In the aftermath of the terrible massacre in Arizona it appears we might finally be ready to have a national discussion on the toxic “us versus them” political climate that has come to infect our country. It is unfortunate that it took a mass murder to get Americans to think deeply about how we treat each other.
I suspect that in the end we will discover that Jared Loughner was probably motivated more by mental illness than Sarah Palin painting cross-hairs on maps, or other conservative “my way or die” rhetoric.
Still, this might get us all to realize that dividing our country based on whether or not we consider ourselves liberal or conservative is at the least not productive, and at the worst Anti-American, and an invitation to domestic terrorism and potential justification for violence for those already grappling with their own sanity.
Much to the occassional consternation of both his supporters and critics, our President has always remained the hallmark of civility, and with his approval ratings finally on the rise America may finally be appreciative of having a rational, intelligent, true gentleman in the White House.
So with understanding and dialogue perhaps we can all work towards a more civil America, but I would advocate additionally taking the financial incentives out of stirring up needless trouble.
The truth is that in this new era of real journalism being replaced by “entertainment / shock news” there are enormous financial incentives to “yell fire in a crowded theatre”, and it’s time that the American public cry foul at this money-driven manipulation.
A few years ago I was talking to a friend that was quite familiar with the executive suite at Fox News. “Fox is not based on a specific political agenda. It’s based on making money”, he told me. “If there was more money in running a liberal network then Fox would be liberal”.
It makes sense. The Jersey Shore is not on the air to feed the public good or because dopey muscle bound men, and women with huge implants and massive dyed hair have something important to impart to America; it exists because it makes money.
Sarah Palin abandoned the governorship of Alaska because she had a once-in-a-million opportunity to become a weathy media star, not because she was serving the public good. And if for some reason down the road she can make more money judging American Idol or by doing infomercials for her own line of wigs than pontificating on conservatism I would be suprised if she doesn’t jump at the chance. She is a performer now, just as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and John Stewart are performers. And as part of their acts they need to manipulate their audiences; make them laugh or cry, outrage them, get them to come to performances, and buy their books and swag. That’s what performers do. This is not Walter Cronkite reading the news, these are professional personalities selling ideas in the same way a host on QVC sells stretch pants; pitch something and see how people respond, and if they respond and buy do it all again only louder.
Unfortunately what has sold lately is to get people really uptight and mad at each other. It’s like having a drunk uncle that only comes home on holidays to stir the family up, making sure that by the time he leaves everyone is unhappy and yelling at each other.
But of course we have the power. We can tell our drunk uncle that he either behaves himself or he isn’t welcome in our house, and by voting with our channel changer we can tell these paid political pundits that dividing America isn’t profitable anymore. Bill O’Reilly is a smart guy (not so sure about Beck – I get more of a Pauly Shore hit from him), and he will mold himself to his viewer’s desires.
And we shouldn’t be afraid to use the legal system to financially punish those that create havoc in their quest for profits. If talk show hosts, political pundits, or video game manufacturers can be conclusively linked to inspiring violence, then they should pay the price.