The below piece is a part of a series of articles under The First 100 Days, which will be posted regularly from January 20 2017 until April 30 2017.
Day 1: A new media
By Matthew LeRoy
My fears feel infinite in this climate. Foremost of these is the fear that civil rights will be rolled back. These rights range from the right to marry, to end an unwanted pregnancy, to vote and have your vote count, a right to basic privacy including the right of Muslims to honor their religious traditions. All of these rights feel imperil. Perhaps the greatest fear I have is the fear that many citizens will be blind to violations of these basic rights. Particularly those citizens who are disengaged from the political process, or believe strongly that something has been lost in America, and to their credit, something has been lost. A type of shared reality has been lost, a reality where there are agreed upon facts. The solutions to our problems have always been different, but increasingly the very facts we believe are different. We live in postmodern times, where a sharing of subjectivities, or put psychoanalytically an intersubjective approach, feels impossible.
Of course this phenomenon is most evident in the news media. I do not believe a true intersubjective space is an easy one to create, and if created, I don’t think it would be one viewers would watch. People like the conflict inherent in pundits talking to themselves and treating differing views disdainfully. It’s entertaining. Currently, some media (e.g. CNN) feel the need to include the voices of the President’s supporters. How can this be done in a responsible way, without shifting to relativistic journalism? A relativistic journalism that questions if Jews are people is unacceptable. A relativistic journalism that in its “inclusion” of certain voices (e.g. the alt-right), actively silences others voices (e.g. minorities) is not intersubjective. It is bigotry designed to silence those most marginalized.
There is also a need to honor the many differences within a diverse group of supporters. The media needs to acknowledge a fringe element has taken over the government, while also acknowledging that not every person who voted for this outcome is a frequent reader of Breitbart news. To this end the media needs to stop thinking in terms of either/or, and instead think in terms of both/and. This type of dialectic thinking can acknowledge both the subjectively experienced loss in this country (e.g. a changing work place) and acknowledge a part of this experience is the result of privilege. A privilege that tells some of us that you are entitled to a job that makes you feel important, that this country was made by people like you, for people like you.
For the media to be successful in creating this sort of space is a tall order, particularly when 68% of Americans distrust mainstream news sources. Problems are exacerbated when the President appears adept at manipulating the media. And it is nearly impossible when the media itself focuses heavily (and perhaps exclusively) on conflict and outrage. The President uses these emotions to his advantage, channeling the anger of his supporters who feel that Washington is broken. The news media only serves as a bullhorn and a straw man he can eviscerate.
There is a serious danger, when dissent seems to injure the President deeply, and he engages in (thus far) fantasies of actively silencing the press. How will the President curtail the freedom of the press? How will the magnetism the press feels towards his twitter account act as a dilution of news about policies that actively injure and disenfranchise millions? Of course the news media should focus on the outrageous things he says, but he is about to enact many outrageous policies, covered only by an absurd tweet.
I am afraid because I can’t see a way the media can fix itself, be truly inclusive and report agreed upon facts. Particularly when the business model of cable news seems to incentivize aggression, hostility and willful self-righteousness. I hope the media can create a truly intersubjective space; we need that kind of media. If we do not have it, not only will my fears be infinite, the dangers to our country will be as well.
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