Today is my last full day at Mother Jones, although I’ll be around for the rest of the weekend and blogging as the mood hits me. With that in mind, I want to outline my take on what’s wrong with politics in the US these days. I’ve gone over the details of each of these points before, and I have a half-written long version of this as well. For now, though, I want to present it in the simplest, clearest possible way.
My goal here is not really to convince you I’m right. It’s just to get you thinking. Here it is:
- In material terms, the United States is in pretty good shape. Incomes are up; crime is down; financial satisfaction is high; and overall happiness is stable. This does not mean we have no problems. It merely means that our problems are not any worse than they’ve ever been.
- Democracy is in pretty good shape too. The Trump insurrection was scary, but it was a one-off. Overall, elections are held normally; voter turnout is stable; Black turnout is up; we have greater diversity in Congress; and the attempt to challenge the 2020 election was a dismal failure.
- Much of the distress over politics is due to the fact that the country has been stuck in a 50-50 pattern for so long. This kind of endless trench warfare irritates everyone. But it’s not a sign of instability. It’s just a sign that neither party has done a very good job of building a large and durable majority. It’s also a sign that few people are terrifically unhappy over our current situation.
- Nevertheless, what fundamentally defines modern politics is that we’re all scared. That is, we’re scared of the other party. Why?
- It isn’t because we’re more prone to conspiracy theories these days. The evidence suggests that belief in conspiracy theories has been fairly stable since the 1960s. Nor is it because of social media. This fear goes back to at least the year 2000, far before social media had any impact. And obviously it isn’t because the US is facing ruin. We aren’t.
- The reason is simple: Fox News. Newt Gingrich may have been the original prophet of fear, but it was Fox News that executed his vision and then gained a national following in the early 2000s. Fox broadcasts are dedicated almost exclusively to scaring the hell out of their audience about what Democrats will do if they gain power. They will tax your money away. They will give your money to Black people. They will crush Christianity. They want government bureaucrats to control every aspect of your life. They want schools to teach your kids that gay sex is good and patriotism is bad.
- This is the explanation for the most fundamental question everyone should be asking about the 1/6 insurrection: what on earth scared so many people so badly that they were willing to storm the Capitol in order to keep Joe Biden from becoming president?
There are two things we can do about this culture of fear. First, liberals need to avoid going down the same rabbit hole as conservatives. We’re not close to that yet, but there’s not much question that we’ve been moving in that direction. It needs to stop.
Second, and most important, we need to mount some kind of broad, aggressive battle against Fox News. This obviously needs to be a fully private battle, and it needs to be waged in every possible way. We can boycott advertisers. We can pressure cable companies. We can air commercials that take on the fear machine. We can even compromise on some of the political positions that conservatives find most unnerving.
In general, we need to do everything we can to reduce the fear that conservatives have of liberal rule. You may think this is unfair: why should it be our responsibility to do this? But that’s politics. Our job is to win converts, and fair or not, this is the way to do it.
I don’t think a single blog post is going to convince a lot of people. Fair enough. But spend a little time thinking about this. Roll it around in your head. Compare it to other theories and you’ll find that most of them don’t really hold water. In the end, we need a no-holds-barred battle against Fox News and a massive PR campaign to persuade the conservative rank and file that Democrats don’t, in fact, want to send them off to reeducation camps. This is the only way to get American politics back on track.