Our political leaders and our media might have recognized the danger here and done their traditional duty, which was to ignore all the noise, and focus instead on explaining the complex realities of a country in social and technological transition. With some notable exceptions, that didn’t happen, either. Instead, politics in the past 10 years has become a perennial contest of the already converted, a constant pursuit on either side of “base strategies” and data sets that tell you exactly which voters you need to turn out in order to get and hold power.
Those of us who cover and analyze the news – whose central purpose it is to challenge our own preconceptions about the world, and yours – haven’t really performed much better, and I’m not just talking about the partisan rehashing on Fox News and MSNBC. Many of our most respected columnists and academics, too, occupy the predictable extremes, where they can always rely on the clicks of a comforted audience. They use a smokescreen of empiricism to prove to you, over and over again and without fail, that everything you already believe is borne out by some selective poll or study.
What’s happened is that we’ve effectively left behind the Age of Persuasion and ushered in the Age of Confirmation. It sometimes seems the whole world exists to re-affirm our conceptions of it; you can get through days, even weeks, without being at all discomfited, if you know which sites to visit and which channels to watch.