Are you tired of hearing about this ridiculous election? Do you feel an overwhelming sense of dread at the direction in which this nation is heading? Have you already bought your guns/emergency rations/plane tickets to Canada in preparation? If you answered yes to any of these, then you need this quick and easy guide to surviving the 2016 presidential election!
But all joking aside, we need to have an intervention on this country about our current political climate. These days, we are all too quick to tear each other apart over a single tweet, news story, or politically disagreeable Facebook comment. We are all too quick to assume the worst of the other side and then judge people accordingly. It seems like everyone is talking past each other rather than attempting to truly understand our options. So what can we do in such trying times?
1) Stop Freaking Out About Words And Pay Attention To Policies
Stop freaking out about every dumb, offensive, hateful thing Trump says.
Stop freaking out about Hillary's emails, Benghazi, or all the other "conspiracies."
Start caring about actual policies! We can have a real discussion about policies in this country, but YOU don't want it.
Or maybe you do, but you would rather like, share, click, download, or tweet all of the latest worthless diatribe being peddled by the media. But remember, the media is only a reflection of what the American public wants. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. You. Yes, you. We get it. This year is crazy. Trump says horrible things and Hillary is only marginally truthful about her past. GET OVER IT. Start caring about actual policy ideas. Start pressuring the media and debate moderators to create a meaningful discussion. Every time you like or share or comment on the latest stupid news cycle about this election, you are making things worse and only encouraging media organizations to keep doing it. It's going to be hard, and even this blog is guilty of it sometimes, but it must be done. Otherwise, our national discourse will continue to devolve into a shameless reality show with the same intellectual quality as an episode of the Jersey Shore.
If we were to actually talk about issues in an informed, rational way, we might find far more common ground. Instead, people on all sides are getting triggered into a rage by just a few words or phrases. "Border security" "globalization" "traditional values" "institutional racism" are all phrases that are causing people to shut down all conversation and retreat into their safe spaces. Trump's supporters often rage against "PC culture," but they can get just as triggered by the right vocabulary. So if we take a moment to strip away the rhetoric and talk about actual issues, maybe we can survive this election cycle. But policies are only part of it, they need to be backed up by facts. This means we must....
2) Investigate claims with independent, verifiable sources
There has been an insane amount of misinformation since this election cycle began. Though both parties are guilty of it, Trump in particular has been notorious for flatly denying things that are objectively true. But really, if you are just taking what the candidates or their staff say at face value, you are just asking to be misinformed. This is what makes Trump's outlandish claims so concerning. He is now completely discounting any and all information from sources that do not directly come from him. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is exactly the type of behavior that leads to a cult of personality.
Take for example the recent allegations of unwanted sexual contact from Trump. In the most well-known incident which was brought to the public, an individual claimed that Trump groped her on a plane after raising the center armrest of their shared seating area. Trump surrogate Katrina Pierson then went on CNN and declared the entire story false by saying that planes weren't built like that in the 80s (as though this one detail negates the entire story). However, an aviation professional later commented that this was simply not true (planes back then did sometimes have moveable armrests). If one were to take their information solely from Trump and his staff, then they would have a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT REALITY from someone who more closely investigated these claims. But people who only want to hear one side of the story won't get all the facts. And this happens on Hillary's side too.
Now this next part will be hard to admit, but it must be done. Many conservatives claim that most mainstream media outlets are biased of or report favorably about liberal policies and ideas. Unfortunately, this might actually be kind of true, sometimes. Mainstream media does show a bit of a bias, but so do the alternate media outlets. Again, even despite our best efforts, this blog is sometimes a little biased. But the reason that media outlets tend to have a bias is most often because their readers have a bias. After all, Fox News isn't going to get nearly as much traffic by running a story about heartwarming immigrants learning to coexist in harmony with white Americans. Instead, they'll run a "story" on how Obama hates freedom so they (and their sponsors) can ride their train full of money all the way to the bank. Again, the same thing happens (to varying degrees) on other (liberal) news outlets. The only thing they can all agree on is that terror drives ratings. That's why you hear about every single potential terrorist attack in America, but any news about gang shootings is purged from the headlines!
