Political discourse has gotten an increasingly thorny reputation as of late. The idea of speaking to someone with opposing views on the current administration prompts avoidance among most people. If one already fears interpersonal conflict due to these conversations, they’re certainly not likely to want to partake given a high possibility of reaching a dead end of stubborn insistence on falsehoods.
It’s one thing to have grievances with an idea, whether one sees it as mildly disagreeable or morally forfeit. But there’s zero point in having a discussion with someone who repeatedly makes egregiously false statements—such discussions serve to foster zero fresh ideas and only to engender frustration.
Take CNN’s roundtable discussions involving analysts such as Jeffrey Lord and Kaylee McEnany. In late March, Lord added to the increasingly bizarre vernacular regarding President Trump’s statements when he said that the president didn’t lie but, in fact, spoke “Americanese,” at the same table as respected figures such as Anderson Cooper and Jim Acosta.
The idea of not only allowing but ensuring that those with differing viewpoints participate in discourse is a time-tested one. It is also central to the ever-increasing push for diversity by universities like UR.
I have felt the benefits of this heterogeneity of thought first-hand, as my most worthwhile political conversations have tended to occur with those more conservatively-minded than my liberal-leaning self. These discussions have allowed me to sharpen both my critical thinking and rhetorical skills, allowing me to better interpret world events with broadened perspective.
And the exact opposite of this effect occurs when a network appoints personnel to vouch for a president whose statements are mostly false or worse 69 percent of time, with 16 percent of his overall statements rating as “pants on fire,” according to Politifact.
Having conservative analysts is as vital an endeavor as ever with Republicans in charge of all three branches of the federal government, but countless conservative voices are being skipped over in favor of shameless Trump pawns who in all likelihood don’t believe half of the words out of their own mouths.
This only serves to give many viewers the impression that the right is entirely made up of abject liars, as opposed to informing them about actual policy issues. In this way, CNN and other networks aren’t doing any more to properly inform the public than the White House’s farce of a press team.
Despite focusing on the network in this column, I still receive notifications from CNN and check its app regularly, but it’s a joke that actual reporting is sandwiched between video clips of Lord calling Donald Trump “the Martin Luther King of healthcare.” In this case, the misinformation leads those attempting to have a legitimate understanding of the news to distrust the very same major outlets with the best access to that news.
The spread of ideas is as important as ever to a country that has been convinced to consider itself divided by recent events. These roundtable discussions could be showing the public how to engage in rational discourse across party lines, but all too often, they end up as shouting matches that rival the toxic masculinity of ESPN daytime programs.
Granted, there’s a rational way to debate anything, sports included, but politics is as much of a cagematch as its presenters enable it to be. When networks market presidential debates like heavyweight title matches, they are setting up the audience to expect traded jabs between the participants instead of measured discussion.
After all, who wouldn’t root for the underdog fighter who’s not afraid to get down and dirty against the arrogant veteran who assumes victory will be handed to them? Trump’s portrayal by the media essentially urged viewers to see the son of a multimillionaire real estate mogul in the same spirit as Rocky Balboa, casting Hillary Clinton as Apollo Creed.
Personally, I don’t know of many people who were saddened by Apollo Creed’s loss to Rocky, and that makes it all the easier to see why people identified with Trump.
No, it’s not the fault of one debate ad or one network, but the general attitude pervading how we present our politicians and how we cover political events as a whole is a gross disservice to the idea of rational discourse.
But the state of discourse is, like everything in entertainment, grossly exaggerated. Genuine hostility and shameless equivocation are far from inevitable in political dialogue and can be avoided in more situations than not given conscious effort. Or we could keep avoiding discourse like wildfire and let the misconceptions continue to spread.