The Decline Of Modern Political Discourse



American political conversation, most notably within mass media, has  deteriorated in recent years in a number of ways.  One of the most disturbing of these ways is that it increasingly no longer deals with the substance of politics but instead with group dynamics. The purpose of far too many newspaper and magazine editorials is not to convince the reader  that a particular perspective on an important subject is logically or morally justified,  but to convince them that it is “mainstream”.  At the same time its goal is  not to persuade them that the alternative perspective (and by extension those that represent it) are incorrect  but that they are “on the fringes” or “extreme”. In other words, the objective  of the article is to get its audience to conform  to what it depicts as “the popular view”.

The article asks them not to figure, but to follow. The entire substance of the article is often merely a play on group dynamics.  The reader is politely informed of where he or she should be situated on these matters if they wish to avoid the status of  outsider  i.e. “extremist”.  The tone of the article of course assumes that the reader is already within the mainstream and among the ranks of the acceptable; but clear lines are drawn by the author for his benefit  to avoid any potential for confusion.  Now the opinions represented in these pieces as the most popular view may not actually be so in point of fact, and the claim may require  a one sided or skewed set of statistics for support. But that is not what is important for our purposes. What is important is the thought processes of the reader.  What we have here is a model of journalism that conditions its audience to be political followers instead of political thinkers.

Open and rigorous discussion of the actual substance of political issues tends to ultimately lead to civility because I am forced to respect the reason of my opponent.  Reason is the great arbiter among men.  But when the pride of one’s convictions is unchecked by rational argument, and an in depth examination of the substance of the issues is replaced by the manipulation of group  dynamics, this leads to incivility.  It teaches the reader to denounce the holder of a particular view rather than to  deal with the arguments that their position brings to the table.

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