Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct inaccurate statistics in the section on “modern media.”
I was recently asked by a friend what I thought about the future of American politics. My only response to the question was, “What is the state of politics today?”
We have just come off an election cycle that had the Founding Fathers turning in their graves. The utter lack of policy discussed was startling. During the campaign, the majority of the time was spent arguing about emails, tax returns, Goldman Sachs speeches, the NBC video, Bill Clinton’s past sins, Melania Trump’s risqué photo shoot, a basket of deplorables, Wikileaks and the Ku Klux Klan.
Trump lashed out at each of his GOP foes, not about policies, but personal attacks. He said Ben Carson was clinically insane and had tried to kill his friend in his teens. Jeb Bush was low energy. Ted Cruz had an ugly wife, was born in Canada, and his father was part of the assassination of JFK. And as for Rand Paul, well, at least “(Trump) never attacked him on his looks and, believe me, there (was) plenty of subject matter right there.”
Trump gave his enemies nicknames such as Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Goofy Elizabeth Warren (also Pocahontas), Dopey Bill Kristol, Crazy Bernie and, last but not least, Crooked Hillary. And he was the winner.
It was cringe-worthy but entertaining, nonetheless. My only question after the election is: will the new season of House of Cards be able to match it, or would it just seem too implausible?
We have a substantial problem in the trust of the flow of information. The media has become, for all intents and purposes, just part of the entertainment industry. Some of the most trusted and watched news shows for some years now are on Comedy Central, especially among young adults.
As far as networks as a whole, the most trusted network, FOX News, in my view, is far from trusted. A Quinnipiac poll found that only 20 percent of U.S. voters trust the journalistic coverage provided by FOX News “a great deal.” Another 35 percent trust it “somewhat.”
While FOX News had the highest “a great deal” of trust, MSNBC had the lowest at 11 percent. Another 41 percent “somewhat” trust MSNBC. In terms of trusting TV journalism, when combining “a great deal” and “somewhat,” FOX News is trusted by 55 percent and MSNBC by 52 percent of American voters.
CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS each fell somewhere in between FOX News and MSNBC on “a great deal” of trust.
The 24-hour news cycle and demand for news makes what would be non-stories in an earlier era, now front-page headlines. The constant new narrative every day, usually starting with a Trump tweet about flag burning or “fake news” somewhere between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. is what drives the entire news cycle.
The increasing reliability of Twitter and other social media outlets as a primary source of news causes certain news to spread quicker than ever before, fake or real. Accuracy in reporting has taken a back seat to swiftness and confirming biases. A big shock in the media industry is right around the corner, if not already here.
For eight years, we had a president who regularly appeared on late-night shows with Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah and others. He had interviews with several top YouTube celebrities like GloZell Green. Obama was a celebrity himself. His videos on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifinakis” and one with Bill Murray in the Oval Office just proved he was a “cool guy” and had tons of swag to him.
He even ended some of his speeches with a mic-drop. But then comes Donald Trump, an actual reality TV star who had his own show for years. He used Twitter every day of his campaign and continues to tweet now. He meets with celebrities in Trump Tower. He always gives us a constant reminder of his ratings and crowd sizes. He’s an entertainer.
Meanwhile, we have former Texas Governor Rick Perry on Dancing with the Stars and Speaker Paul Ryan dabbing on CNN. Contrast this with politicians of the past. I would find it hard to imagine Abraham Lincoln mic-dropping after the Gettysburg Address.
After a president and a culture has made this the norm, should we be surprised Trump won? I’m sure it will be tough for people of both sides to see, but Trump is just Obama on the other side of the aisle.
Now I know that last sentence probably enraged some people, which only highlights my next point. Our politics have devolved into a team-sport mentality. This phenomenon manifests in the argument that if an opposing party does something — it is bad, but if someone on your side does it, then it’s fine. We’ve seen this on many issues on both the right and the left.
Federally-paid maternity leave was attacked by many conservatives when Bernie Sanders brought it up in January 2016, but it was cheered by the same people less than a year later when Trump announced his somewhat similar plan.
This new outrage from the left of being soft on Russia is particularly interesting, as we know just a few years ago Obama asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for flexibility until after the 2012 election, presumably a quid pro quo for the annexation of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine and giving Putin virtual control of Syria. Not to mention all of the people on the right who were outraged by Obama’s behavior, now support Trump when he says we should work with Putin.
When Harry Reid changed the longstanding rule for appointing cabinet position from a three-fifths super majority to a simple majority of the Senate, the left cheered and the right was outraged. Now that Trump’s appointments are passing, often by one or two votes, the right cheers and the left is outraged.
The expansive and prevalent executive orders that Obama signed into action were supported by the left and were accused of executive overreach from the right. Now the tables are turned, and the left cannot understand how Trump has all of this power. Trump supporters find Trump’s pseudo release of his businesses sufficient, but I doubt the same attitude would be present if it were Hillary and the Clinton Foundation. I could go on.
This apparent hypocrisy is demonstrative of the polarization that is prevalent in the U.S. today. The fact that we had riots and protests in the streets the day after the election and on the day of the inauguration further reveals this. Compared to all other presidents before him at this point in a presidency, Donald Trump is the most approved by Republicans (84 percent) and least approved by Democrats (8 percent). Some polls show an even wider gap.
This further illustrates the currently extremely deep division in our political partisanship. It is the symptom of both the leaders on the right and the left, but in different ways. The right’s fight is against the left and what it deems to be instruments of the left — namely the mainstream media, Hollywood and academia.
Trump is now the leader of the party, and his continuous attack on the other side seems to have no end in the sight. This repels those who dislike his vicious rhetoric.
Meanwhile on the left, their enemy seems to be those they identify to be purveyors of oppression. Social justice is the top priority of the modern left. Thus, the continuous group politics and insistence on calling all opposition racist, sexist, bigot, and homophobic further alienates people and divides us among racial, class and gender lines.
Where is the future of American politics headed? If we keep up these patterns and attitudes, the answer is nowhere near good. We must return to discussions about policies. Discussions about which policies will do the most good for the most people and have the most logic and evidence to support them. Virtue signaling as well as the unwillingness to look at history and data before supporting policies needs to stop.
Wishful thinking, I know, but I believe we as Americans agree on far more than we admit to today. If we continue this worship of candidates and blind support of their policies, we are headed down a path of tyranny.
TK McWhertor is a junior in economics. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.