In the summer of 2012 I was exposed to a new show on HBo called The Newsroom. It opened with a familiar scene, a liberal news anchor and a conservative news anchor arguing back and forth with each other. Two extremes arguing, not finding common ground. Meanwhile in the middle sat someone remaining silent, listening to it all. When he was addressed he made jokes. He didn’t want to make a stand.
Then a girl comes to the microphone and asks, “can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” The left answers, “diversity and opportunity.” Familiar. We’ve heard this before. Nothing new. The right answers, “freedom and freedom so let’s keep it that way.” Once again, familiar. The right says this a lot. Our middle man says “the New York Jets.” The audience laughs and the viewer thinks we are moving on, but the moderator changes this. No middle man, you no longer get to be apathetic, it’s time to take a stand. In the audience he sees a familiar face holding a sign. “It’s not,” it says, “but it can be.” The middleman hesitates. He can’t say that. It’s left versus right. There’s no room for any other argument.
“Well our constitution is a masterpiece,” he says. “James Madison was a genius. The Declaration of Independence for me is the greatest piece of American writing.” He’s done. He looks to the moderator. “You don’t look satisfied.” The moderator wants more. “It’s not, but it can be,” he thinks.
“It’s not the greatest country in the world Professor, that’s my answer.” He turns to the left. “Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck but he gets to hit you with it any time he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes, it costs airtime, column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so gooddamn always?”
Then he turns to the right, “and with a straight face you’re gonna tell students that America’s so star-spangled awesome, that we’re the only ones in the world that have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. So 207 sovereign states in the world, like a hundred and eight of them have freedom.”
He turns to the girl who asked the question now, “and yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know, and one of them is, there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force, and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined. 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation period ever period. So when you ask, ‘what makes us the greatest country in the world?’ I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite?”
“We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged war on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat out chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election. And we didn’t… we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?”
“First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
From this point on The Newsroom went on to tell the story about how this middle man changed the face of news. He wasn’t going to act like Fox News or MSNBC. He held everyone accountable to their words, even his own party. He wasn’t about creating fights between the sides, he was about keeping people accountable.
But I’m not writing about The Newsroom today. I’m really writing about the world we live in.
This morning, American woke up to a government that was shut down. The Senate (our liberal news anchor) and the House (our conservative news anchor) argued past the deadline. The American people sat there and watched them argue. We are the middle man. We let our country get to this point. Unfortunately our moderator (the media) has never kept us to the questions the world (the girl) is throwing at us. If anything, the media has kept us joking. Instead of saying, hey, this is what we want, this is the agreement you should come to, we’ve been pointing fingers. The Republicans are blaming the Democrats for not compromising on Obamacare. The Democrats are blaming the Republicans for trying to bargain with the Affordable Care Act to begin with. We the people are following party lines and doing the same. The media is encouraging it.
I’m stepping up today. It’s time to stop playing the party game. Our founding fathers feared that the country would come to what it is now. Here is what John Adams said about it.
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.
This is exactly where we are today. The question is, how do we change it. The two parties have waged war on our hearts and minds. They have divided our country into opposing forces. Nothing proved this more than when I logged onto Facebook this morning watching my friends fight each other, blaming the other side for today’s problems. They have successfully divided and conquered our country. The politicians in Washington have forgotten that they work for us. Instead they try and control us. They are not trying to represent us any longer. They are representing their own interests. It’s time to take them down.
I believe there are a few steps needed in order to take back our country.
Problem One: The Media
Fox News presents itself as fair and balanced. To an extent this is true. Despite what you may have heard they do a great job at making sure there are opposing voices heard on their station. They make sure that there are equal number of liberal and conservatives going on the air. However, that said, they do not hold their anchors or guests accountable to the facts. There was a video that recently went around where Megyn Kelly held her guests accountable to keeping the story straight and it went viral. It is sad that it is that rare that a news anchor keeps their guests truthful that when one does it spreads like wildfire. MSNBC is no better. Remember when Chris Matthews freaked out about the debate that Obama lost? How is your freak-out helping America make an informed decision?
When writing a research paper in high school we had to site all out sources. It was something we were taught to keep our integrity. If this is something we are all taught in high school then why does the news not do this? The reason they don’t. Ratings. The arguments sell. So we have to come up with a better plan. What if for every lie that the news let out on the air they were forced to pay a fine? What if the fine was greater than the money they made off advertisements for that segment? Would it not create a more truthful news account?
Second, we need to stop wasting time on things like celebrity gossip and murder trials. Guess what, in the end, they’re not important. It doesn’t matter. Who cares what Miley Cyrus did? If you want that you can look it up on the internet. The Newsroom presented three rules which I think should be applied to the real news.
1. Is this information we need in the voting booth?
2. Is this the best possible form of the argument?
3. Is the story in historical context?
4. Are there really two sides to every story?
If these were applied to our actual newscasts then we could actually start working to making this country a better place. People could actually be informed. Think about that! If people were actually aware of what was going on would we be so apathetic?
The question is how do we change this. The media runs on ratings. The snuff that isn’t necessary builds ratings. The fighting builds ratings. Following these rules will not build ratings, just integrity. Something has to be done to make the media stop worrying about ratings.
Problem Two: Lobbyists
Lobbyists. We all know there is a problem with this with our congressional leaders. We need to come up with a solution for it. Congressmen or their relatives/businesses/friends should not be legally able to benefit from lobbyists. It’s wrong and takes the power out of the American people’s hands.
Problem Three: Our Elections
What?!?!? But Ryan, we have the envy of all countries with our elections. So they say. But let’s think about this.
When you go to vote in November you are presented with two people to chose between. A Republican and a Democrat. There may even be a couple other choices that have been thrown in there that you are likely to have never heard about. But when you go in that booth you know that you really only have two choices. Any other vote would be a throw away vote. So you vote for the party you align with most. It’s multiple choice and in your mind you choose the lesser of two evils.
Is that a free election? Are there really only two people qualified for any given position and want it? Do they have to belong to a party to be a valid choice?
Think back to when you were in school. Some teachers would give you multiple choice tests and other would do essay tests. Can you remember any of those answers? My bet is that you are more likely to remember the information that was presented through and essay test rather than a multiple choice test. My bet is that you also had to study more for that essay test in order to do better.
So why are our elections multiple choice tests?
What would happen if you went into a voting booth in the next election and there were no options for governor or senator? Would you know whose name to write down? You now have the option of writing anyone you could think of in that spot. Would it make you feel more free to write anyone down?
Now let’s take it a step further. What if there were no TV or radio ads for campaigns. What if the only way you were able to get information about potential candidates was to look up the information? And what if in the information that the candidates put out they aren’t allowed to mention their political affiliation, only their beliefs? What if there were a website where anyone who was running for a political post could put all their beliefs up whether they had their party’s support or not? Would this not actually be a more free election?
If people had to do the research would we get unqualified people in Congress just because they had party support with an R or D next to their name?
Obviously I don’t have the answers. I’m writing out of my heart because I’m frustrated. I feel like Will McAvoy on The Newsroom. America is not the greatest country in the world, but it can be. We just have to get together and change it. I watched Sleepy Hollow this morning and the episode was titled For The Triumph of Evil. The title is a reference to a disputed Edmund Burke quote, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing.” I will not be the good man doing nothing. I am speaking out. It’s time for change. We know we want it. Obama ran on change, yet we didn’t get it. Now it’s up to the people to be the change we want to see in the world.