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Video transcript

so John when our nation was founded there was media's essentially the newspapers how has the evolution of media affected the evolution of political discourse at the beginning of our country the editors of the rival newspapers there was no middle-of-the-road newspaper you were either for one side of the other and you either a federalist or you were with the Jeffersonian Democrats Democratic Republicans as they called themselves and the editors were at each other's throats so violently they would sometimes get in fights in the street and knock each other down so it was and and you had lawmakers who were supposed to be men of virtue as all men in those days would be leaking documents Alexander Hamilton the Treasury secretary and Thomas Jefferson the Secretary of State would leak documents to their favorite papers in order to attack the other and eventually George Washington had to come in and say knock it off fellas because this isn't good for the country so the bitterness carried out in the press was with us from the founding what changed over time is that it became in the interest of the newspapers particularly to appeal to a larger audience that means you didn't want just the left or the right you wanted both and so that created a tradition along with a few other things where there was an attempt to give just the facts a kind of middle-of-the-road perspective we are changing from that now where there the economics of covering the news and the the the digital change where you now can have anybody speaking and gaining access to the public has created a situation where you have a more partisan press now and we're in the middle of trying to figure out where that's going next so this is interesting because a lot of people when they talk about oh well now it's got getting polarized and partisan you know the good old days when you got the truth of wisdom from you know Walter Cronkite or whatever but but what you're talking about is maybe what's going on now is a little bit of a reversion back to where we started that's right in terms of the partisanship of the press it is a reversion towards the early days of America and in terms of the partisanship of the individual members of Congress or of the White House what is a little bit different is that the the call to virtue which would snap people out of their partisanship was is still up for grabs whether the original the founders when they fought like cats and dogs during the early years of the administration's I mean Thomas Jefferson was best friends with John Adams and essentially then hired a newspaper writer to undermine Adams when he was president I mean this was a very dirty pool the argument they were making though was our country is new and what is at stake is the very survival of the American experiment and so they were fighting for real stakes they weren't just trying to primarily keep power they were really trying to make this flower bloom that they had just planted so now the question is what role does virtue play in the American experience to pull people away from their partisanship to make them work together for common interests and what is that shared area of common interests what pulls them away from what the founders knew people would behave like dogs sometimes but they thought they could pull away if they thought about the common interest well is that poll still there so there's a lot of talk these days about a polarization of the media or the polarization of politics in general how much of it do you think is due to things like social media or do you think it was inevitable well we've always had polarization in American politics but there was a dose of something else which was a call to a higher American ideal and also voters would vote on people based on their virtue on there larger than larger-than-life statesmanship which was not partisan so you had to keep a balance if you were being highly partisan you kind of did it in quiet what's changed now with social media and also with the flood of money in in politics is that it has encouraged people to be more and more partisan the louder and hotter I talk on a specific issue the more money I'm gonna be able to raise the more interest groups are gonna like me and the more clicks I'm gonna get because I'm the one making the most flamboyant noise the problem is that means the arguments are always containing flamboyant noise and the people who want to come steady measured conversation well they're they're not getting read on social media they're not in charge of the interest groups that pay millions and millions of dollars so the system encourages people to stay a part and that's one of the biggest challenges Secretary of Defense James Madison may be the greatest threat to American democracy that polarization and do you see a way of this getting resolved or just get worse as get better there have been periods of American history where we have been the split obviously the Civil War was a period of great rending in the American fabric what changed it was an actual conflict and so we see that God forbid would be one way to do it another would be if there was a threat to America from outside its borders and people would feel an acute sense of of national pride and patriotism but other than that this there there doesn't appear to be at the moment a quick fix for what is a complicated problem for why the two parties have gotten into a kind of inescapable fight that they can't seem to get themselves out of it's like we need a shock to remind ourselves how much commonality there is so all of that the polarizing quibbling kind of goes away or at least gets covered up a little bit big changes in American history usually happen from a shock and it's what breaks people out of their behavior and also which tells a lot of the people in the rest of the country who don't participate in presidential elections and don't participate in congressional elections it reminds them that something real is at stake and there is a vast group of Americans who really want solutions in the middle who don't care about the bickering and the ideology but a lot of them don't participate in politics and so the kind of shock that would make people behave who are partisans is also the kind of shock that might draw in people who were just apathetic and not participating in the political system