Echo Chambers, Rhetoric, and the Political Gray Zone

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politics, left vs right, news

During the last United States presidential campaign, the Wall Street Journal released a feature that showed the stark differences between liberal and conservative Facebook news feeds. The intention of this feature was to show how much social media has contributed to the creation of echo chambers tied to political affiliation and voting choice. As expected, the election season brought about conflicts between individuals who’ve severed ties, sometimes even with longtime friends, in the name of disagreement.

Notably, the election was marked by extreme rhetoric. Anyone who pays close attention to long-term politics knows about the power of appeal in winning votes; whether it was Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s comments about Trump voters being “a basket of deplorables,” or Trump’s numerous caustic comments around immigration, shooting someone on 5th Avenue, or the ability to make a deal in times of economic calamity. Add to this the traditional disagreements on issues like abortion, LGBT rights, taxation, as well as welfare, and you have the perfect powder keg for social chaos. It almost seems like expecting division and derision has become par for the course.

 

The Normalcy of Division

“”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” wrote French philosopher Voltaire, during much classier, yet still volatile times. Compared to Senator Mitch McConnell’s declaration to block everything President Barack Obama wanted to legislate, Voltaire’s words seem like a brisk stroll through the park. Even Tip O’Neill, the minority leader during President Ronald Reagan’s administration sought to reach across party lines and would show up to the White House after a long hard day of work to have a drink with “The Gipper”.

In an age of hour-long filibusters, government shutdowns, social media rants, and house floor tirades, hopes for a shared beer are long gone and are instead replaced with growing division. Encouraged by social media pages posting abrasive memes and encouraging black and white thinking from both the left and right, ardent followers have developed a my-way-or-the-highway mantra, reducing the actual efforts of politics.

Even the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street – movements characterized by the media as diametrically opposed – sought similar solutions in government overreach, ignored minorities, and social mobility in the United States. So is it not a surprise that trust in these institutions including television news, newspapers, and the criminal justice system – designed to solve these very issues – is at an all-time low – and continues to trend downward?

 

Embracing the Gray

As a Libertarian in this last election, there were few bright spots in available choices. Our own ticket found division between upstart Austin Petersen, and Gary Johnson. In the mainstream, surveys showed that neither party was satisfied with their candidates, though, In the end, more Republicans came home and voted for Donald Trump than those for Hillary Clinton; even if they were holding their nose in the polling booth.

Regardless, engaging the Republic has consequences – even for those who didn’t bother to vote. With President Donald Trump, Americans of all walks of life will learn that quickly.

For any new or incumbent president, the first 100 days are a key measuring stick, setting the tone for the rest of the administration’s term. Upon the completion of President Trump’s inauguration, he set about signing numerous executive orders, including the building of the wall, striking down the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reinstating the global abortion “gag order”, and reauthorizing the Dakota Access Pipeline – to name a few.

Living in California, I live around a lot of liberally-minded individuals, and many of my friend’s trend to the left. In-line with expectations, the first week of President Trump’s administration has been met with extreme shock, disdain, bewilderment, and anger as many try to make sense of his actions.

Though I voted for Hillary Clinton myself (at the top of the ticket, mostly as a symbolic gesture against Trump), my shock has been more subdued, partly because, instead of choosing to toe party lines and exhibit a preference for black and white, I’ve chosen to abandon the division and embrace the gray area.

The gray area of what will happen under the Trump Administration – and any administration – lies in the understanding of the action behind the rhetoric. Regardless of how caustic you feel President Trump’s comments were surrounding abortion and the labeling of Mexicans as rapists and thieves (per the left-wing media), or that he reinstated the George W. Bush-era abortion “gag order”, it’s the philosophy and the logic that trumps all – no pun intended.

Consider some of Trump’s actions:

  • In every other country, being an illegal, non-visa holding individual will likely land you in prison, or get you deported. The liberal left has twisted this into anti-immigrant rhetoric.
  • In aborting a fetus, you are effectively terminating a life. The closer you terminate to the actual the birth, the more you are destroying. The liberal left has twisted this into a debate of choice versus life.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NHE), through relatively tiny in scope for the federal budget at less than a percent, don’t really cover their intended causes when platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo do the same and with more reach. The liberal left has transformed this into a justification for large government.
  • NPR and PBS, both government-funded stations, report the news and carry similar shows to those that already exist on private-sector television channels that are also available for free over the air. The liberal left has in some cases, taken this as an attack that no one likes Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or Car Talk.

In each of these situations, it is the gray area that wins out.

It’s not that we, as Americans in the gray zone, abhor immigration. We acknowledge that immigrants have contributed greatly to this country but also believe that it ought to be done legally within the confines of established best practices, as opposed to an open door that never closes (with specific exception to anchor kids, a completely different article in my eyes).

Similarly, we support your health choices (as long as they are funded by you or a private institution that takes non-coerced donations); We love the arts (as long as the government isn’t curating), and we enjoy listening to the radio (provided that there is demand for the actual entertainment). Should something like Car Talk or a specific play not be supported, it’s because the people never actually wanted in the first place – not because tax dollars (however few they may be) were keeping it afloat.

 

Drawing Out the Gray

So, you must be wondering by now, what exactly is the gray area? For me, it’s looking at every issue like a Venn Diagram, akin to the days of elementary school where I was asked to compare and contrast between literary issues. In contrast to both ends of the circles where most liberals and conservatives lie, the gray area lies in the middle, absent of emotion. In every situation where you hang out in the gray zone on any issue, consider:

  • What is the angle any side is trying to push?
  • What aspects are justified? What isn’t?
  • Who is being coerced by this advocacy?
  • Who does the coercion hurt? Who does it help?
  • Why are the institutions or issues being considered at all?
  • How does the legality of these issues come into play?

In applying deductive logic led by the facts laid out, you’re more readily able to come to a truthful conclusion that isn’t beholden to any particular side – sorry Kelly-Anne Conway, you’re just going to have to put your biases aside too.

It’s my hope, as we navigate the unpredictable presidency of Donald Trump, that we aim to embrace the gray areas. Over the next few years, I fully expect all sorts of media to divide us further, and the subsequent activity on social media is sure to become even more toxic, noticeably so with President Trump’s narcissistic tendencies and his Twitter account. However, I invite you to spend time thinking about the gray area and explore it. You may just change the way you think about politics forever. That’s how we will truly improve the status of our Republic.

Thanks for reading.

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