Incivility in politics runs in cycles. Believe it or not, this is not the worst partisanship in our history, although I do suspect we are near the low point in this cycle. Tracing this cycle back to its beginning, you might find Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich instructing freshman congressmen to avoid fraternization with opposing members. No lunches together, no drinks after work, no family picnics, etc. Newt probably gets too much blame, as the partisanship was made worse by other factors as well.
At the same time, the media world was undergoing monumental change. We saw the birth of profit-seeking cable news. Like all commercial businesses, the cable news channels segmented their target market and delivered what their customers wanted. They simply followed the business model of print media, which was increasingly segmented and more targeted. All this amplified the increasing partisanship and incivility, both in Congress and in America.
Public media like NPR were enigmas, not easily explainable. Dominated early by Eastern intellectuals, it became easily confused with liberal media. The difference was in their intentions. They genuinely tried to be unbiased but got outflanked almost immediately by Fox, making them appear even more liberal than they were. (Now, Fox is being outflanked on the right by Newsmax, just like CNN was outflanked on the left by MSNBC.) Like a beacon, NEWSY remains in the middle, so far.
Most importantly, social media started ripping the fabric of America. For example, two years ago, an internal committee of Facebook found they were increasing discontent and division in this country, but since controversy brings eyeballs and since that produces profit for Facebook, there was no change in Facebook’s behavior. How can that be ignored? The most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite but is now Mark Zuckerberg? The hundreds of Facebook employees who staged a virtual “walkout” on him last week would probably disagree.
The libertarian view is that many diverse news sources allow the consumer to choose the slant he/she prefers. But, what if you don’t want any slant? Where do you find the truth? How do you even define truth anymore? Apparently, each consumer gets to pick his/her own truth.
Maybe, it is fair to blame much of America’s problems on the media after all, especially social media?