Now most mainstream outlets still have high levels of journalistic integrity, but it is still important to find verifiable sources or evidence for claims (especially those you WANT to believe). This is where it is not fair to assume that all media is equally biased. Some, like the New York Times, may lean to the left, while others, like Fox News, lean to the right. Huffington Post is very liberally biased, while Breitbart is extremely conservative (and has its CEO literally working for the Trump campaign). But no matter where your news comes from, you must take a little extra time to verify it. Find sources from nonpartisan groups, use facts, figures, statistics, and trust in rational common sense and logic to verify claims by news agencies and candidates. Otherwise, you will almost certainly fall victim to the dreaded confirmation bias. Speaking of which....
3) Turn Off Your Echo Chamber and listen to the opposition
We all have our preferred news sources. Whether from CNN, Fox News, NPR, or social media, we tend to gravitate towards the same familiar outlets. But as we mentioned before, these tend to have their own emphasis on certain issues and points of view. When these points of view are the only ones you see, it becomes almost impossible to understand why anyone would believe differently. Discussion boards and comment sections are even worse, allowing like minded people to stroke each other's egos and provide similar "evidence" to support their "theories." This is how we end up living in completely alternate realities from one another. Probably the worst example of this is the rumored "Trump TV." This propaganda outlet (which is explicitly designed to support Trump and his point of view) masquerades as a "news" outlet with analysis that tells Trump supporters exactly what they want to hear. So-called "left wing" media outlets may emphasize one point of view over another or sometimes paint one side in a better light, but Trump TV is actively distorting objective reality. They peddle a narrative that is utterly divorced from the facts, and then try to pin the blame on all other news sources for not disgracing their journalistic integrity by shamelessly praising the merits of their Dear Leader.
If you only use one news outlet as your main source of information YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. If you only get your news from Facebook or social media YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. The Facebook algorithm is specifically designed to show you things you will probably like and agree with. It's like they automated and monetized confirmation bias. The sad truth is that most people aren't actually looking for news anymore anyway. They are looking for examples of news that confirm their worldviews. And Facebook provides this to us all free of charge! But this isn't the only problem. How many of you have unfriended or unfollowed someone because of a political post you don't agree with? Once again, you are all guilty here as well. We are creating our own echo chambers by cutting out those people who disagree with us. In a world where you can interact with anyone of any worldview in seconds, we have found a way to cut out anyone who doesn't agree with us. The problem here is that many of these people you blocked have perfectly legitimate reasons for coming to their differing political conclusions.
The Trump people are especially impacted by this perception. The people who support Trump have very real and legitimate frustrations. Most live in rural areas, and mainstream culture tends to treat these areas like hillbilly backwaters (while also saying they are the "heart" of America). Opportunities are increasingly limited there and nobody in the cities seems to care. Their communities, already insular by geography, are increasingly becoming insular by policy. And yes, much of this has to do with race. They often feel like white people don't have a voice anymore, or at least not like they used to. Now this doesn't always mean that they believe white people are better, they just believe that their voice isn't considered important anymore. (In reality I believe it is, it's just that now this voice is increasingly equal with other voices). Simply put, mainstream society has marginalized rural, white communities and Trump has finally provided them with a mainstream voice. People are able to look past his terrible comments and complete lack of coherent policy because at least he is talking about their problems. When Trump says that America is falling apart, people in the cities think this is crazy because the cities are booming now. But rural America IS falling apart and mainstream society doesn't seem to care. So what Trump is saying is true, from a certain point of view. In short, it is so much easier to discount the marginalization of rural culture when you aren't part of it.
One of the most enlightening moments I experienced on this occurred when a coworker began discussing something he had heard about immigrant refugees receiving greater monetary assistance than American war veterans. I don't know where this information came from, or how accurate it was. At first, I began to get upset (read: triggered) that he was basically saying "screw the refugees," but then I began to listen for the context of what he was saying. He recognized that we absolutely ought to help refugees, but we shouldn't in the process forget about the people suffering at home. Now if I had just shut him out without any consideration for what he was really saying, we would have both been more upset and stuck in our own ways. This doesn't do anyone any good.
The bottom line is, we have to start listening to each other. Even though Trump's policies make almost no sense to professionals, they speak to and acknowledge a sense that rural America is being marginalized. Even though Clinton's trustworthiness is extremely suspect to many people, her supporters trust that she will mostly maintain the status quo. Ignoring the genuine fears and motivations of the other side because you are too self-righteous to acknowledge that other people's opinions can come from a logical place will only further divide our nation and society. This division and hateful rhetoric won't go away on its own. It starts with you.