Like most expressways to the netherworld, the road to populist political hell began with the best of intentions. Everyone is expected to take part in the electoral process, so everyone feels they have a right to know what’s going on. They do. Unfortunately, politics is by nature a complicated beast. There’s a lot of legal Latin involved and the nuances frequently go over the heads of even the politicians and analysts who studied politics for years, so it was no surprise that Joe Schmo in Regular Americaville missed about half of it. The demand for politics explained simply for ‘the common man’ (hate that phrase) was high.
Enter the radio talk show. At first, the political analysts used proper legal terminology and the listener was expected to keep up. If they couldn’t…too bad, go get a copy of de Tocquville you illiterate idiot. See? Perceived bias. Inferred even if not implied, it seemed political commentary favored the ‘intellectual elite.’ Clearly, a response was needed. A commentator able to interpret the goings-on in our system so that everyone felt involved in the political process. And so advocacy journalism was born, although it was not given that moniker initially. Radio hosts with politics explained simply so that everyone could understand.
Unfortunately, because breaking politics down into simple language requires interpretation, perceptions and opinions were conveyed with those interpretations. The bias became more pronounced, and it had a very one side of the aisle feel. Clearly, a response was needed.
And so with each iteration, we have gotten further and further away from reasoned political commentary. The loudest voices get the biggest share, and the way to keep it is by lionizing ‘the other side.’ All the while not even noticing that ‘the other side’ is just more of us, people we see on the street every day, in the office, at home. Us & them, ad infinitum. No longer people, just two dimensional representations of ‘everything that’s wrong with this country.’
Thus, we arrive at a place in which a coworker can passionately and unequivocally state his intense hatred of a man he has never met and has held office for (at the time of the pronouncement) less than a year.
How do we pull back? I don’t know, but pull back we must while there is still a feeling by most that we are all us, while the fringe that perceives a ‘them’ is still a minority. But it is a growing minority, and we need to take heed and correct the situation soon.