You Have To Dive In
By Andreas Carlos Freund
Losing an election despite getting 3 million more votes is not fair. Securing a Supreme Court seat after blocking all nominees for over a year is unfair as well. Living in an increasingly hostile society because xenophobia helped a man get elected president is also, undoubtedly, not fair. So what do you do when so many things are not going your way? Do you plump back down on your sofa and hope that your social media posts don’t fall on deaf ears? No. You dig in. You inform yourself on how we got to this point. And then you pitch in to help get us out of it.
For decades, economic policies in the US have followed the principle that markets do a better job than nation-states. Generally, white rural working class people vote against their own self-interest, propping up an extreme form of capitalism whose inherent contradictions are now being hijacked by a 21st-century form of demagoguery. Using distracting social issues, Republicans trick constituents into voting based on matters that do not improve their lives. Unsurprisingly, the common denominator in Republican rhetoric is fear-mongering. The Republican agenda has largely been to keep things the way they are by paralyzing the government. Preserving the status quo serves the interests of their donors but is detrimental to almost everybody else. Republican politicians stoked their base’s outrage over Obamacare, despite the fact that healthcare reform benefits all, especially the white working class men who are dying faster than before. How is this happening?
Frank Luntz — Republican wordsmith known for branding global warming as climate change, the estate tax as a death tax, and for labeling Obamacare as a government takeover — in 2012 fell into a depression as he noticed the deterioration in civility in American political discourse. In an interview with The Atlantic he stated, “[Americans] want to impose their opinions rather than express them…And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington”. Clearly, digital media is what Republicans like Luntz failed to anticipate and truly understand.
Conservative social media users can now voice, in clearer terms, what they’ve subliminally consumed for so long. The main difference is that instead of turning on the TV, members of the Republican base now go on platforms like Twitter and Facebook to not only express their own views but to also consume the most radical interpretations on the state of politics. We all know that the vilest content is what we view, especially with “trending” and “most read” rankings. The Republican spin machine has gone viral, and those at the helm no longer can rein in what they started.
In 2016, adults in the US are using digital media for roughly five hours and 45 minutes per day, which is expected to rise to six hours per day in 2018. For comparison’s sake, in 2011 adults in the US spent three hours and 34 minutes per day with digital media. Far more troublesome, is the fact that only 59% of links shared and re-shared on social media are even clicked. We’re not only tricking ourselves with false articles but more so with misleading headlines. The dangers of this are profound, as the narratives portrayed are often not new but merely repackaged – often in more vulgar and inaccurate forms.
Today, trust in government is at record lows, despite a stable economy, massive reduction in overall poverty, and improved access to healthcare. It is certainly true that working class people are worse off, but with digital media, fear mongering and disinformation reaches alarming new heights and false narratives take on lives of their own. According to the Negative Experience Index produced by Gallup, people across the globe are becoming increasingly pessimistic, with 2016 having the highest levels in ten years. So what’s the solution? Well, there obviously isn’t one right answer. In order to move forward, we all need to unplug more often and immerse ourselves in local community work. Engaging face-to-face with our neighbors will help us shed our biases and come up with lasting solutions. If you want change, you have to be active. You have to engage. You have to dive in.
Andreas is a San Francisco native raised in the world of technology startups and community action. He attended Vassar College before studying at the Freie Universität in Berlin and has previously worked for Versal and Blacklane, two fast-growing startups. Andreas founded DiveIn in 2016 after witnessing the effects of the refugee crisis and the rise of populism in Berlin. Andreas also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Cheetah Conservation Fund and in his spare time enjoys playing soccer, being with family, and traveling in South America. You can follow him on Twitter @ACFreund.