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Political debate shows are exacerbating the political divide

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

It is no secret that the political divide in America is deepening. Groups like the Tea Party, the Libertarian Movement, the Democratic Socialists and the Green Party have strengthened their hold in the political arena. Framing these two sides of the aisle as diametrically opposed is not new; critics have raved about the “fundamentalist” conservatives or the “socialist” liberals for decades. However, as we move further into this new era characterized by increased polarization and political animus, the right versus left debate becomes more aggressive and heated. 

As always, companies have found a way to profit off of this. In the technology age, media consumption of all kinds- print, visual, audio, but above all, video broadcasts- are ubiquitous and incredibly influential. Media conglomerates such as MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and FOX are selling a product (news) in hopes of making profit (measured by viewership). 

Conflict is inherently more entertaining and marketable than cohesion. It is obvious, then, that these networks would take advantage of the contentious hotbed of angst and debate that is the current political arena. The more conflict displayed on news networks, the higher the viewership, and the more money the company makes. Channels find ways to manipulate and exacerbate this turbulence to rake in profit. 

The purpose of any debate should be to find a solution to an issue, either by persuading one side to another’s point of view, or, at least, to create common ground. However, by using the differences between party ideology as grounds for personal controversy and lively attacks, media companies inhibit opportunities for politicians (and members of different parties) to find common ground to be able to work together. 

Most (if not all) of major news networks have at least one political debate show. “Morning Joe” and “Hardball” on MSNBC, “Outnumbered” and “The Five” on FOX, “Crossfire” on CNN, even “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO and “The View” on ABC are all examples of shows that profit off the voyeuristic appeal of televised political conflict. These major networks frame political debates as cage fights between bitter foes instead of opportunities for differing viewpoints to come together and find a workable solution

This issue is a bit like the chicken and the egg, to be sure: networks need to make more money, conflict increases viewership, and the political arena contains disagreements, so networks air programs that showcase these debates as aggressive and entertaining conflicts. However, because the 24/7 news cycle is rife with this conflict, viewers become disillusioned with the idea of finding common ground with those of differing political ideologies. 

This then furthers the political divide between Democrats and Republicans both in Congress, lower level governments, and in citizens’ everyday lives. Of course, this is not helped by the very palpable presence of political bubbles all over the country; however, networks that have a 24 hour news cycle, national broadcast range, and massive viewership have  

In the “real world,” nothing is ever as black-and-white as TV. No one is a “true” Democrat or Republican. The platforms are seen as stagnant and uncompromising; however, an individual is anything but. Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer is pro-death penalty and against progressive taxation, while conservative political comentator Tomi Lahren is pro-choice. Republican Maryland governor Larry Hogan is pro-gun control, anti-fracking, and has repeatedly criticized Trump’s opinions and actions, both before and while in office. Former Republican presidential candidate and current Utah senator Mitt Romney downplayed his own Republican political affiliation in the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial race (which he won), and is the only Republican to vote against Trump in the recent impeachment proceedings. 

The Republican and Democratic ideologies are not diametrically opposed. Although the alt-right and Democratic socialists splinter off from each end of the spectrum, the majority of Americans are both socially and fiscally moderate; why does the political arena not reflect that? Of course, there is a fair amount of moral condemnation of each side by each side, but in the basic political spectrum, both Democratic and Republican parties are, of themselves, moderate. Pitting right against left in a televised shouting match forces middle America to “pick a side” and stick to it, which forces differences between individuals and beliefs that didn’t originally exist.