Part 2: Where We are Now
Politics in the United States have changed rapidly in the 21st century. As outlined in part one of this series, “The Problem,” the emergence of 24-hour media, the rise in popularity of opinion news as a result of removing bias protection laws, and the hyper advancement of technology have all changed the way political candidates and political parties connect with people.
Today, many people have a common misconception that the freedoms and protections we enjoy in the 21st century have always been present; however, the structure of the American government is not the same today as it was when our founding fathers outlined the Constitution some 245 years ago. Instead, it has changed and evolved considerably, and while many people complain about the structure we have now, few fully appreciate its inclusiveness.
For example: until the ratification of the 17th Amendment, people did not have the right to elect their own Senators; until 1970, only 21-year-olds had the right to vote in elections, and until the 1990s, many Americans did not have the right to vote in Presidential Primaries at all, just to name a few.
Along with these structural changes, the nature of press and speech has also changed with time, opening the door for new issues in those areas as well.
Without a solid understanding of how our government works and the differences between each political office, it is very easy for broad media talking points (which have become incredibly profitable in recent years) to corrupt the spirit of national, state, and local governance.
Today, people often look at the structure of “free speech” we have now and assume it is no different from what we had in previous eras. In fact, many people believe we have fewer freedoms now than we had historically; however, this is not true.
Today, it is not uncommon for elected representatives to be questioned and put on the spot by the media, but this has not always been the case. With time, the United States has developed the status of press and media to be the most “free and unrestricted” in the world.
However, the idea of media having unrestricted access to question corporations, political candidates, and elected officials is a relatively new concept that has blown up within the last few decades.
In the case of the President, leading up to the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, media personnel were required to submit all questions they had to the White House for review and approval before press conferences. This was done specifically to ensure that a President did not look bad in front of reporters.
While, in theory, this has allowed the media to hold our officials more accountable, it also offers an outlet for continual partisan conjecture within the news itself.
In recent years, we have become bombarded by political divisiveness in our media. Whether it is the political commentators, analysts, news agencies, or candidates themselves, the media has become one of the most influential forces dividing people and corrupting our political system.
News agencies grounded on the foundation of opinion stories are also unlikely to change their political outlook simply because the political establishment has changed, and the American people elect new representatives.
This issue is then perpetuated by the fact that global connectivity has grown unimaginably due to the popularity of social media. As a result, not only are countries that compete with the United States able to influence American decision-making, but poor, inaccurate, and ineffectual journalism spreads like wildfire, too.
Former President Barrack Obama credits part of his success during his initial bid for the Presidency in 2008 to his campaign’s efficiency with social media. In his book “The Promised Land,” he describes how his team was able to use social media to connect with youth, spread his message, and organize his campaign.
In the book, Obama said that after his election, he was struck by just how powerful the platform was and, at the time, believed it had the potential to be disastrous if used in the wrong way.
Today, the nature of politics has changed to where candidates on virtually every level use social media for advertising their platforms and pushing their agendas. As social connectivity has rapidly developed and increased, no level of government is safe from unnecessary divisiveness and powerplays, and the negativity of national politics has eroded the confidence people have in elected office and elected officials across the board.
In theory, the development and popularity of social media platforms should have given people the expanded opportunity to communicate and have honest conversations with one another. However, media programs that were initially designed for communities to “come together” have now developed into platforms where people can attack one another without much consequence.
Another danger that has come from stale and repetitive talking points is people treating every level of government with the same contempt as National Politics and the possibility of elected state and local leaders campaigning on platforms that have nothing to do with the office they wish to hold.
Broad and ambiguous speaking points have become very popular as many people choose and elect candidates to political office on campaigned promises over which they will have very little to no effect in the roles they are running for.
Americans are also slowly losing one of their most effective tools, civil conversation.
Roughly 245 years ago, our founding fathers were by no means a united group of people. While in modern times, we often paint them as a collective group of “white men”, our founders were a surprisingly diverse group of individuals.
Whether it was through their class divide, immigrant status, quality of education, etc., our founding fathers were by no means united on their ideology or support for one another. However, through rigorous and uncensored debate and conversation, they established a country and a government that would change the world forever.
Today it is virtually impossible for anyone to voice their ideology publicly without the risk of being violently attacked verbally for their beliefs. Our inability to recognize each other’s differences and find mutual respect for one another’s integrity has allowed a divisive era of media to run ramped.
Political parties can now use broad and generic talking points to excite their bases simply because market research suggests they are susceptible to those topics. Likewise, the media can enrage their followers by publishing opinion pieces that are set to challenge the integrity of all people who disagree with their biased viewpoint.
We now live in an era where extremists on the left and the right alike can squash any other point of view simply because it does not fit into their mold, and, as a result, we are all “rewarded” with candidates and political parties that only tailor to small minorities of the population.
A recent Franklin and Marshall opinion poll found that approximately 73% of Pennsylvanians (one of the most politically divided states in the nation) believe that it is more important for their political party to support policies that can appeal to most citizens (even if it requires compromise). Yet, it takes but one look at the current slate of candidates for Pennsylvania governor to know that compromise of any form is unlikely.
Stephen Hunt once said, “Even a broken clock is still right twice a day,” but judging by “Where We are Now,” it appears as though we have lost sense of this reality.