Still Stuck in the Middle

At least one political cartoonist and I seem to have the same feeling. Much of America is, and has been, stuck in the middle of a political crisis that threatens the very fabric of our society. I originally wrote about the topic in 2012 and considered revisiting it at times. I didn’t for several reasons, but then I ran across this cartoon. I could not let it pass without comment.

Most folks today likely do not remember the song from which the cartoonist borrowed Uncle Sam’s thoughts, “Stuck in the Middle With You.” I have no idea what the group recording the song had in mind, but the lyrics fit the world in 2012 nicely. Today perhaps, they are even more germane. This brings us to the verse still resonating loud and clear, “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right.”

Hold on! Before anyone gets his or her nose out of joint, left and right are interchangeable. If you are a big fan of a political figure on the left and would prefer he or she be called a joker, or one on the right and would prefer the term clown, please feel free to swap those words in your mind. Believe me! It makes very little difference. However, if you are still reading, likely, you are not a fan of either a clown nor a joker. You are stuck in the middle and trying to make sense of it all.

It is disheartening the truth of these lyrics stand the test of time. Anyone in the middle or anyone trying to be objective is bombarded by both the left and the right. If you prefer, again, your choice, the objective or centrist person takes it from all sides. Conservatives and liberals may consider the individual indecisive, while the extremists on both sides believe the person cowardly.

When this piece was first written, many claimed the country was divided. At the time, I opined that division might not be as extreme as some claimed. Today, I fear the amount of division and polarization is much worse than anyone imagined. If that is true, the blame for that division rests solely on two segments of society, the traditional media and what we now call social media.

There was a time in this country when the middle could be heard. There was a time when survey data could be trusted. There was a time in this country when the news media worked to be objective reporters of facts. There was a time when even the most partisan politicians were civil to each other, at least publicly.

Today, the same demographic groups can be targeted by different researchers concerning the same issue, and the results can be dramatically different. If there has ever been a time when the old saying, “Figures can’t lie, but liars can figure,” was more accurate than today, it would be hard to imagine.

Today, objective reporting of the news is almost impossible to find. Instead, the media practices a form of hybrid reporting blending opinions and selected facts in a way that makes it practically impossible to know when the reporting stops and opining begins. The confusion is further aggravated by the development of television programs, websites, and publications with the appearance of being news sources, but are really something else. They are, at best, comedic or satirical entertainment. At worst, they are outright propaganda.

A person who wants to make an objective decision about anything today is in trouble. Polling data is untrustworthy. News sources are suspect. Politicians believe civility and honesty are as old-fashioned as handlebar mustaches and spittoons.

The objective person’s lot in life becomes even more difficult if they express what they feel is an unbiased opinion. Unbiased opinions, middle of the road positions, or an objection to what is obviously biased information will automatically result in an attack from one or both sides of the particular issue.

In the political and public media world, the attack will come from talking heads in the television and radio communities, as well as the blogosphere. That seems to be expected and accepted. What is disappointing and more bothersome is how this same attitude has trickled down, to steal a phrase, to the every day social media user.

People using social media have no problem blasting another user’s comments. Instead of attempting a reasoned response or asking for more information, respondents will lash out at a person calling him or her a kool-aid drinker, an idiot, or worse.

Others seem to have no problem denigrating an entire group with sarcastic, or even offensive comments. At times it seems only the far (pick your poison, right or left) end of various political and social continua speak out on issues. Then, they do so either to intentionally offend or to provoke others to respond in kind.

It is not surprising this is the case, just disappointing. It is disappointing otherwise intelligent, caring individuals will lash out at an opposing view. In some instances, they lash out when there is no real view expressed. When it is the clowns and jokers on both sides of an issue who get the attention, others will follow suit.

It seems the time of reason and common sense, not mutually exclusive by the way, is long past and forgotten. Today we live in a world where the outrageous gets the attention and notoriety gives one credibility. A world in which clowns and jokers compete with each other to see who can be the biggest buffoon on the talk shows. A world in which stating your opinion can result in you being unfriended or blocked. Yet, ranting like a lunatic may make you trend up hyperbolically.

© – 2020

About S. Eric Jackson

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1 Response to Still Stuck in the Middle

  1. oldcowdog says:

    Right on point, as usual!

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