To be clear, I’m not saying Americans are stupid. But the level of discourse involving important matters is not up to par with the rest of the developed world. Most policy issues are obfuscated, and people tend to defer to experts instead of analyzing the raw data and forming their own opinions.
For example: lets look at this quote from Noam Chomsky. (Click here for the full interview)
“When I’m driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.”
Allow me to expand on Chomsky’s foreign policy and sports analogy. Picture an NFL commentator on ESPN having a discussion on a panel, and he said, “The Steelers are terrible. They are the worst team ever.” That would be unanimously viewed as an incomplete argument. The viewers and his co-hosts would expect him to elaborate. Is the coach a bad play caller? Is the quarterback inaccurate? The D-line weak? But on the other hand, Trump can say, “The Iran Deal is terrible. It’s the worst deal ever,” and his followers in small-town America and on Fox News would be completely satisfied with that argument. No one would bother to ask the relevant questions. Does it jeopardize America’s safety? Will it destabilize the region? Does it hurt the economy? (The answers to all of which are ‘no,’ by the way).
I have yet to hear one coherent argument against the Iran Deal. John Oliver (as much as I despise the Jill Stein- smearing limey) had a funny and thorough break down of the deal recently. I guess we’re going to see pretty soon if Trump works for the US or Israel. Obama’s foreign policy over all was horrendous, but I have to give credit where credit is due, and the Iran deal is objectively in all parties (besides Saudi Arabia and Israel’s) best interests. Netanyahu and the Zionists are trying to convince us that Iran is acting aggressively and that it is a threat to world peace, and if you believe that…how can I put this lightly…you’re a moron.
But I digress. Lets get back to the topic at hand.
Linguists have analyzed Trump’s grammar in speeches and decided he speaks at a 4th grade level. Even the notoriously vacuous Sarah Palin is able to string words together at an 8th grade level. We’ve gone from Kennedy’s eloquent ‘ruthless and monolithic conspiracy’ speech to Trump’s: “Puerto Rico is surrounded by water…big water…ocean water.” So what does this say about my birth nation? Perhaps an indictment of the education system? or media? Obviously this problem is much bigger than Trump. He is just a symptom of the problem.
If you are to turn on any cable news channel right now you will be met with the most unsubstantive, juvenile, banal content imaginable. Frankly, if you still get your information from TV, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. If you are living in the age of google and YouTube, and you need some bimbo in a miniskirt on Fox News to explain the world to you, you need to stop pretending like you have a valid opinion on anything.
Luckily TV news is on its way out the door. As of a 2014 study, the average Fox News viewer was 68.8 years old, CNN viewers were 62.8, and MSNBC viewers came in at a sprightly 62.2. That was four years ago. I imagine those numbers are even higher now. This isn’t because young people stopped caring about the news, as Bill O’Reilly and some others have claimed, it’s because we know how to use the internet and get information from multiple different sources.
Another problem is that the media landscape has greatly evolved over the last few decades, and it happened so slowly, some older people might not have noticed. The old days of Dan Rather , Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings are over. With the dominance of 24-hour news channels, the big three (Fox, CNN and MSNBC) are working off a totally different business model. Namely, they’ve learned that, deep down, most people have no interest in being informed. They only want to have their views reinforced, so they can get a little dopamine hit and feel good about themselves. The easiest way to get this desired effect is not to have long nuanced discussions with intellectuals, but to have quick little sound bites of party-approved talking points. The maximum time they can spend on any one topic is about ten minutes, because after that, you are pushing the limits of the adult human attention span. Even the network nightly news shows have followed suit to some extent.
Older people, who have habitually watched TV news for decades, may have not noticed the shift, but younger people, whose first introduction to TV news has been these dumbed-down partisan echo chambers, are not impressed.
I’m not saying that ‘news’ wasn’t always establishment propaganda. It was. I’m just speaking to the level of discourse we get from today’s media compared to in the past.
Embarrassingly, the rest of the world is starting to notice. Here is a 2015 Fox News clip in which ‘terrorism expert’ Steve Emerson claims that Birmingham (England’s 2nd largest city) is ‘off limits’ to non-Muslims and that Sharia law is enforced in parts of London. This made it onto news and social media in the UK. PM David Cameron responded, “When I heard this I choked on my porridge and I thought is must be April Fools Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot.” These people are so used to playing fast and loose with the facts they don’t even get that maybe you shouldn’t make false claims about other countries, because said countries are likely to have a traditional press.
Even more embarrassing, US ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra told the US media that there is chaos in the Netherlands and that politicians are being burned alive. Here is an awkward press conference with the Dutch media where he was forced to answer for his absurd claims. He looks very nervous and doesn’t answer and tries to move to the next journalist but keeps being asked the same questions. The most embarrassing part was when a reporter said, “This is the Netherlands. You have to answer questions.” The implication being that they know he can get away with lying to the stupid Americans but not in the Netherlands.
I don’t mean to give schools a pass either. This is certainly also a failure of schooling. The American school system is based on memorizing facts, not critical thinking. But that is a topic for another day.
Maybe Trump will be a sort of rock bottom moment for some people, and they will start to think: “Hey, We are being led by a real idiot.” Or maybe not, I’ve learned to never over estimate America. In the end, if a large segment of our population actually believes Christians can’t enter Birmingham, than I guess Trump is the leader we deserve. It’s not like it really matters. He’s following the deep state like all the rest of them. But if people actually had the intellectual curiosity to educate themselves on the Iran Deal and Syria, the world would be a much better place.