Sunday, June 4, 2023
    HomePoliticsOpinion | Why the media and politicians must resist pandering to the...

    Opinion | Why the media and politicians must resist pandering to the extremes

    There is a bell curve in the U.S. political debate and, at both ends, you can absolutely bank on there being throngs of hate-filled and often outright deranged humans. It’s a given.

    What isn’t a given: whether members of the media elite and political elite will play to this dangerous fringe or reject it. The overwhelming majority of Americans shun these extremes. But both exist. The challenge for journalists and politicians is to address them and their concerns (unless the issues are utterly meritless) without adding to their numbers or seeming to legitimize their incoherent, boundless rage.

    Nearly a half-dozen years ago, I asked former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in the aftermath of her loss to Donald Trump: “Of the 62.9 million people who voted for President Trump, do you have a number in your mind that you think are actually white nationalist racists of that 62.9 million, a real number?”

    Clinton demurred at first, but I came back around with the query, formulated another way: “Do you think there are more than a half-million, you know, honest-to-God white nationalists running around the United States?”

    This time she answered directly, and in so doing laid open the dilemma. Her answer deserves quoting at length:

    “Probably not, no,” Clinton said, putting the ceiling on right-wing white supremacists at 500,000. “But I think there are people who are unfortunately kind of reverting back to rather virulent attitudes about race in part because I think that it’s become ‘politically acceptable,’ no longer politically correct to try to overcome our own feelings that often block us from seeing each other as fellow human beings.”

    She added: “So, no, the hardcore people, I agree with you, I don’t think that is a very large number. Unfortunately, their views, which used to be quite beyond the mainstream … have a much broader audience now, because … of being online and having outlets and media presence that can promote those attitudes.”

    Clinton nailed it. If there are half a million hate-filled right-wingers in this country, and a similar number of haters on the left, the total comes to about 1/331 of the U.S. population. That most of them seem to be online day and night exaggerates their numbers.

    They are nonetheless a tempting audience to play to, to invite into the subscriber count or the Nielsen ratings scorecard, or most especially, to become “small donors.” And their presence can be artificially inflated by pandering to them with “dog whistles,” from both the right and the left, producing repeat customers who will click over and over again, and regularly hit the “donate” button.

    Like anything addictive, withdrawing from their attention — and their money — would be difficult if the temptation to court it has ever been indulged. But even if it hasn’t, every single radio or television host, every producer, and every columnist and editor must deal with the temptation, every day, to play to the extreme. So do politicians who haven’t been captured by the extremes.

    Resisting the temptation is easier pledged than practiced, and what was once a guardrail can slowly become just a suggestion and, then, if the temptation is indulged, a distant memory. If you don’t swear off the extremes every day in media and politics, the extremes will come in. And they will try to take over. You’ll likely find them below, in the comments section. They call my radio show. But I don’t read the comments, and my call-screeners block their calls — unless someone using a ruse slips by, and then the “dump button” gets a workout.

    We don’t want to give airtime to people twisted by fury and grievance, whether from the right or the left. But neither would we want to confuse legitimately held beliefs with hate-driven poison. Guarding against the extremes means constant vigilance on the watchtowers. Because the hatred can lead to violence. It can come from the far left, as in 2017 when a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attempted to murder Republican members of Congress, wounding four people during a baseball practice. It can come from the far right, as when, according to police, an avowed white supremacist, intent on killing Black Americans, fatally shot 10 people last year at a Buffalo grocery store. Then there was the arrest last year of an alleged would-be assassin who turned up at the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

    Neither the far left nor far right has a monopoly on dangerous extremism. The more-than-99-percent of Americans have to swear off the less-than-1-percent. Every day.

    In the 1995 action thriller “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” New York storekeeper Zeus Carver, played by Samuel L. Jackson, tells NYPD detective John McClane (Bruce Willis), “I don’t like you because you’re gonna get me killed.” That line comes to mind whenever I hear politicians or members of the media playing to the extremes.



    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    - Advertisment -
    Google search engine

    Most Popular

    Recent Comments