The Enemy – Extremism Sells

“If it bleeds………..”

You know the rest.

In a recent podcast on National Review, Kevin D. Williamson lamented the relatively recent development in our politics of labeling those we disagree with “the enemy.”  This of course goes both ways, it’s not a left or right thing – both sides engage in this toxic rhetoric.  Myself included from time to time.

Ryan over at Living With Liberty in a recent podcast notes that the differences between mainstream liberals and conservatives on the issues are rather small.  The major difference between them is usually what to do about the issue, not the issue itself.  I should note that Ryan has pointed this out in previous shows as well.

Why, in recent decades, have Americans come to refer to those they disagree with as “enemy?”  That was not the case in my younger years.  I don’t recall Ronald Reagan or Tipp O’Neal referring to their political opposition as the enemy.  There was a time, and to me it doesn’t seem all that long ago, that the party out of power acted the part of “the loyal opposition.”  Loyal to the country and the people, opposed to the party in power.

I place the blame for our current level of toxicity squarely on the media.  Was it a coordinated attempt to destroy the public discourse?  In most cases, no.  I believe it was largely a result of economics, the economics of the news business to be more precise.  The big three networks no longer enjoy the monopoly they had in 1980.  All media outlets of all stripes now must compete as one among hundreds – or thousands, and with social media.  The media business turned rough, revenues dropped, and they all have become desperate.

Out of this desperation to grab the attention of viewers, the media turned to the tactics of the tabloids.  Honesty, journalistic integrity, and the truth were no longer relevant.  Sensationalism was now relevant.  Why? Because it attracts viewers and clicks – and therefore revenue.

So, the media began to shift coverage toward the most radical and sensational stories.  A moderate politician was not sensational.  A story about what a radical politician said was much more likely to sell.  So, guess who gets coverage?

As I said earlier, this is not a left or right thing.  Both sides are doing the same thing.  Trump is a good example.  He correctly calculated that the more controversial his comments, the more media coverage he would get.  The same holds for AOC and “The Squad,” Senator Sanders, and MTG.  The more controversial the statement, the more time the press will devote to it.  Politicians now know this, and to the degree they can they exploit it.  Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a national news story about MTG, and when was the last time you saw a national news story about Senator Murray?  Moderates and centrists don’t get coverage, radicals do.  This is very much by design.

In this desperate attempt to grab revenue, the media has destroyed their credibility.  The last “approval rating” poll I saw had the media below Joe Biden, and below Congress.  Considering that virtually every American understands that politicians essentially lie for a living, that is one hell of an accomplishment for our mainstream press.  Around 63% of the public have “not very much” or “no trust at all” in the mainstream media.  As anyone that has read my articles in the past will surmise, I’m neither surprised nor sympathetic.  Think about that number for a moment, that is a hairs breadth away from a 2/3rds majority.

Politicians play to the media and combined, the media and the politicians shape the public discourse.  The trouble with all this is, this is not where the vast majority of Americans are.  The media and the politicians are now playing to the fringes – both left and right.

A few days ago, the Senate killed a bill passed by the House that would have legalized abortion up to the moment of birth (never mind that such a law would almost certainly have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).  This bill was extreme, it went far beyond Roe, and it represented a position held by a small fraction of voters.  There is virtually no popular support for abortion up to birth.  But that didn’t stop the politicians, it didn’t even give them pause, because extremism sells.  Extremism will get the press coverage – that is the new equation.  Apparently, it did not occur for one second to those that brought the bill to a vote that a more moderate and reasonable bill might have passed and might have been less divisive.  Those promoting the bill intended that every Senator would have to go on the record on the subject.  Well, they did that.  Every Democrat (except one) went on record as supporting abortion up to the moment of birth, and every Republican went on record as opposing abortion up to the moment of birth.  I trust everyone got their wish.

The leaked Supreme Court draft decision that prompted all this silliness involves a case where a state had passed a law banning (in most cases) abortion after 15 weeks.  That law is not exactly what most in the country (or the world for that matter) would consider extreme.  But the Senate couldn’t be bothered with something nuanced, couldn’t be bothered with a messy compromise, couldn’t even be bothered with public opinion, no – they had to bring the most extreme measure to the floor for a vote (knowing full well, mind you, that it had no chance of passing).  I should note that the job of the Senate is not to represent a majority of the people, rather a majority of the states.  I don’t intend to imply that the Senate should be swayed by popular opinion nationwide – that is not their job.

Now ask yourself, why would the Senate Majority Leader do this?  Press coverage, pandering to the extremists.

Messy compromises, where neither side gets everything they want, are usually the ones that pass congressional and legal muster.  Extreme measures – left or right – almost never get anywhere in our system.  That is by design.  And that design, by the way, is precisely what every elected official swears to uphold when they take office.

The opinions, beliefs, convictions, and ideology of the vast majority of Americans are therefore not addressed by the media or politicians.  For well over 80% of us, our voices are never heard, the media pays no attention, and the politicians could care less.  This is why we are dysfunctional.

When we the consumers of the news only see extremist views coming from Washington, it is quite natural to conclude that the other side is the enemy.  When the choices presented appear to be “ban all abortions” or “allow all abortions up to the moment of birth” – or – “ban all firearms” or “allow everyone to have tanks and field artillery” it isn’t too hard to see how people become polarized and dig in.  These sort of positions are not realistic and do not reflect what most Americans believe – but they are the sort that get the press – every time.

28 people were shot in Milwaukee last night.  10 people were killed in a mass shooting in Buffalo NY today.  The shooter in NY appears (at this time) to be linked to the extreme right (to be fair, no one appears to have many details just yet).  Watch which one gets the news coverage and the attention of the politicians.  If one is linked to an extremist or an extreme movement, you already know the answer.

Yes, the media is left biased.  However, that has been the case for at least 5 decades and I would argue more.  What is different now is that the media is left biased and only interested in sensational news stories.  And yes, to be fair, right leaning media outlets are guilty of the same thing.  That only reinforces my point.

Americans should not view one another as the enemy because we differ on political opinion.  We are all Americans; we have common goals and aspirations and like it or not we are all headed for the same future – we’re stuck with each other.  So, the sooner we stop calling each other “enemy”, the sooner we can work toward that future.

It’s not at all likely that the press or politicians will take the lead on this, we must.


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