate restrictions that prevent non-profits from disguising their political focus, thus doing away with PACs and Super PACs.
8. We should institute term limits on all Senators and Congressional Representatives. If it makes sense to limit the president to two terms, it should make sense to do the same for Congress.
9. We should hold the individuals who manage political campaigns liable for lies and disinformation. That would prevent them from avoiding election fraud by simply dissolving the campaign entities following an election,
10. We should demand more of ourselves. We should each seek to inform ourselves about the candidates and the issues in order to meet the expectations of our Founding Fathers by becoming an enlightened and informed voting public.

Even if you don’t agree with these proposals, we must do something. And we must do it now. It may be our only hope for unifying our nation and moving it forward. Indeed, at the risk of being seen as hyperbolic, it may be the only way to avoid another Civil War.

You’ve Gotta Hand It To Conservatives.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the GOP employed the Southern Strategy which was designed to employ racism in order to gain votes from long-time southern Democrats. It worked. As a result of the strategy, Republicans were able to win the White House in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988.

It took Southerners to break the GOP hold in 1976 and in 1992.

But after the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, the GOP lost Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Seeing that demographics were aligning against them, conservatives employed an equally disturbing strategy. Sure, they continued to appeal to racists after Democrats elected the nation’s first black president. But they based their new strategy on six pillars:

1 – Government obstruction
2 – Corporate political donations
3 – Erasing limits on political donations
4 – Voter suppression
5 – “Model” legislation designed to implement right wing ideology at the state and local levels
6 – The use of conservative-dominated radio and cable TV to relentlessly attack Democrats

These strategies are now almost fully in place. Since 2009, Teapublicans in the Senate have blocked nearly 400 bills and dozens of appointments. The Teapublican-controlled House attempted to shut down the government. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court ignored decades of precedent to rule that money equals free speech; that corporations are people and therefore entitled to contribute to political campaigns; that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed; and that individuals and corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on politics.

Concurrently, conservatives realized that it is easier to sneak bills through state legislatures than through Congress. So they began an all-out attack on groups that traditionally fund Democrats, such as labor unions. They have also pushed ideological legislation through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and similar groups that gave us such ideological bills as Arizona’s racist SB 1070 and legalized discrimination laws such as Arizona’s SB 1062.

As a result of these efforts, corporations now have more power and influence on government (at all levels) than ever before. There has been an avalanche of corporate money from the Koch brothers and others financing political advertising disguised as “issue” ads. There are virtually untraceable millions of in political spending to influence elections. And tens of thousands, if not millions, of minorities, the elderly and the poor will be denied their right to vote in this and future elections.

The tactics have even succeeded in pushing aside dozens of moderate Republican politicians. To make matters worse, Democrats seem to have no real strategy to combat these strategies. And, with few exceptions, Democratic candidates seem to think the best way to be elected is to run away from their party’s principles and pretend they’re Republicans.

If Corporations Are People…

In its Citizens United decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people – with all of the rights of individuals. The “justices” didn’t mention the responsibilities that go along with those rights. Like the responsibility to care for your neighbors.

But, just for a moment, let’s assume that those five old men in black robes who voted in the majority were right. If corporations really were like people, one-sixth, including their CEOs, would be unable to afford health insurance. One-sixth would not have enough food to eat. They would not be able to afford lobbyists. Few would have pension plans and large investment accounts. Most would not be able to retire when they became elderly. And most would not have enough money to contribute to political candidates.

If corporations were like people, they would not be able to negotiate a plea after committing illegal acts, then pay a small fine and deny any admission of guilt. They would go to prison.

If corporations were like people, they would receive no tax-free subsidies to acquire space and land. They would have to pay property taxes on their buildings. Other states and cities would not offer them millions in incentives to relocate. All but a tiny percent would have to pay their fair share of sales taxes and income taxes.

And what if the members of Congress were like the people they’re supposed to represent?

Instead of being paid $174,000 per year, representatives would be paid an average salary of $50,502. Half would make less than $27,000 and 16 percent would live in poverty. Some would be hungry and homeless. They would have no staff to do their work for them. They would actually have to read the bills before they vote.  And they wouldn’t begin fundraising and campaigning for the next election the day after they’re elected.

We’ve come a long way from the representative government our Founders envisioned. A lo-o-o-o-o-ng way!