Americans Now Less Open-Minded With Media’s Help

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

While liberal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was touring what was then the Fibrominn power plant in Benson around 2008, 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson talked to her about rural Minnesota’s innovative spirit. The conservative Democrat also made the observation that highlighted the diversity of his party: “There is no way I could get elected in her (San Francisco) district and there is no way she could get elected in mine.”

Republicans, on the other hand, fit a template that is nearly interchangeable across America. A metropolitan Republican from Alabama could likely get elected in rural Minnesota and a rural Texas Republican elected in parts of the Twin Cities.

Now even a very conservative Democrat can feel threatened when running for election in rural Minnesota. Affiliation with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party is becoming a liability in a changing rural landscape influenced heavily by a conservative national news media.

 “…in recent decades, the two parties have been changing, and fast. Those changes are ideological — the Democratic Party has moved left, and the Republican Party has moved right,” author of “Why We’re Polarized,” writes. “But more fundamentally, those changes are compositional: Democrats have become more diverse, urban, young and secular, and the Republican Party has turned itself into a vehicle for whiter, older, more Christian and more rural voters.”

The intensifying impact of the changes in the two parties are being felt in different ways with very different consequences for today and the future. It means applying different strategies for winning elections, strategies that shape how we are governed.
“Democrats can’t win running the kinds of campaigns and deploying the kinds of tactics that succeed for Republicans,” Klein writes. Democrats “can move to the left — and they are — but they can’t abandon the center or, given the geography of American politics, the center-right, and still hold power. Democrats are modestly, but importantly, restrained by diversity and democracy. Republicans are not,” Klein says.

Yet this diversity “has played a crucial role in moderating the party’s response to polarization,” Klein writes. “Appealing to Democrats requires appealing to a lot of different kinds of people with different interests. Republicans are overwhelmingly dependent on white voters.”

Diversity and discord in the Democratic Party is almost as old as the party itself. In the early 1900s, writer and humorist Will Rogers said, “Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.”

Even then, his observation was based on Democrats being a broad coalition of everyone who didn’t fit the more unified mold of a Republican. Democrats were a collection of movements and ideologies to the left of Republicans, but that space was large and fragmented. This diversity requires tempering their message to fit a broader base. It is also preparation for governing a diverse and fragmented nation, or state, if elected.

“It means inspiring liberals without arousing the fears of moderates. It’s important preparation for the difficult, pluralistic work of governing, in which the needs and concerns of many different groups must be balanced against one another,” Klein writes.
None of us has to be convinced that America is becoming more polarized, with political partisans less civil and more entrenched in their beliefs. Many blame the media for this, but we have to examine our own role as well. We are increasingly self-propagandizing ourselves. This brainwashing effect is not equally applied.

In a just released study, the Pew Research Center looked at where Republicans and Democrats get their national news. It lists 30 news sites ranked among the most used and popular in America for national political news. It found that Democrats trusted 22 of the 30 sites. They were willing to even go to news sites such as the moderately conservative Wall Street Journal.  CNN was their most trusted and turned-to source for national news.

Republicans trusted only 7 of 30 sites. Their most trusted source of news was Fox News with 65 percent relying on it. They also tuned in to listen to combative conservatives Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart and Sean Hannity. Some did say they trusted the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC.)

There are profound consequences to our political system due to this polarized news ecosystem in America.

 “The Democratic Party’s informational ecosystem combines mainstream sources that seek objectivity, liberal sources that push partiality and even some center-right sources with excellent reputations,” Klein writes. “On any given question, liberals trust in sources that pull them left and sources that pull them toward the center.”

“There is no similar diversity in the Republican Party’s trusted informational ecosystem, which is heavily built around self-consciously conservative news sources,” Klein says of PEW’s research. “A party that narrows the sources it listens to is also narrowing the voters it can speak to.”

Klein sees another consequence as well. Because it can win elections now focusing its message solely for its united base, it insulates itself from change. After losing to Barrack Obama twice in national elections, and seeing the increasing diversity of the American electorate, Republican leaders began promoting a new vision. It was a political platform that would moderate its politics to appeal to Hispanics and young people.

 Trump’s appeal to the hardcore principles of the right of his party, and his subsequent success, ended any transformation effort.

Pew says the news divide in America has deepened just over the past five years “particularly with more Republicans voicing distrust in a number of sources. Democrats’ levels of trust and distrust in media sources have changed considerably less than Republicans’ during this time span.”

This should surprise no one. Trump has the support of 86 percent of those who identify as Republicans. With his marriage to Fox News and labeling of every news source that criticizes him an “enemy of the people,” he has succeeded in building distrust in them among his base.

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