I am not sure what I expected our country to look like in 2021, but I certainly did not expect it to be so fractured and so bogged down in hate. My oldest son was a year old on Sept. 11, 2001. The wave of patriotism following that day gave me hope for the America that my kids would inherit.
Fast forward 20 years, and that hope has been overtaken by fear. Fear that our country has become so polarized on every issue that it may not survive. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was speaking about the divide between free states and slave states.
In 2021, America is divided on a multitude of issues, and most of our tech media platforms are determined to expand that divide rather than close the gap. These concerns are a driving force behind the theme of this year’s National Newspaper Week – which focuses on newspapers as a community forum. Let me explain the problem and then offer a solution.
We are polarized on every issue because of the information that we consume daily. We have lost our ability to see another point of view. Any difference in thought is met with anger and hatred. This is in complete violation of the concepts that created America.
America was founded on the ideals of freedom, tolerance, acceptance and compromise. These ideals have not always applied equally to everyone, true, but the beauty of our country is that it continues to evolve. America is a concept, a target for which we are striving. Unfortunately, it feels like we are as far away from the target as we have ever been.
The question for all of us is, how did we get here, and how can we evolve?
The 1980s gave birth to the 24-hour news TV networks. These “news” networks have become entertainment programming competing for viewers, ratings and advertising dollars. They each appeal to a subset of viewers with a distinct political leaning. Their programming is focused mostly on commentary, and feeds their viewers what they want to see and hear.
The 2000s saw the advent of social media networks, heralded as a breakthrough in human interaction. With a mouse click or swipe, you can connect with anyone, or any group, anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, this “breakthrough” is being used to further divide Americans. Social networks rely on algorithms designed to show you things in which you are interested, which explains why they are so addicting. However, many entities are exploiting these platforms to cause more polarization.
Think about the negativity, hate, fear and bullying in your feed. There is little in the way of fruitful discussion or civil discourse. These platforms have become an echo chamber of people sharing the same beliefs and same fears.
Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was one man, working alone. In 2021, he would be part of an extremist social media group, spreading his thoughts and feeding off the radicalism of others in a virtual mob effect.
We need to get back to treating each other with dignity. Differences of opinion are not bad. There can be truth on both sides of an argument. Issues are rarely black and white.
The first step is to look at the media and propaganda we are consuming. We must regulate our media intake and turn away from the ideological echo chambers of “news” entertainment and social media around us.
We need a local forum for news. Local news has a much bigger impact in your day-to-day life than national/regional news. News surrounding city council meetings, zoning, school board meetings and local elections all can have profound effects on our daily lives.
Engage with your local newspaper. Attend town halls and community events. Help hold local elected officials accountable.
Local newspapers are embedded in the community, disseminating essential information and encouraging civil discourse. They are the original community forum.
Be part of this forum. Subscribe to your local newspaper today, in print or online. Support local journalism and help build a stronger community.