As someone who is disinclined to bring a knife to a gun fight (ie debate hyper-educated, uber-competitive law students day after day about every topic under the sun without every fact, every morsel of information and every pre-formed opinion available to me) Blawgconomics tends to spend a lot of time consulting not only different news sources, but different media when exploring the topics du jour.
This might mean getting viewpoints from both the right- and left-wing Cable News Entertainment programs (no need to explain who I am talking about here), reading about a topic in both papers in town, or double checking a local paper when a national source reports on something. It also includes spending a lot of time watching and reading foreign news sources, which tend to have a 'slightly' different take on many topics than any American outlet does.
No matter how many sources I solicit however, one creamy theme continuously rises to the top; Americans are more divided than at any point in my memory, and perhaps more than at all but a few other points in our nation's history. Is this apparent due to the articles themselves? Is it the nightly hatchet jobs done by news commentators on both sides? Is it the vastly different coverage given to topics by different outlets?
Interestingly, it is not any of these, but rather the public itself which has led me to the conclusion that there are currently not just two Americas, but two Americas with venomous eyes set upon each other. Whether they are 'tweeting' into Wolf Blitzer, calling into C-Span's live guest spots, or most notably, commenting at the end of just about any article available online, the lack of intelligence, common sense and most disturbingly civility exhibited by the general public is nothing less than disheartening.
In a way, this is even more troubling than news outlets themselves being divided. After all, most major papers/cable news channels are owned by a fairly small group of people. It is not surprising when the viewpoints of these barons are funnelled through their mouthpieces, at least in part in the name of profits. In fact, many newspapers in particular have historic traditions of representing the viewpoints of various points of the political spectrum and are well-noted for doing so. However, a quick look through the comments section of just about any article on anything from health care and immigration to seemingly innocuous topics is a look at the darker side of the American psyche. It is not merely a division of ideas, it is something more.
Now, varying viewpoints are one thing. America is noted for its political and speech rights, and it is incredibly important that these are maintained. Indeed, America has a wonderful history of spirited debate, some of which served as the very fuel for the birth of the nation itself. However, it is the mindless repetition of popular commentators' talking points, the complete misuse of statistics, a lack of a grasp of basic political and economic concepts and venomous insults wielded like clubs and whips and not spirited discourse that is notable in today's debate.
It is tough to imagine this trend completely reversing any time soon. After all, modern media is here to stay, and as long as people can sit by a phone or computer and anonymously lob verbal grenades in the direction of their political foes, a culture lacking in civility will be fomented.
One could imagine a scenario where the trend is slowed however...for example beating the unemployment rate back down to the 5 or 6% range. It is amazing how much more civil, whether due to workplace conditioning or a simple lack of time to think of insults, the employed can be. Until then, union is about the last term I would use to describe the American public.