We often hear that political polarization is killing our discourse, but far worse is the rampant hyperbole or even straight up lies that so often dominates our news.
And I’m just talking about the Republican tax bill.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this Philadelphia Inquirer headline on the GOP tax plan: “How the GOP produced the worst bill since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.”
Yes, a major newspaper really printed that. The content of the article matches the headline:
There’s a reason the tax bill is so unpopular. It’s a terrible idea – arguably, if approved, the worst law to be enacted on Capitol Hill since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed the return of captured escaped slaves up North to their whip-cracking masters down South. I’d argue that it’s worse, for example, than the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that escalated the Vietnam War in 1964 – because at least then senators honestly trusted a White House that was bamboozling them about the underlying facts. Here, House and Senate Republicans know exactly what they’re doing.
The author then says that even with some of the “worst and most punitive measures” removed from the bill, “the kinder, gentler version of this bill” apparently still deserves the author’s laughably sincere screed.
Not to be outdone with comparisons to slavery, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of the tax bill, “It is the end of the world,” and “The debate on health care is life/death. This is Armageddon.”
There’s no coming back from literal apocalyptic rhetoric, and a casual observer would be forgiven for wondering how the GOP’s milquetoast tax bill could be literally the “end of the world,” as Pelosi called it with a straight face.
Comparisons to slavery, Nazi Germany, or the apocalypse are a good way to signal that your words shouldn’t be taken seriously. Yet we see this overwrought verbiage time and time again, permeating every level of the national dialogue.
CNN recently declared in a headline that the repeal of net neutrality this month was “the end of the internet as we know it.” Regardless of how you feel about the issue, the end of these regulations brings the internet back to 2015, not exactly the dark ages or “the end of the internet.”
Yet somehow the media doesn’t seem to realize that their over-the-top, hysterical treatment of these issues increases public distrust in them as a whole. It’s as if the perpetrators of this overwrought rhetoric want the country so worked up that they are in a state of hyper-vigilantism bordering on delusion. With such overamped treatment, we should not be surprised that young people show roughly the same level of trust for traditional news media that they have for comedy. No wonder so many now question whether all news is “fake news.”
Like REM lyrics, we constantly hear the refrain, “It’s the end of the world as we know it”—but without the next line “and I feel fine.” Well, we will be fine, even as too many in politics and media remain in a constant state of Chicken Little-ism.