Of course, everyone knew the outcome. The conclusion was never in doubt. Throughout all the testimony, all the witnesses, all the documents, all the hearings, all the news bites and media reports, all the constant talking of all the talking heads, the conclusion was inevitable. Was it worth it, to go through all this? Was it necessary? Was it useful? Did it make a difference?
We are so broken. We only listen to what confirms our own beliefs. We have lost faith in even the ability to know the truth, because truth is under attack from so many sides. We even have people today who have created a Flat Earth Society and apparently genuinely believe that because the Earth looks and feels flat, it is flat.
Two events have gone a long way toward creating the situation in which we now flounder. One of those is the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was – in the FCC’s view – honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented it from the Federal Register in August 2011. Although there have been repeated attempts to reinstitute this doctrine, none have been successful. The result has been the proliferation of media that presents only one side of an issue; getting information that presents several sides of an issue is no longer required or easy to find.
The other decision that has overturned our ability to have civil discourse is the decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2010 to allow corporations (including certain non-profit corporations) and labor unions to expand their role in political campaigns. This decision, along with a separate, lower court case – SpeechNow.org v. FEC – made possible the entities known as super PACS. With Citizens United as a precedent, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that theoretically independent spending groups could accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and even individuals with fat bankrolls. This led to the creation of Super PACs that are legal because they do not “coordinate” with a particular campaign, as well as the creation of “social welfare” organizations that can function in the same way as super PACs as long as election activity is not their primary activity. These groups are not required to report who funds them, thus allowing for so-called “dark money” to influence campaigns without transparency.
Taken together, these two decisions have had a chilling effect on civil discourse. Because information is often presented with a clear skew in one direction or another with no provision of any other viewpoints, people are left in a situation in which they become increasingly skeptical of information in general. When no information can be trusted, the institutions of civil democracy are in danger of breaking down.
So why can’t we all just get along? The roots lie in the past – and if we don’t pay attention to history, we may be doomed to repeat it. The only thing I can think of to do in the face of all this is to read widely, listen to more than one media source, and above all, VOTE!
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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