There's a Much Bigger Threat Facing American Democracy Than Just Donald Trump.

The following was written by Tucker Benedict. 

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I believe we're facing a much more advanced threat to our democracy than we’ve seen previously in our nation's history. The partisan divide being felt at nearly every level of American life is one that threatens to rip apart our democracy at the seams. The most daunting aspect of this division is that there is no easy fix, no band-aid to apply. Worse yet, instead of realizing the gravity of this division, we continue to bicker amongst ourselves hurtling towards the potential of a very real civil war ever unaware of the danger we're in.

The way information is shared amongst humanity has greatly changed in the last five years alone. While that statement may sound dramatic in nature the numbers behind it present an even more grim picture. With Facebook alone boasting two billion users the invention of novel information sharing technology has led to a massive crisis; one many don’t even notice we’re in. Instead of promoting worthy, credible news social media platforms are designed to reward posts which get the most audience engagement. With this in mind, it’s obvious to see why fake news headlines designed to grab as many clicks as possible before being debunked travel much faster than well sourced, lengthy political analysis.

While this basic concept of audience engagement facilitating the success or failure of news may not seem like a world-ending development it certainly seems more daunting when considering the scale at which this principle of rewarding the lowest common denominator reigns. Not only has it damaged the way with which information is shared for Facebook’s over two billion users but it also has provided a business model for profit-minded companies to crush their competitors with.

I remember watching Sean Hannity, the current cable news champion, promise that the Devin Nunes memo was akin to Watergate multiplied by 100. When the Nunes memo was released and it proved to be much more dud than bombshell there was no retraction, apology, or reiteration but instead, Hannity was on to the next topic; hurling extreme accusations with little grounding in reality at the next unfortunate target.

The thing Hannity and his compadres don’t seem to realize is that words from a source that’s perceived credible have a lasting impact on perception. Now that seems obvious but if Fox News, or more accurately Rupert Murdoch, truly realize the impact those words are having on the masses- and continue doing it anyway - they go from irresponsible to opponents of American democracy; something history hasn’t looked kindly on in the past. Intentions are irreverent in this though because at the end of the day spewing misinformation is still degrading the American public for profit. Just as a company who pollutes to save a dollar today, denying climate change, forces us all to face the consequences of that irresponsible mentality we’ll all have to face the ramifications of news companies run by profit-minded billionaires spreading misinformation for a quick buck.

While they certainly aren’t alone the damage being done when Fox News favors ratings over facts is by far the most extreme example of entertainment news degrading the quality of mass information. To again use the aforementioned example of Hannity promising the Nunes Memo would incriminate top members of the FBI and expose the deep state, the problem is that now Fox’s viewers, who seem unable or unwilling to verify the validity of statements made by their favorite anchors, truly believe that there’s some sort of deep state controlling the government out there working against the Republican agenda despite Republicans controlling almost all levels of government. This self-victimization that Fox News employs for ratings is quite literally destroying the perception of fundamental America institutions in the eyes of many Americans. I can barely express with words how profoundly damaging it is for Americans to lose faith in law enforcement agencies because Fox News needed to figure out how to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Despite being number one in ratings almost every program on Fox News still refers to “mainstream media” as if they aren’t the very embodiment of mainstream, dishonest, media. While Rupert Murdoch is not willing to trade ratings for the truth he’s leaving a legacy of divide behind that is so great it threatens to engulf the American way.

Worse yet while all this is happening outside players aren’t only licking their chops, they’re actively using the discord created by engagement based media to discredit our democracy from the bottom up. By sowing disinformation within the masses Russia has begun to discredit American democracy in the very eyes of Americans! How many times did Donald Trump call the election that he won rigged? Remembering again that words have long-term consequences when the President of the United States openly repeats over and over that our elections are rigged people begin to believe it. Not only has Donald Trump played into the hands of national adversaries seeking to discredit western democracies but he doesn’t even seem to realize it.

While Putin just re-elected himself and Chinese President Xi eliminated term limits, enforcing a national gag policy while he did it, we’ve been fighting amongst ourselves over which political party we belong to. I simply cannot stress enough that the very fabric of our democracy is under attack and yet our national attention span has become so short that we can only bicker over the disingenuous news on our smartphones.

Whether or not the blame lies with an algorithm designed to promote audience engagement, Rupert Murdoch’s unwillingness to promote the truth, or Vladimir Putin’s army of trolls, one thing is certain: if we don’t figure out how to foster the spread of factual news soon the divide is only going to get a lot worse. While Donald Trump may only be a symptom of this problem his election represents the first step towards the end of democracy. I fear things are going to get much worse before they get better.