Beyond No: Why Progressives Should Build Up, Not Tear Down

Photo: Kelly Wilson 2017

Photo: Kelly Wilson 2017

Throughout America's brief history, liberal and conservative voices have served to balance each other's excesses. Both are important in steering the American ship going forward.

But if liberals are going to gain any traction in making new converts and regaining some power in the next election, they--we--are going to have to make it clear what positive values and initiatives they stand for, not just tearing down conservatives (literally and figuratively).

From the top of the political hierarchy--whether that means the Democratic Party gets its act together and regains its position as the standard-bearer of progressive values or some other group takes on that mantle--to those of us on the front lines of Social Media, arguing with strangers and Uncle Bob alike about American values, we have to be seen as standing for something positive, active, and actionable--not merely the ones telling everyone what they can't say or do.

Many of us know that progressive values are American values.

Liberty means freedom for everyone, including people of every race, color, belief system, gender, sexual orientation, or other difference the current power structure would oppress.

Equality means not only equal freedoms, but equal opportunity, including economic stability, equal justice, access to education, and a healthcare system we can afford.

Prosperity doesn't just include opportunities and benefits for the top 1 percent, but worker protections across all economic strata, investments in innovation and infrastructure, and a thriving global economy.

But as of today, these values are not how liberals and progressives are being seen throughout America.

Last night, as I was flipping through the channels, I landed for a few minutes on a surprising interview between White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and television evangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club. Despite having issues with both of these public personalities, I watched the interview with fascination.

In a calm, non-antagonistic interview environment, Ms Conway seemed knowledgeable and articulate, talking in measured tones about the incomplete media coverage of President Trump's initiatives to give veterans access to healthcare. In this setting, she seemed totally reasonable, far from the pathological liar I've seen in CNN clips on Facebook. And rightly or wrongly, this is how many see her, just trying to do her job amid a firestorm of negative criticism. 

As the two went on to talk in wonder about the nastiness of the coverage of this administration by the New York Times and the Washington Post and lack of respect for the office of the President, it dawned on me that, no matter the purity of our intent, this is how many in America are viewing progressives right now: at best, nasty and disrespectful, at worst, outright bullies.

This view of liberals and the progressive movement misses the intent and context of why people and groups on the left are doing what they are doing, and forgets how the right castigated the last President, but in a world where perception is so often taken for reality, these misperceptions are something the left needs to get ahead of if we hope to move hearts and minds.

We've got to get ahead of the tearing down statues--if we convince the nation of the values behind it, they will make the right choices about who and what to glorify.

We've got to get ahead of policing peoples' awkward language on social media in favor of political correctness--if we don't foster open dialogue, how will we ever show anyone another point of view.

We've got to get ahead of the perception that progressives are shutting down free speech--fighting hate by shutting things down is not as effective as evangelizing for positive values through telling stories that move hearts and minds.

There is rampant misperception that liberal voices are simply the voice of resistance--dragging our feet in a country that's trying to get somewhere. And current tactics keep pushing us closer and closer to something like a cold civil war than an effective dialogue.

If liberals hope to gain support and restore balance to the conversation, they-and we--would stand benefit more from positively promoting what we stand FOR, not just what we are against.

 

In my opinion, I'm done with "in my opinion."

We have already built a wall

We have already built a wall

Although I've written and posted dozens if not hundreds of them, I'm growing increasingly weary of op-ed pieces. The notion that "perception is reality" may be fine when buying consumer products, and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" may work fine in art and love, but I grow tired of competing interpretations of the news, reinventions of history, and obsfucation of scientific evidence. My social media feed and news media channels are glutted with opinion, from amateurs in their pajamas to professional talking heads in suits, telling me how the administration has accomplished so much but the media can't see it, how impeachment is around the corner if only the supporters would see it, how history is so clear if we'd only read it, how the scientific evidence is alternately so conclusive or inconclusive, if we will only follow the money. If we want to passionately evangelize one another to accept a personal value judgement, e.g. "liberty in the form of self interest is more important than risking the tyranny of big government through social programs" or "our founding principles of equality and liberty cannot be achieved without equal economic opportunity and social justice," preach away. But when the truth is under attack, filtering the evidence to make a political point isn't helping foster mutual understanding, it's just obscuring things further. Next time, just give me the facts. Backed by references. As many as you can find. When it comes to beliefs, maybe my point of view will allow you to see things another way. When it comes to reporting facts, you shouldn't care what I think, so much as what I know. 

Is the media driving our differences (or is it the other way around?)

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In a country with so many different versions of the news, it's hard to agree on what's real. It's very easy to fall into a pattern of listening to views that echo our own, and shake our heads at those who believe what those other news outlets are saying.

So help me, I resolve to no longer suggest that people are brainwashed into having the wrong idea by the media they watch, as though they have no critical faculties of their own. We are all responsible enough to choose what we consume. Going forward, I will try my best to focus on what values are driving that choice.

A hypothesis I've been working on, which only grows in power every day I read my social media feed, is that blaming "the media" for the misguided opinions of its viewers/readers/consumers is akin to blaming McDonalds for obesity. The appetite is already there--the media outlets are just feeding it.

And the splintering of media into so many various niche networks, radio programs, websites, podcasts, etc, has created a news market where consumers can pick any flavor they like. Even formerly fringe channels are growing in reputation. There is no monolithic 3-network system that determines the news. We shop for what we already believe.

A few years ago, I was called to task in no uncertain terms for making blanket statements about conservatives gobbling up whatever Fox News was blaming on Obama that day, as though the viewers had no responsibility or rationality at all. Called out for my error, I had to apologize. Fox exists because there are viewers who have certain values they see reflected there. NY Times readers have certain values they see reflected there. And so on.

If there ever was a lying liberal media, it's been supplanted by a smorgasbord of right wing, left wing, alt right, progressive, red, green, black, blue, and every variety in between, with varying levels of verifiable facts in the mix.

In general, I encourage people to go outside their comfort zone and consume news that isn't just what they already know and believe. In general, I encourage myself to include "the relentless pursuit of facts" among those values (which frankly makes reading and discussing the news a pretty time-consuming endeavor).

It's so easy to stick with just what sounds right--for example, the endless litany of op-ed posts about how President Trump has really "done it" this time, eroding his support and heading toward impeachment, offset by the reality that standing across the aisle from the millions of people who cannot stand any move the President makes are millions of people out there who support the President and see the gaffes and offenses at worst as stumbles taken out of context and at best, what they themselves would have said at Thanksgiving dinner, taken out of context by hostile partisans. [ See this piece from the New York Times, the last ones who want to tell you Trump still has supporters.]

I say all that to say that the examination of our differences is going to find less fruit in examining the differences in the media we consume than it is in examining the values we hold, and why those values compel us to focus on some facts, and ignore many others, to our great difficulty in finding common ground.

In short, my hypothesis is:

It ain't the media driving our differences. It's our differences driving the media.

Basically, it's us. So let's talk.