You only hurt the one you love. That’s what I keep telling myself as I wonder whether or not the Republican Party can overcome an incredibly virulent strain of Electile Dysfunction.
We moderate Republicans are living oxymorons—and some people I know would emphasize the last two syllables over the first two. I fight with people inside the party (who call me a RINO—Republican in Name Only) and with people outside (who wonder what meds I’m taking). Both marvel that I keep going back to a Party that long ago rescinded its invitation. But still—and I believe this strongly—there remains a trace of the original Republican soul somewhere under that rapidly shrinking tent, and if we can just wrench our conversation from the extremists there might still yet be hope for the party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower, of Ford.
What is this condition I call Electile Dysfunction? I define it as the propensity to spin belief as fact, cover it with a smooth coating of tenor-inflected gravitas, tie it through innuendo to emotional hot buttons, and then whip it across media of all types with such echoing speed that the innocent believe it before they even get a chance to think about it. It’s Beck with his dusty chalkboard and Limbaugh with his rage-filled spittle. It’s Hannity with his casual smirk and O’Reilly with his insincere sincerity. Nowhere, though, is it you or me.
Somewhere between twenty and thirty million people listen to these pundits every day. We listen as they spread the germs of disinformation, misinformation, false logic, and fear.
How did we get here? First, I blame Aristotle.
In Aristotle’s view of logic, things are or are not. He scaffolded his thinking with syllogisms, the simplest of which are sets of factual premises that are then used to deduce appropriate conclusions. The problem with Aristotelian logic, however, is that it is limited by a very important yet oft-ignored subtlety: premises must be facts. Beliefs, when presented as facts, gum up the works, as in this example:
A—All Democrats are libtards.
B—James Carville is a Democrat.
Therefore, C—James Carville is a libtard.
Set aside for a moment how you feel about James Carville and his potential for libtardiness and look only at the construct; the problem should be obvious. Premise “A” is not a fact at all. It’s a belief.
Second, I blame the 24-hour news cycle. There are (last I checked) twelve U.S.-based 24-hour news channels. Even if you discount The Weather Channel and ESPN, that’s still leaves ten—240 hours every day to fill—and that doesn’t include international channels like the BBC, SkyNews or RTL. That’s a LOT of hours, more hours than we have news, and so we get news snippets followed by pundits, followed by pundits arguing over what other pundits said, followed by opinions about pundits, followed, eventually and inevitably it seems, by Nancy Grace. And they’re all doing that belief-as-fact sleight of hand that now totally numbs us. It’s all become so familiar that for many it’s actually becoming comfortable, sort of like humming along to “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” just before you remember that it’s the worst song in the history of the world.
And, finally, I blame evolution. Evolution built us to react emotionally just a few nanoseconds before we actually think about anything. Apparently, running away from that noise in the brush was a better idea than wondering what the noise might be—and becoming, quite possibly, something’s lunch. (Fear, having survival advantages, wound its way down through the generations.) What all this means is that those pundits can amplify all those repetitively factless facts with just a twinge of alarm or danger, knowing full well that we’ll react even more strongly because of it.
Electile Dysfunction. Let me remind you yet again that somewhere between twenty and thirty million people tune in to this extremist crap every single day.
Ahh… but, as it turns out, that’s also the good news. It means that there are about 100 million registered voters in this country who are NOT listening. And it’s those people with whom we can have real conversations. These people are a new silent majority. They’re NOT interested in extremism, and they’re ready—I firmly believe—to be a little less silent….
Who are they? A member of this new silent majority is just an average person working hard to get through the day, worrying mostly about kids and jobs and mortgages. He listens to the news on the way to work, or maybe some retro rock from the eighties or nineties. She rides a crowded train into the city, one hand holding the back of a seat and the other holding a folded newspaper that she half-reads while thinking about her tweenage daughter and the upcoming and inevitable rebellion. He wakes before dawn to tend the farm animals and the fields while hoping for a ground-drenching rain that’s long overdue. These are not people who care all that much about Michael Savage’s conspiracy theories, Rush Limbaugh’s apoplexy, or Glenn Beck’s revisionist history. They care about the price of food, the health of their parents, and the cost of a decent education. They care about culture and values and raising responsible kids. It’s not that they’re disengaged from the political landscape but rather that they’re engaged in life: struggles and pleasures, likes and dislikes, days and nights.
That’s who they are.
And, very possibly, they are you.
It’s time to make a little noise, people, time to value civility and logic and decent conversation. Time to take our country back from the insane extremes filled with people who think that repeating something over and over again at a Spinal Tap “eleven” is all that’s required to make it true. Remember: noise is only as loud as the silence it breaks.
Personally, I want to do that from within the Republican Party because I fear its loss forever, and I don’t like the idea of a body politic sans an organized, recognized moderate conservative voice. Others may choose to do it as independents, or as Democrats, or as Libertarians, or as Greens. But one thing is for sure: if we keep letting the fringes polarize us, then they win.
So whose country is it? Yours? Or Theirs? And, if it’s yours, what will you do to take it back?