Since last November I began writing more openly about my opinion on the political situation in the United States. I have done this only occasionally, as I am one of the many Americans who although they care deeply about political and social issues, can bear to ingest only so much (ie. not much) information regarding current events. It is just too disturbing for me to ingest political news on a daily basis. And yet, I do care. I am immensely concerned about the trend towards right-wing conservatism at home and abroad. I long to make a difference. I also am extremely busy and easily feel overwhelmed when thinking about taking political action.
Plus, I also admit that I am an analyzer. I have to understand something thoroughly before taking action. When it comes to health regimes (and anything else, really) I have to thoroughly understand the ins and outs of why I should do something before I can feel motivated to commit to a lifestyle change. And so it goes with politics. Although I have not written postcards, made phone calls, attended any post-Women's-March protests, registered voters, knocked on doors, etc., I cannot help but come back to questions that have long plagued me. "Why are there so many people out there who are committed to voting against their own interests?" "How is it that a low-income, rural, working class populace can believe that a man that is worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes, has their little worker bee interests at heart?"
Most business, especially big business, is built on the simple principle of increasing profit margins - ie. charging more while spending less. Guess what? Outsourcing and cutting back on things like salaries, retirement plans, health insurance, and employee benefits are just a few of the ways that businesses "spend less." Thus it is that I have spent countless hours pondering what I call the "logic gap" of why so many working-class voters, can possibly expect a man whose wealth depends on their very exploitation, to be committed to improving their lives.
In short I have been burning to understand how we, as a nation, went from looking like this:
My sweetheart and I have had countless discussions (one of the many things I love about him) attempting to understand this phenomenon and what to do about it. Saturday I had a tremendous breakthrough, an answer to my prayers for comprehending the incomprehensible. We happened to have a child-free date night and were trying to decide what to watch (a common occurrence, since we often have disparate tastes). We were scrolling through the documentaries on Prime, without finding one that we both wanted to watch. Then near the end of the list, was a movie entitled The Brain Washing of My Dad, about a NYC filmmaker who wanted to explore why her once Democratic father had become a fanatically conservative, belligerently intolerant, Tea Partier.
Needless to say, this movie is not a relaxing, semi-mindless, late-night watch. Rather, it is a fascinating exploration of the political and economic forces behind the development of right-wing extremism, fueled by, you guessed it, talk radio and Fox News. Although the movie is first and foremost a personal narrative about a woman losing her father to a Fox News addiction, it uses what seemed to me to be pretty solid investigative journalism to uncover and explain the perplexing growth of our country's aging, angry, white minority. The audience discovers, along with Jen Senko, the movie's writer, director, and producer, that her experience is not unique. There are hundreds of Americans who also feel that their loved ones have been hijacked - turned from caring, thoughtful, citizens (both liberal and conservative) into angry, bigoted, intolerant, right-wing fanatics, unwilling and incapable of connecting with others, including close friends and family, who hold differing viewpoints. There is even a Facebook group, entitled "Support Group For People Who Have Lost Loved Ones to Fox News." If you want to check that page out, you will have to follow this link, as I found the group page oddly impossible to find via Facebook's own internal search (not a conspiracy theorist, but that is kind of weird...Facebook even said that the group didn't exist. I had to follow the link I found in a Google search).
Without spoiling the movie for you, I want to say that it helped me to understand that I was not actually looking for an answer to a why question as much as a how question. I wanted to understand the mechanism behind how people are acting and voting against their own interests. In her film Senko uncovers how the right-wing media literally and systematically brainwashes those who subject themselves to it. Besides being incredibly informative, "The Brainwashing of My Dad" is also hopeful, exposing the viewer to a variety of people and resources working to combat this phenomenon, such as the Hear Yourself Think Foundation, dedicated to revealing propaganda tactics and offering workshops and education on effective communication strategies to break down the toxic distrust and polarization marking America's current socio-political landscape.
For those of you who might have loved ones with whom you can no longer discuss most topics (outside of the history of dill pickles and other innocuous food discussions) without tension and argumentation, the resources on HearYourselfThink.org seem particularly helpful. For those of you who are ready to take action, there are an increasing number of political action organizations eager to engage you. One of the most tangible, practical movements I have come across is Swing Left, aimed at taking back Democratic control of the House through focusing on select swing districts where the controlling party won by a narrow margin (FYI we have two of them here in NC). If you have any inclination toward canvassing, registering voters, or organizing events, please contact the folks at Swing Left. In the event that you, like me, are not so comfortable with political activism, are extraordinarily busy, or just feel overwhelmed with keeping up with life in general, and yet long to do something to make a difference; watch "The Brainwashing of My Dad." You can find it on their website, thebrainwashingofmydad.com, on Amazon (Netflix declined to carry it; what's up with that?), and through YouTube.
Wouldn't it be nice if we, as a country, could differ without having to be divided?