Middle ground

March 9th, 2019

Photo by Kimon Maritz on Unsplash

Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine is one of my favorite sites to follow. It offers deep, thoughtful, approachable analysis of the current state of media and how it might (or should) evolve going forward.

Jeff’s latest post from last Sunday linked to his earlier Medium post on what journalism is:

Convening communities into civil, informed, and productive conversation, reducing polarization and building trust through helping citizens find common ground in facts and understanding.

Much scorn and derision has been heaped on Newt Gingrich a few years ago when he was talking about “What I say is equally true” line (seen in this clip from John Oliver’s show, with generous background laughter track from the audience).

It’s easy to dismiss that entire interview as somebody who is spinning the tale that his “side” wants to hear. A tale not supported by any of the facts, any of the numbers, anything of what is actually happening across the country. Looking back at it through the prism of “alternative facts” of the last 2-3 years, such condescending dismissal can be seen as an instinctive, gut-based, knee-jerk reaction. Reaction that is built on the same quicksand “foundation” as the narrative Newt Gingrich was trying to defend.

You can’t find middle ground when one of the sides argues with facts, and another argues with feelings. You can’t throw numbers and charts out there, and expect the other side to change the way they feel. That’s not how humans work, unfortunately. Maybe you can try to convince that other side that numbers are more important than feelings. Maybe you can try and dig deeper into understanding where these feelings come from. But that’s not quite what the new left seems to be doing these days.

The new left seems to be taking a page or two straight out of the new right’s book. Forget the facts. Forget the numbers. Go for that punch to the gut. Speak to the instinct. Speak to that primitive, lizard brain that lurks just under the surface, ready to spring into that sweet “us vs them” mode.

As much as I want to live in the world where political and social issues can be discussed in a “civil, informed and productive conversation”, the world that Jeff Jarvis imagines, I don’t see that happening in the next decade or so.

If you were to ask me – today – what is the social, fiscal and political platform of the Democratic Party going into the 2020 elections, I would struggle to answer that question. “We are not Trump” is a political platform of feelings and not facts. If you can even call it a platform.