At the same moment a skeptic and a cynic cock their eyebrows in doubt, two very different things happen inside their heads.
The skeptic wants more evidence before passing judgment. The cynic has already made up his mind. In fact, his mind was made up at the start — and he already assumed the very worst. That means all the evidence that the skeptic finds important is meaningless to the cynic.
A skeptical voter wants to hear from both candidates. For them, the devil’s in the details — and so’s their vote. A cynical voter hasn’t read anything more than the headlines. Both sides do it so voting just contributes to the bad behavior. Cynical voters either don’t vote or vote against things, never “for”. It’s not like they have some vision they believe in. They’re empty and nihilistic. They couldn’t care less if the whole structure blew apart. It’s all the same to them.
In their defense, cynics aren’t necessarily responsible for their own cynicism. Plenty of cynical people became that way, acquiring their cynicism like a virus they picked up by going maskless at a Trump campaign rally. Their cynicism bled through their TV screens. A few may have picked it up through the newsprint they were reading. “Both sides do it” is as cynical as bullshit gets. It paints a picture with a brush so broad all one can see is the damned brush.
During Trump’s impeachment and Senate trial (hey, remember that — that Donald Trump was impeached and is the first POTUS ever to run for re-election AFTER BEING IMPEACHED?), our news media leaned heavily on comparisons between what was happening to Trump with what happened to Bill Clinton when he was impeached — for lying about a blow job. See the problem? Yeah, yeah, yeah — impeachment. Both stories have that in common.
But a blow job and acts that scream “TREASON” aren’t quite the same thing. That IS what Trump was impeached over — election fraud in league with a hostile foreign enemy. No blow job in the history of blow jobs could ever equal election fraud never mind treason. Yet, there was our news media essentially saying out loud that one impeachment was exactly equal to the other. They must be equal because “both sides do it”.
Excuse me for being skeptical.
When Republicans work to suppress Democratic voters (they never work to suppress their own of course — and Democrats NEVER work to suppress Republican voters because both sides don’t do that), they’re doing it for an entirely political reason: to get or hold onto power. There’s no policy basis for it. There’s no appealing to those voters as potential Republican voters. There’s the conclusion that those voters will vote against them and therefore they should not be allowed to vote. And if they DO vote, that vote should not be counted. When Democrats, by contrast, react to their votes and voters being suppressed, that is NOT them reacting politically. They’re reacting to their RIGHTS being violated — in other words, A CRIME.
But then our news media equates the vote suppressors (acting politically) with the vote “suppressees” (acting as the victims of a crime). It’s exactly like equating the victim of a mugging with the mugging. If you were there while the mugging was going on, it must be because you were “part of it”. “Both sides do it” understands — correctly — that both sides have a point of view. It misunderstands that a point of view isn’t necessarily legitimate. The bully and the bully’s victim have distinctly different points of view on their interaction. The bully cannot justify his — unless we see bullying and being its victim as equally justified and justifiable.
Remember back when America (and virtually nowhere else) debated the validity of climate science? America’s television news media would put a climate scientist (with facts and data at their fingertips) up against a climate denier (with nothing but their paid-for-by-polluters opinion). This, already, is not an equal fight. We’re pitting facts and reality up against bullshit.
These two people would share a screen split 50-50. In video vocabulary, a 50-50 screen says “these two points of view have equal value”. They could both be true — it’s up to the viewer to make up their mind. But that’s a false premise — because it’s not challenging the non-facts one side presents as legitimate argument. When the cameras roll, the climate scientist will have to spend valuable time trying to convince the TV audience that the bullshit they’re being forced to argue against is bullshit. Then, when the climate denier does the same thing — arguing that the facts are bullshit — the 50-50 of it all comes home to roost. A news show has given credence to nonsense.
A more accurate way to visually present the truth here would be to have the climate scientist filling 99% of the screen (relative to the value of the facts they brought to the studio) while the climate denier fills a few pixels up in the corner of the frame. The audio track would reflect the same balance. Result? We wouldn’t hear the climate denier’s voice — which is as it should be because they are lying and this is how we should think about the acceptable ratio of truth to lying in our discourse.
Cynicism is running rampant in America because, in large part, our news media is so cynical.
That doesn’t reflect reality and it doesn’t reflect who we really are as a nation. Not the majority of us. To be cynical is to think “Yeah, Mexicans ARE rapists”, women should be grabbed by their pussies, it’s okay if we canoodle with Putin and every other despot on earth, hundreds of thousands of Americans dead from the coronavirus is just “how it is”.
No, it isn’t.