In the fragmented world of new media, it is all too easy to experience only opinions we agree with. These titles can help liberal readers change that
Jason Wilson | the Guardian
In his last broadcast of the year, John Oliver talked about how his own show offered comforting political catharsis to people who already agreed with him.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with shows that have a viewpoint; this show has a viewpoint,” he said. “But a healthy media diet has to be broader than that. And the way we see news now is micro-targeted.”
He’s not the only one who’s worried. Barack Obama told the New Yorker that new media’s capacity to spread misinformation makes it “very difficult to have a common conversation”.
Herein lies the problem: many of us now live in “filter bubbles” wherein social media algorithms tend to feed us only those perspectives that we already agree with. Let’s assume, then, that all of us, including progressives, do need to broaden our horizons, and seek out more views that differ from ours.
The first thing to say is that it’s still possible to be selective. No one really needs to listen to Alex Jones for four hours a day, and some conservative sites really are nests of unreconstructed conspiracy theory and bigotry. And it’s also permissible to approach rightwing sites critically, knowing there are certain arguments, and certain writers, that we will never agree with. In fact, it might be the chance to sharpen our own arguments as we encounter things we can’t stomach.
So what are the thoughtful sources where we can not only learn how the other half thinks, but maybe pick up something useful?
Yes, it’s partly funded by the left’s least favorite family, the Kochs. Yes, it habitually shills for nasty industries like big oil and big tobacco. Yes, libertarian connections with the far right, their support for a brutal economic doctrine, and preparedness to get into bed with the worst reactionaries mean that we will never see eye to eye.
But already some writers at Reason are doing good work exposing the authoritarian instincts of Trump and his lieutenants like Jeff Sessions, and playing host to some much-needed self-criticism on the American right.
In general, Reason may also offer lessons on the strategic, long-term defence of constitutional principles.
In recent years, parts of the left have been ambivalent about the first amendment. Now, given Trump’s authoritarian instincts in the face of even the mildest criticisms, sticking up for free speech might be seen as a tactical necessity.
At worst, we could steal some of their lines.
Another place where good writing and original journalism can be found is the American Conservative.
Once again, this comes with mile-high health warnings. The American Conservative was co-founded in 2002 by that proto-Trump Pat Buchanan, who ran for president three times on a “paleo-conservative”, isolationist, anti-migration platform. It plays host to arch-reactionaries such as Rod Dreher, who spends a lot of time worrying in print about who uses which bathroom.
But because it was founded in opposition to neoconservatives and the war they started in Iraq, it has long offered space to unique, and principled, anti-war voices (including some on the left).
And although many paleocons (including Buchanan) supported Trump, as he begins to surround himself with neoconservative advisers, expect incisive conservative critics of Imperial America like Andrew Bacevich to step up.
Faith-based sites, often ignored as straight-up conservative ones, offer another source of thoughtful political journalism, even if it’s not always based on principles that progressives can agree with.
America Magazine and the Tablet: America Magazine, published by the Catholic Jesuit order, has already begun reporting on moves to resist immigration raids, and regularly features opinion contrasting the teachings of Pope Francis with the shibboleths of American conservatism.
They also broadcast a public affairs show on Sirius XM, and put the highlights in a podcast.
Of course, many progressives will balk at Catholic attitudes on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. But if Trump really does move to enact mass deportations, a lot of the potential victims will be Catholic parishioners.
There are signs in other parts of Catholic media that at least some bishops will move on this. In the Tablet last week, the Bishop of Brooklyn and Queens said he “will resist executive decisions that will divide or separate families”. Some kind of expanded dialogue might be necessary before a coordinated resistance to these moves.
Other Jewish publications – such as Tikkun and Cross-Currents – have been speaking out against the intrusion of the far right into presidential politics, and warning that even conservative Jews should join the “#jewishresistance”. (And it’s also worth noting that mainline Protestant groups, such as the Uniting Church, have been as unstinting in their criticism of Trump as any progressive website.)
If the Trump administration is as authoritarian as some predict, progressives are going to need all the help they can get. To work with others, we may first need to acknowledge them – and learning about other perspectives is not the same as acceding to them.
- This article was amended on 23 November 2016 to clarify that several publications were included as faith-based sites and not necessarily as conservative ones.
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