Maybe it began with the rise of Fox News. There, conservative people found a different spin on the news, more suitable to their tastes and opinions.
Or perhaps it was the rise of Rush Limbaugh, whose conservative rants were full of arrogance and hyperbole—a welcome relief from the liberal spinsters who monopolized the media.
But, really, it all took off when the new-media moguls, somewhat liberal in their personal politics but more free-speech focused than anything, launched what we now call Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others have redefined how we consume, regurgitate and pass over today’s news and information.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Old media—newspapers and magazines, radio and television—were more like lectures, giving us the news they wanted us to have while underplaying and dispelling what they didn’t like. New media is more conversion than lecture, and that’s a good thing, right?
On the surface, yes, but watch its devolution and you can see how it’s only a conversation among like-minded people; open forums have turned into debates, which isn’t so bad, and name-calling, which tends to send people back to their like-minded friends and acquaintances.
Back to their echo chambers, where opinions are more celebrated than facts. Back to their comfort zones, where right is right, wrong is wrong, and there are no dissenters. At least not for long, for if you raise too much of a fuss, you’ll be “unfriended” or cyber-bullied into silence or submission.
And then there’s what I call the Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome. How many of us know a co-worker who gets along with everybody at work, is friendly and personable enough, then goes home, gets on Facebook, and starts attacking others, or at least viewpoints other than his or her own? Who knows, maybe you’re one of them.
I’m not, but then, I already have an outlet for expressing myself, through those old-fashion newspapers I mentioned above. I don’t feel the need to be both a Jekyll and a Hyde. I prefer to write my views from a Jekyll point of view, studied and thoughtful, and leave the mean-spirited Hyde to others.
But that’s just me, and I’m rapidly becoming obsolete, as old-fashioned ideas about fairness and respect get pushed to the far corners of the national debates.
I must add, however, that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number of people who are actually paying attention to the national party conventions this time around. Liberals are watching the GOP convention; conservatives are watching the Dems. Granted, most of them aren’t really listening with an open mind, but at least they’re hearing their opponents out.
I’m talking about regular, everyday people here, not the pundits and spin doctors who prostitute themselves for their respective parties. Party loyalists tend to keep their real opinions to themselves. Take New Mexico’s own Gov. Susana Martinez as an example. Over the past several months, as Donald Trump insulted his way to the top of her party, it’s become clear that she doesn’t like him, as a candidate and maybe even as a person, but when it came time to cast New Mexico’s Republican vote for Trump on the floor of the convention, she passed the microphone over to someone else to vote for him, with the state party handing Trump all of its delegates.
Better to remain silent than to risk the wrath of the GOP nominee. She’s been quite effective at keeping her opinions about Trump to herself in the very moment in which it really matters. Good politics, I suppose.
Of course, most people aren’t really watching the convention speeches themselves but the analysis that comes afterward. That’s where the echo chambers become amplifiers, where we can all watch our favorite pundits and color commentators rip up those we love to hate the most.
Most voters have already made up our mind. This presidential race, as with past presidential elections, comes down to less than 20 percent of the voters, because everyone else has made up their mind. Everyone else has been hunkered down in their echo chambers for months now, and no amount of thoughtful discourse will change their minds.
Did I actually say “thoughtful discourse”? Guess I really am obsolete.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and editor of the Roswell Daily Record. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.