At the end of the week that brought Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, President Obama said, “America is not as divided as some have suggested.”
Isn’t it pretty to think so?
Has the president not seen the headlines?
“Rudy Giuliani says ‘Black Lives Matter’ is Racist.”
“Jesse Jackson says Donald Trump helped ‘seed the clouds’ of recent violence.”
Those were but two.
Maybe the president needs to read my emails.
“Black Lives Matter, a rent-a-cop mob equivalent to the KKK, has been provoking this for months without anyone in the black community condemning – what did we expect to be the logical conclusion?”
“Dallas police assassinations are a signal of our society’s push back against a Hollywood militarized police force.”
There were scores, from every angle.
Many people wanted to believe the election of Barack Obama proved America had moved into some “post-racial” era. He may have been among them. Yet our headlines, discourse, and survey after survey show we still wrestle with race.
Yes, Mr. President, we are precisely this divided. About race, and much more.
The Pew Research Center recently reported that for the first time in more than two decades of surveys, majorities in both parties expressed “very unfavorable” views of each other. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans have a “very unfavorable” impression of Democrats, who in turn have a 55-percent unfavorable view of Republicans.
Strong negative opinions often rise out of ignorance. Not this time. Pew also reported 85 percent of voters say they are “following the election closely.” Sixty percent say they are “more interested in politics than they were four years ago.”
So rather than an uninformed polarization, the growing, gaping gulch between Americans is widened by the voices to which we give our attention.
A Washington Times story last week screamed, “Americans increasingly seeking media outlets that confirm pre-existing partisan views.” The Public Policy Polling people recently found Republicans only trust Fox News while Democrats trust any news other than Fox.
Gosh. No, really? Shocking!
A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. And now a man can click a channel to make sure he doesn’t even hear anything he would have to disregard.
Increasingly, Americans only want the news and commentary that makes us feel good, and what feels good is hearing over and over and over again that the other guy’s wrong. That’s the driver behind the evolution of cable TV news, political talk radio, and many newspapers and political web sites. It affects whom we follow on Twitter and keep as Friends on Facebook.
There is multiplication in this division. The more an individual politician, news channel, radio show, or website divides – clearly and pervasively presents itself to one ideology over another – the more its audience grows.
Feeling good in the political and racial worlds is easy. All we have to do is surround ourselves with who and what agrees with us. Reaching beyond what makes us feel good, doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t satisfy, at least not immediately. Kind of like with food. Which is why Americans are so overweight.
And so divided.
...with apologies to Mr. Hemingway and Mr. Simon. Keith Larson can be heard weekdays 9 a.m. - Noon on WBT AM/FM.