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Our divided America and the news we like 

The next presidential election is two years off, but people in both major parties already have their eyes on the White House. On Sunday, along with news about the latest climate report and Ivanka Trump’s emails, stories in The Hill’s e-newsletter included these: “Kasich ‘very seriously’ considering 2020 run,” “Klobuchar ‘still thinking about’ running in 2020,” “Sherrod Brown ‘seriously thinking about’ 2020 bid,” “Steyer undecided on running in 2020.”

And then there are Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jeff Flake, Juan Castro, John Delaney, Richard Ojeda, Eric Swalwell, Beto O’Rourke....

There’ll be a lot of winnowing out. But much of what happens in Washington, and a lot of the news we get, will be influenced by people with half their attention focused on 2020.

How much of what happens, I wonder, will start pulling us together as a country, and how much will push us further apart? And what will voters – on the left and the right – be looking for in a presidential candidate? If some of the candidates try to pull us together, will anybody notice?

Many of us have become so convinced of our own wisdom that we don't want to listen to anybody who doesn't reinforce our beliefs and prejudices. That’s showing up not only in who we socialize with and what we talk about but also in the news we read and watch and listen to.

A recent article by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow offered a particularly disturbing example of right-wing news selection: the experience of a website called America's Last Line of Defense.

Maine resident Christopher Blair created the site on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign and started posting deliberately outrageous fake news stories about Trump and Hillary Clinton. He started the site as a joke, Saslow writes, in response to far-right concoctions.

The site is a sort of posterized version of satirist Andy Borowitz’s New Yorker columns. A recent example: A photo of a smiling Barack Obama with a fabricated quote: “If you’re ignorant enough to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ you’re a fake American and a racist,” and the text: “The traitor Obama has already begun the 2018 War on Christmas. Share if you’ll never stop saying Merry Christmas!”

Judging from the posted comments, some of Blair’s followers know what he’s up to and are there for the laughs. But not everyone. Blair encourages his readers to “share if you’re outraged,” and many do. Blair’s page, Saslow writes, became “one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.”

No story is too outrageous, apparently, because Blair is simply reinforcing what people already believe.
That’s an extreme example, but many of us who are liberals also select our news sources based on what we believe. “There’s a big, reliable audience of people who will tune in to feel appalled by and superior to Trump,” the Times’ David Brooks wrote recently, “and who are addicted to their daily rituals of moral onanism.”

That’s widening the country’s division, and deepening it. And it’s leading us toward a presidential election in 2020 in which the nominees of both major parties will be more interested in playing to our prejudices than to common interests.

After four years of Donald Trump, the country will need to heal. But the majority of us will have to want it to heal. David Brooks is right. At the moment, too many of us seem to find satisfaction in our separateness.


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