How do we politics get back to center?

Published 12:43 am Saturday, April 9, 2016

For all of my life, the Sunday newspaper has been an event.

When we were small children, we would coerce Daddy to turn to the comics and read us the “funnies” before Sunday school. It was a small reward for the discomfort of a scratchy slip, an almost antiquated undergarment once considered de rigeur for little girls. I remember following his finger along the rows of type through Blondie, Snoopy, and his personal favorite, Beetle Bailey.

I’ve long since learned to value other parts of the newspaper, but I still love reading them on Sundays the best. Give me a fat Sunday paper, a strong cup of coffee and a sunny spot in my den, and I can be content for hours.

The opinion section is a particular favorite, and I like to read both sides of an issue. But it would appear I’m in the minority. Across the nation, many Americans consume more of our news online, and then only what our friends post to social media.

From that funnel, the smart algorithms of social media place in our feeds only that which they expect us to comment on or click through, based on our past habits. In the long game, this means we’re more likely to see, and hence read, opinions with which we agree.

Ditto for television, especially with the presence of 24-7 news channels these days. If you think I’m pointing a finger at you, I’ll admit there are three pointed at myself. For the hour or so that I listen to television every morning and late some nights, my news is almost always delivered by the anchors of CNN.

Those who prefer a liberal viewpoint generally tune in to MSNBC, while conservatives favor FX News. The polarization of our viewpoints plays out on the national stage when Congressional votes split along party lines, or the two parties refused to negotiate on important issues, like naming a new Supreme Court justice. Center is a place we’ve not heard much about since Clinton’s second term.

Every once in a while, we’d do well to flip to the channel with an opposite view and consider what others are thinking, if for no other reason than to enjoy the comedy of the drama that is the current presidential race. Some days, I find myself arguing with the pundits, anchors, or candidates themselves.

This year, we’ve watched politics become reality TV in a relatively short period of time. If you can’t find the humor in Trump, who’s been quite liberal at times, being the frontrunner in a the very conservative GOP, or Bernie and Hillary alternately exchanging barbs and nice comments, you might need to switch channels and listen to the other side for a while.

If we practiced, we might be more willing to listen to opposing views in person, and come to expect our elected officials to look for common ground, too.

Yep, Center. I’d really like to go back there. But there’s no meeting in the middle if we don’t understand the opposing view.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.