It’s been obvious for quite a while that our country is coming apart at the seams. People on all sides are upset, and they want to punish their political opponents. We aren’t able to disagree in a productive way. We demonize one another; we are too partisan; and we are definitely too angry. This isn’t unique to the right or the left. It’s all of us.
If the riots in Washington, and those before them in cities across America, didn’t prove we have grown out of control, then nothing will. There were, of course, well-meaning people in Washington who were there because they love their country and who did not condone the worst behavior. The same was true of the Black Lives Matter marches around the country, which were populated by a lot of people with good intentions coupled with a radical element intent on destruction. Nonetheless, the images from the Capitol are hard to watch.
The big question is, what do we do now? How do we come together and heal a broken country? There are certainly policy changes we need to debate, but our problems are deeper than policy. Before we begin those debates, we need to change our culture.
The first step is for those in positions of power to realize how frustrated and unhappy many Americans are. Low wage growth coupled with massively increasing costs for things like health care and education have left people feeling stagnant and worried about a lack of opportunity for themselves and their children. People at the upper ends of our income scale are not just surviving but thriving like never before. Globalism, automation and all that comes with them are an amazing boon for a tiny number of Americans, and they are causing a lot of pain for a great many more.
COVID-19 has exacerbated this dynamic. Addressing our growing inequality without killing our economic growth and the dynamism so essential for our economy is amazingly difficult and complicated. We have spent too little time and effort thinking through these issues. It’s easy for those doing well to laugh at the crazies, and some of last week’s behavior gave them all the more reason to do so. But that is precisely the attitude that brought us to the sad place we are at.
For those of us not in positions of power, the vast majority of Americans, we have to decide if we have a country worth saving. If we do, then we all have to change our behavior. There are practical things each of us can do. I’ve already started, and it’s working for me. Maybe this plan can work for others.
No. 1: Turn off the TV.
Cable news is bad for you. It doesn’t matter if you are addicted to Fox or MSNBC. It’s all infotainment. With some notable exceptions, and there are some, TV is not designed to inform or educate you. TV producers are a lot like the engineers who obsess over how to keep us in casinos. Casinos famously spend amazing amounts of time and money figuring out how to keep people at the tables: the sounds, the air pumped in, the free drinks and the confusing layouts with the hidden exits. These are not perks or design flaws. They are all deliberately placed to keep you in your seat gambling more than you planned on.
Most cable news is the same. They know what you are emotional about, and they play it up to keep you watching. If guests aren’t partisan enough, the producers tell them to up the volume and the rancor. This can make for entertaining programming, but it’s not good for us.
Try stopping. You will feel better.
No. 2: Read news from a variety of sources.
The largest newsrooms with the most in-depth news coverage are still the traditional liberal corporate media behemoths. If you aren’t reading The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or The Washington Post, you are missing out on a lot of good reporting. But if you are only reading those outlets, then you are missing out on a great deal of news they are either too biased to cover or determined to cover unfairly. Each of those outlets has grown even more liberal over the years, so if you want a more complete picture, balance that diet out with reporting from newer, independent news sources working hard to bring you information and ideas that are missing from corporate media.
I founded the Daily Caller, so I don’t pretend to be unbiased here, but we have a 100-person newsroom producing a couple of hundred pieces of real news, grounded in hard facts, every single day. We fill in many gaps that the corporate media overlooks because of their own biases. And we aren’t the only ones. The Washington Examiner, for example, does the same.
No. 3: Speak with more people outside your political bubble.
We are spending too much time in our bubbles. The internet has made everything more efficient, and we can easily find news or information that confirms our personal biases and read nothing else. Too many people do this. It’s lazy. It’s not healthy. We all have friends or family that we disagree with politically. It’s good to debate people with different views. You may learn something new, or at least understand where the other side is coming from. They can do the same. Anyone who isn’t doing this regularly should really start.
Our country is in pain right now. If we don’t begin to heal, there is no telling where things will go. If recent events don’t convince every American that we need to try to come together, then God help us all. We have an amazing country, unique and impressive in so many ways. It’s worth fixing. Given where we are, though, things are not going to fix themselves. It’s easy to pretend that the problem is just with our leaders or with the people who think differently, but it’s not. We have the leaders we deserve. We are the problem. We each have some responsibility for the sad place we are at, and we each have a role to play in fixing it. I hope we try.
NEIL PATEL co-founded The Daily Caller, one of America’s fastest-growing online news outlets, which regularly breaks news and distributes it to over 15 million monthly readers. Patel also co-founded The Daily Caller News Foundation, a nonprofit news company that trains journalists, produces fact-checks and conducts longer-term investigative reporting.