America’s ‘Civil War’: The real virus in our media and political culture

6 mins read


America is dumb.

America is run by idiots.

American civilization is heading into the crapper.

American democracy is teetering on the edge of extinction.

America is headed for civil war.

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This last sentiment, which was trending on Twitter, got the media-megaphone treatment based on the musings of a single person.

That would be Lori Levi, a Trump supporter who happened to be interviewed by an MSNBC reporter at his weekend rally in Iowa.

She said establishment types in both parties don’t care about the American people because “they’re in their elite little tower. So we’re just sick of it, you know, and we’re not going to take it anymore. I see a civil war coming. I do.” MSNBC was still replaying the clip yesterday.

How is it that this one man-on-the-street interview got an initial 67,000 retweets, as Newsweek noted, and sparked lots of criticism of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement?

There’s a thriving media market for apocalyptic declarations of an imminent civil war, as if one side were about the fire on Fort Sumter. Also for various doom-and-gloom proclamations about America’s low collective IQ, flirtation with fascism and capitulation to socialism.

In a deafening media culture, it takes more extremist rhetoric to break through. But what’s happening is deeper and more disturbing. While some of these pieces are fueled by sincere concern over the country’s fate, it’s mostly an extension of our ideological warfare.

You know the players. On one side are outraged liberals and some disaffected Republicans warning that Trumpism is destroying the country and that his attempt to steal the last election will surely succeed in 2024.

On the other side are conservatives and Trumpists sounding the alarm that Joe Biden is unfit for office, has already ruined the country and is burying the American way of life.

Aren’t we all getting a little sick of this?

Not normal political debate, not the Trump-versus-Biden arguments, but the hate, anger and demonization that has poisoned so much of our discourse?

The headline on the latest Jonah Goldberg column at the Dispatch: “Grow Up, Everybody. This is No Way to Save Democracy.”

He writes that our political culture “has led a lot of journalists to become party activists by proxy. On the right and the left, many journalists—including a great many ‘objective’ reporters—think it’s their job to help their preferred party make the best case for itself.

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“Because Congress is dysfunctional and the parties are institutionally weak, large swaths of the media—as well as coalition-aligned institutions like, say, the NRA and Planned Parenthood—become de facto party organs when the perceived need arrives. Parties used to educate and organize voters. Now those jobs have been outsourced to allegedly non-partisan agents who are anything but non-partisan.” 

For many liberal pundits, says Goldberg, “criticizing Biden is equivalent to lending aid and comfort to an authoritarian threat.” 

Swing across the spectrum to liberal Washington Post columnist Gene Robinson, whose latest headline is “How Dumb Can a Nation Get and Still Survive?”

Supporters of US President Donald Trump challenging the results of the 2020 US Presidential election arrive for a rally on the Ellipse outside of the White House on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Supporters of US President Donald Trump challenging the results of the 2020 US Presidential election arrive for a rally on the Ellipse outside of the White House on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

He asks: “Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality?”

What set Robinson off is the moronic debt-ceiling battle: “The credit rating of the planet’s greatest economic superpower has already been lowered because of this every-few-years ritual, and each time we stage the absurd melodrama, we risk a miscalculation that sends us over the fiscal cliff. Today’s trench-warfare political tribalism makes that peril greater than ever. An intelligent and reasonable Congress would eliminate the debt ceiling once and for all. Our Congress is neither.”

And then he shifts to a crowd booing Lindsey Graham for suggesting they may want to get the vaccine—that debate being a classic example of how pointless polarization is costing lives that could be saved.

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This is the world we live in. While journalists who wage partisan war reap all kinds of awards, those who don’t take sides are often dismissed as wimps worshipping at the church of both-siderism, rather than recognized for attempting to be fair.

I suspect there are plenty of other folks who are tired of the extremist rhetoric, but their views are simply drowned out as too dull.

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