Remember John Edwards? When he ran for President in 2004 (and before his sleazy personal behaviors caught up with him), he ignited a good deal of support with a speech in which he described “two Americas.” Edwards blamed George W. Bush and the GOP for two Americas he described thusly: “One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. .. . One favored, the other forgotten. … One privileged, the other burdened.”
There are, of course multiple ways of “slicing and dicing” an electorate. Edwards’ categories are, unfortunately, still pretty accurate. But in the intervening years, we have seen an even greater chasm develop. As Charlie Warzel put it in a recent New York Times newsletter, we have a meaningful percentage of Americans living in an alternate reality powered by a completely separate universe of news and information.
Because it was a subscribed newsletter, I don’t have a link, but I’m copying and pasting a couple of observations that resonated with me, because they go a long way toward explaining the informational environment inhabited by those of our fellow Americans who continue to support Donald J. Trump.
He began by explaining that there are two types of “reporting” by the rightwing media: outright fabrication, and a more sophisticated approach that “rearranges shared facts to compose an entirely different narrative.”
There is little consensus on the top story of the day or the major threats facing the country. You will have noticed this if you’ve ever watched a congressional hearing and flipped between CNN or MSNBC and Fox News. The video feed is the same but the interpretation of events is radically different.
As he noted, we got a clear demonstration of the phenomenon at the Republican National Convention.
For three nights, in an shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, the party has conjured up what my colleague Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world. Theirs is a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic is largely in the rear view (on Aug. 25, 1,136 Americans died from the virus) and where, according to Representative Matt Gaetz, radical Democrats threaten to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” A universe where the existential dangers of climate change pale in comparison to those of cancel culture — even as the West is ravaged by blackouts and wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by adevastating hurricane.
We can each pick our own examples of what has come to be called “gaslighting.” and what I prefer to call chutzpah.
For example, when Mike Pence addressed the Convention, he spoke movingly (ok–Mike Pence is incapable of speaking movingly, but that was clearly his intent) about the death of a federal officer in Oakland. From his remarks, viewers were led to believe that he was likely killed by Black Lives Matter protesters.
“People like Dave Patrick Underwood, an officer in the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California…Dave’s heroism is emblematic of the heroes that serve in blue every day,” Pence said.
As multiple media outlets later noted, although what Pence said was true, what he clearly wanted to imply was not.
Yes, Underwood was killed while defending a federal courthouse in Oakland in May. Yes, he was serving as part of President Trump’s effort to crack down on the protests inspired by the death of George Floyd. What Pence failed to mention, however, was that Underwood was killed by two men who’ve been linked to right-wing extremism, not by protesters.
Americans who reside entirely in the rightwing media bubble–who get all of their news from Fox or Sinclair or Breitbart or Rush Limbaugh, who don’t leaven those outlets with non-propaganda sources, occupy a very different reality.
It has become increasingly difficult to stay accurately informed, to determine which media sources are reputable and which are not, to recognize “headlines” that are really click-bait rather than accurate labels of a story, and to identify the sources that “spin” even factual articles.
Until we somehow get a handle on the Wild West that is our current information environment, we will continue to inhabit two dramatically-different Americas. And until that informational chasm is spanned, we will be unable to work together to eliminate the two Americas identified by John Edwards.