© Josh Sager – June 2014
Over the last few years, the American right has fractured into a party split between corporate representatives and populist ideological extremists. One half of the Republican Party—most commonly considered the “establishment” wing—is composed of corporatists whose primary goal is to look after the interests of their corporate donors and to lessen the tax burden on the wealthy and corporations; the other half—most commonly called the “Tea Party” wing—is composed of social/religious extremists, anti-government protesters, neo-confederates, and anarcho-libertarians.
This divide, combined with the extremism and corruption in both wings of the GOP, has ground the federal government to a halt, caused numerous manufactured crises (ex. the debt ceiling), and eroded the public confidence in our entire political system (at one point, public approval of Congress was at 9%).
In effect, the GOP has become a Frankenstein’s monster, rampaging around society without clear direction, destroying and obstructing anything unfortunate enough to cross its path. The monster’s creators (the establishment GOP strategists and right wing donors) have lost control over their creation (the populist, but angry, extreme and ignorant base) and are now facing the prospect of being ousted by the very monster that they sought to set after the Democrats.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the GOP will be reconciling its differences and returning to sanity any time in the near future, thus the US government will continue to suffer endless dysfunction and brinksmanship. This dysfunction will continue to breed discontent within the public and the American people will become even more cynical in regard to our political system (if that is even possible).
When apportioning blame for the consequences of this malaise, we must put a great deal of blame on the GOP base, donor class, and ideological infrastructure (ex. Fox News and right wing think tanks), but we must also recognize that the mainstream media has significant culpability for the ascendency of these extremists.
The Corporate Media Failure
The founding fathers enshrined the freedom of the press in our Constitution because they recognized that a major function of the press is to act as a counterbalance to extremism in the government. While the media certainly serves to entertain the public, its higher duty is to act as the neutral fact-checker that informs the public about the actions of their government.
Ideally, the media is a non-partisan instrument of accountability that informs the public of the facts so that they are able to make informed decisions at the voting booth—they tell us the things that those in power would rather us not know and ensure that no politician or political group is allowed to sell the public on lies.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world and the modern corporate media has spectacularly failed to act as an instrument of accountability. They have turned every political debate into an equal discussion between two sides, even when the facts are clearly contradicting one side’s position while supporting the other. In effect, the media now acts as neutral stenographers who simply regurgitate the talking points of both political parties without regard for truth, history, or reality.
In addition to giving up on reality-based fact-checking, the corporate media has also allowed their chase of ratings divert their focus from substantive stories to sensationalistic nonsense (ex. CNN obsessing over a missing plane for weeks while Russia walks into Ukraine).
This neglectful conduct by the media has allowed the extremists in the right wing to take over their party and threaten our entire nation’s health. In the absence of fact-checking, the extreme segments of the right wing who were previously isolated to groups like the John Birch Society (famous for their belief that the evil big government was fluoridating water as part of a mind control scheme, rather than as an initiative to improve dental health) have gained enough support to become mainstream. Because the public isn’t informed by the media that these right wing extremists are simply delusional, many Americans are tricked into supporting ideals that are not based in reality.
The media has dropped the ball and the result has been a gradual creep of extremism into the GOP, from its right fringe. Views that were previously unthinkably extreme and derided as lunacy by the media have become acceptable policy positions to be talked about and given equal credence with long-accepted views (ex. holding the debt ceiling hostage and threatening an economic crisis isn’t acceptable).
While I certainly blame the GOP for its actions, the fact remains that they are not fully responsible for their actions. The modern GOP is a mass of ignorant, indoctrinated, stupid, or cultural brainwashed individuals who are victims of a corroded education system, negligent media, and tsunami of big-money propaganda. Because the media has perpetuated the idea that the non-factual extreme right wing position is as valid a choice as moderate and factual positions, these people have been made vulnerable to indoctrination.
The extreme right wing contingent that now controls the GOP has adopted a platform that rejects science, promotes revisionist history, and seeks to drag our country back to the 19th Century in terms of social programs and regulations (essentially none). Unless the media starts doing its job and debunks the non-factual claims of the extreme right, there is a very real chance that irreparable harm will be done to our country.