2020 was the year of the lockdown. 2021 will be the year of the breakdown - the year we start to see a clear divide of the public areas of interest break down into Right and Left in the country. Places that were once unencumbered by politics are now rife with them, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s not like we should be surprised by this; we’ve been heading here slowly for the last 10 years or so. The news used to be one of these public spheres of influence. We all used to just accept that the news was the news. Such phrases as “alternative facts” and “fake news” didn’t exist. One of the issues we have now when it comes to civil discourse is that half of the country gets its news from CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Pod Save America, and the other half gets it from Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, Ben Shapiro, and talk radio.
The results are predictable: The stories highlighted on either side are brushed away, if not completely ignored by the other, and Americans are getting only half the picture. For instance, President Trump’s lies throughout his presidency were, if not completely disregarded by rightwing media, strongly downplayed. At the same time, President Obama was hailed as a President without scandal simply because the leftwing media chose to ignore all of them. If you watched Fox News, you would know for a fact that President Trump handled COVID about as well as can be expected. If you watch MSNBC, you would have had no clue that Hunter Biden did anything wrong in his life.
But see, this kind of makes sense. After all, one of the primary topics covered by the news is politics. And while the media wants you to think that their job is to report facts, their actual job is to attract eyeballs so that they can sell ad space. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that viewers, listeners, and readers prefer confirmation bias over news stories. In other words, consumers prefer to be told things that they agree with politically, because it’s easier to swallow than hard truths. This is true of all sides. If you hear a bit of news that challenges your political view, it’s easier to dismiss it as fake than it is to determine how to proceed with the new information. And thanks to the blatant partisan divide in today’s media, it’s easier to do so now more than ever before.
This divide used to exist exclusively when it came to politics and the reporting thereof. 2020 has turned every aspect of life political. Science is now political. Social media is now political. Medicine, sports, business, and even children’s television shows have all become politicized. And the results are once again predictable. The first shoe dropped in 2020 with the popularization of Parler, a social media company looking to rival Twitter and Facebook by stating that they respect free speech, unlike the aforementioned platforms. Although founded in 2018, Conservatives flocked to Parler in 2020 amid a criticism of and the ensuing backlash against Twitter, and an echo chamber was formed on the site. Essentially, the result will be one platform for Conservatives and another for Liberals.
2021 will see yet another social fabric torn down, as the Daily Wire (Ben Shapiro’s company) announced that they will be starting an entertainment wing that will focus on conservative shows and messaging. The company is now based in Nashville, so not only is the Daily Wire looking to take on Hollywood the institution, they are looking to take on Hollywood the geographical location. We will eventually see two entirely different entertainment industries - one for Conservatives and another for Liberals.
I can see this happening in other areas of life that previously were considered non-partisan. Just this past year, we heard supposed public health experts making the claim that protests against police brutality were more important to the wellbeing of the general population than mitigating against a global pandemic. We had politicians changing their minds on the efficacy of the COVID vaccines - not based on science, but on who the president was at the time of the approval. We had a president who vilified mask wearing even after the science finally got on the same page about it. This builds on the already politicized latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-5. Don’t kid yourselves: We are headed for a fracturing of the medical and scientific communities, where Conservatives and Liberals operate on different data.
All-in-all, we are heading for a society wherein Conservatives and Liberals will be patronizing different businesses based on their core beliefs. There will be Right and Left restaurant chains, Right and Left gasoline stations, Right and Left supermarkets, and Right and Left big box retailers. As companies are increasingly being forced to take public stands on hot-button issues, they will turn off certain segments of the population from wanting to use their services. This is stoked by the “silence is compliance,” or the more aggressive, “silence is violence” crowd. Companies are being labeled as “with us or against us,” when in fact they never wanted to be a voice for social justice; they just wanted to sell products.
As the previous 10 years laid the groundwork for the social fracturing of our country, the next 10 years will see the complete tearing of its social fabric. We will be entering a self-imposed political segregation, and while the optimist in me would suggest I say something like, “if we don’t change soon, these things will happen,” I think we’re past that point. The train is already heading in that direction, and the emergency brake isn’t working. Anyway, I think what I’m really trying to say is: Happy New Year.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.