Involving young people in politics has been a major theme in the 2016 presidential race, likely due to the fact that so many young people are disillusioned with the political process. Their apathy is justified — the presidential debates revealed a brand of shameless debauchery that is worthy of a time slot on TLC. Corruption allegations and irascible Twitter feuds regularly saturate morning headlines and evening talk shows. All the while, resentment for party leadership grows, and fewer people seem inclined to reach across the aisle and compromise for the sake of bettering the country. Things were not always this way.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the Supreme Court in 1993 and was confirmed by the Senate in a 96-3 vote. That is to say, one of the most ideologically liberal justices in the history of our country’s highest court had only three votes cast against her – a moment of unthinkable bipartisanship in comparison to the current Senate’s actions toward President Obama and Merrick Garland.
The polarized and politicized atmosphere in which we currently find ourselves is consequential of the way news is presented and consumed. Established by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcast license holders to present controversial issues of public importance in a fair and balanced manner. This rule was eliminated in 1987, just years before Roger Ailes, a former Republican strategist, founded Fox News and forever changed the tone of American politics.
What Ailes did was as cunning as it was injurious. He replaced dispassionate news spreads with big, “hot” stories, attractive anchors and colloquial, conservative discourse that viewers adored. But behind all of the pomp and sheen was Ailes’s notorious brutality and willingness to publicly assail individuals who criticized him. Not only did this thwart the standard of fair and balanced journalism, but it also gave way to an atmosphere of highly personal, ideological and vitriolic language that has polluted the news we consume. We tend to think that if someone doesn’t share our own stance on a topic, it’s not because they may know something that we don’t, it’s because they are wrong and probably stupid. This type of discourse sets a dangerous precedent in which objective reporting is secondary to divisive remarks and partisan commentary that undermine, rather than enhance, the public’s ability to make informed decisions about the way its democracy operates.
The creation of Fox News is obviously not the only factor contributing to the transformation of news media. In the last year alone, the Supreme Court has made several rulings on particularly moral issues, such as the legality of same-sex marriage, abortion, immigrants’ rights and free speech. These decisions attempt to answer such difficult questions as: at what point are humans considered alive and how do we balance the authority of the state with the prerogatives of a woman? Who is the federal government responsible for protecting? Does restricting speech for the comfort of a community undermine the sanctity of the first amendment?
When stripped of their polarizing language, these questions clearly do not have simple answers. Yet people are so quick to plant themselves on one side of an issue and never consider the legitimacy of contrasting opinions. This mentality is the reason there are still only eight Supreme Court justices. It is why Donald Trump has essentially offended his way to the top of the Republican ticket. It is why so many Americans have lost faith in a government that alleges to be of the people, for the people and by the people.
Now this all seems pretty hopeless, but it’s not. Read the news. All the news. Don’t just understand what the other side thinks, understand why. Empathize. Question your own opinions. Discuss issues with people who aren’t like you, especially when they are hard to find. Be wrong. Write about it. Vote. It’ll get better.
Mackenzie Karbon is a sophomore majoring in jazz performance. Her column, Here’s That Rainy Day, runs the first Thursday of each month.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user skeeze