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Social media has changed the way we absorb, share, discuss and research politics. For much of American history, the political process was based on slow, incremental progress through an intricate set of checks and balances. The idea was to craft legislation that brought all of America forward through the process of debate and not simply to pass laws that only enrich the wealthy donors and voters of one team.
Indeed, American politics has moved from working together to benefit all involved to creating a distinct set of winners and losers. This is a trend that many founding fathers warned about excessively.
"There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution." – John Adams
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism." – George Washington
The shift in how we view politics has created a poisonous environment that discourages working together as a cohesive unit. There is no longer room for viable, middle-ground compromise when identity politics has successfully divided us into teams. Teams don’t negotiate the final score. Teams win at all costs. The end goal of sports is only to win. Nothing else matters, and moral victories are for losers. We have now evolved into a political environment where the winning team gleefully seeks to punish the losing team.
In my view, the lasting Wikileaks legacy will be that it exposed exactly how our modern day media creates, molds and frames certain stories and agendas. It revealed how this information is pushed and seamlessly integrated with the goals of one team. The subsequent distrust of the media has led to an environment where normal, everyday conservative Americans start to seek out alternative sources of information. They often do this under the guise that the truth reigns above all else involved. However, what we see in reality is that the value of truth erodes when there is an absence of reputable news sources.
Having a "win at all costs" mindset helps contribute to this behavior. When someone believes something to be true, they seek out stories that confirm their own preconceived notions. This phenomenon is known as confirmation bias.
Predictably, confirmation bias creates scores of citizens that only consume and share stories from news outlets that agree with their own personal opinions. We all have friends that get tainted by confirmation bias. As a result, 75 percent of the political news they consume and share on social media comes from obscure websites with virtually no reputability. Ultimately, this person never finds truth, but rather gravitates towards consuming only information that agrees with pre-conceived notions. It’s a never-ending cycle ripe for the rise of fake news on social media.
I believe the reactions from both sides to the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails perfectly illustrate how identity politics and confirmation bias are ruining American discourse and the spirit of cooperation.
When FBI director James Comey revealed this summer that there would be no charges filed against candidate Clinton, both teams immediately sprang into motion. The Republican team cried foul and pointed to years of Clinton corruption as evidence she is above the law. That side insisted the FBI is also a corrupt organization in need of an overhaul. To counter, the Democratic team pointed to the nonpartisan nature of the position and to the integrity in which Comey had long successfully performed his duties leading up to his decision.
Of course, as we all know, 10 days before the election, Comey announced there were new emails under investigation. Laughably, both sides with well-established views on Comey had to pull a quick reversal. Viewpoints and positions based on Comey's prior decision-making now had to be re-written to reflect this change in the narrative.
That’s right: The two sides now had to quickly convince their mindless proles that Oceania was, in fact, at war with Eastasia and never was at war with Eurasia.
To complete the cycle, Comey then announced that there would be no additional charges two days before the election. As a result, everyone scrambled to their previously assigned perches. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. Oceania has never been at war with Eastasia.
Essentially, feelings about Comey had swung wildly three times and were driven not by facts, character or job performance, but strictly by how his actions affected one’s own team. This is exactly what those quotes I listed earlier from Adams and Washington were warning against. Congratulations everyone, we have now become one of the Founding Fathers' greatest fears for a lasting republic.
Confirmation bias and identity politics lead to a situation where someone insists the Supreme Court is of paramount importance, but can’t actually be bothered to identify five Supreme Court justices. It forms large groups of students marching in protest of a fair election that were, just weeks ago, snickering at the possibility that Trump would not accept the results. This type of mentality also creates zero calls to abolish the Electoral College until after an election. Winning has become paramount above all else.
If our past has taught us anything, it’s that any new President-Elect that spends 15 months making lofty promises and guarantees that will change our lives should be met with extreme skepticism, not with open arms.
The Obama presidency will certainly be critically analyzed for decades to come. In my opinion, his near cult status among liberals helped create some of the same issues that we see Trump supporters falling prey to in 2016. Liberals spent eight years cheering on President Obama’s steady encroachment against the system of checks and balances, which ironically were expressly designed to limit his power. As he slowly exercised rule by executive fiat, as opposed to scouring Congress for compromise solutions with obstruction-minded Republicans, little was written about the dangers of incremental executive overreach.
Miraculously, that changed roughly four minutes after CNN posted the official election results. Suddenly, executive overreach was a major problem. Why? Could it be simply because the wrong team won? Sadly, we now cheer for team results, not established principles, when forming political opinions.
To reject the effects of confirmation bias and identity politics, I would recommend the following approach: Avoid supporting specific government powers that you would not want your ideological enemies possessing and wielding against you.
If you’re weeping in a safe space over the acquired powers now at the disposal of President-Elect Trump, then you shouldn’t have been cheering for those same powers while your team had the ball. Why? Because one day you might wake up and President Trump will say he has a phone and a pen and he’s not afraid to use it.
John Mumper is married with two young daughters. He was born in Wisconsin and grew up on various types of farms throughout the state. John was educated at UW-Whitewater with degrees in Political Science and History and has traveled extensively throughout the world.
Today, he works closely with various types and sizes of manufacturers and building products suppliers as an outside salesman. In his spare time, he enjoys the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers, politics and brewing his own powerful beers.