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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

The Smartest People We Have... Have The Least Imagination About The Media

I really like Dahlia Lithwick. Larry Tribe I can take or leave. He’s very smart, but the First Amendment is not all he would claim. The two of them talk Trump impeachment here and conclude it’s a bad idea. But the closing thought focuses on the “toxic” nature of our politics and how the GOP has come to argue that America is a zero sum game between the whites and the rest. How do we fix it? They don’t know. 

Lithwick: You’ve identified all the ways that this isn’t something that begins and ends with Donald Trump. You’ve talked about a polarized media. You’ve talked about complete inability to persuade across the aisle. We’ve learned that the mistrust of the state itself, of government itself, is at levels that neither you nor I could have ever predicted. What is the solution for these problems that go way beyond Trump himself?

Tribe: Well, that is the deep problem and it’s a deep question to which we offer only hints of an answer. That is organizing, thinking, respecting people who have dramatically different points of view, working on the architecture of social media, increasing the likelihood that people will automatically encounter views that don’t just reinforce their own. But the real difficulty is this deep chasm of mutual mistrust that’s grown over the years, it’s come to the point where people really think that those who have a different view of what America ought to be from their own are evil people. I mean the objection to having your kid date someone with a politically different ideology is now at an all-time high. Much more than objections to people dating outside of their religion or race or anything of the sort.

I think to come back from that precipice there is no magic wand. If I could come up with a pharmacological solution I’d be a trillionaire, and we’d all be better off. But I don’t think there is such a thing. But I think we have to chill a bit, talk to one another, and try to build respect and understanding rather than just screaming at each other. That’s not an original proposition, but I think that sometimes the truth is not all that original.

The end is almost a parody of the old white man, “These kids with the social media just don’t respect each other...” 

But what event of the last few months has felt the most hopeful to you? Without a doubt it’s the Parkland kids, the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida who turned the tables on Trump and put the NRA on the defensive using the power of social media. Why did that happen on Twitter? Because Twitter exists outside the frame of the objective media. Because no editor forces David Hogg to add balance. Because no suburban housewife threatens to quit her subscription over Emma Gonzales’s “aggressive” tone.

I’ll bet Tribe considers himself to be a New Deal Democrat. Why does he have such a hard time seeing that we need to return to a media frame more like the one we had during the New Deal? He’s so full of the First Amendment that he thinks we must be suffering from a failure of speech, where we don’t encounter views different from our own.

What the actual fuck? Has Larry Tribe not been to an airport with Fox News on the TVs? Is he friends with anyone from high school on Facebook? It’s next to impossible to get through the day without hearing viewpoints different than my own.

And when does Lithwick imagine that there was persuasion across the aisle? When Sam Ervin and Howard Baker worked together investigating Watergate? Baker was a Republican from Tennessee and Ervin a Democrat, so wasn’t that great! Except that Ervin owed his political career to his role as attorney for a state-sponsored lynching, followed by his leadership of the North Carolina resistance to Brown v. Board. I’m sure it was easy to cooperate when both sides agreed to keep black people as second class citizens.

Thankfully, we’ll never see that kind of bipartisanship ever again. If we’re lucky, someday I’ll be able to buy a newspaper that doesn’t feel the need to shove garbage like this “viewpoint” down my throat. Help for American democracy is coming. But it will be pretty much the opposite of what Tribe and Lithwick are hoping for.

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