A.D. Silverstein is a New York based composer, guitarist, and poet who is interested in the commonalities between poetic and music composition. He has studied composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory with Joël Bons, as well as privately with Reiko Füting, and Christopher Stone. He has studied jazz guitar with Joe Ravo, classical guitar with Joel Brown and Michael Newman, and has had master classes with David Russell, the Eden Stell Guitar Duo and the Newman Oltman Guitar Duo.
Silverstein also studied Poetry at Skidmore College with Jay Rogoff, Peg Boyers, and April Bernard. In 2014 Silverstein was a finalist in the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Competition.
Due to the extreme polarization of the United States regarding political and social issues, political debate has largely become a futile process, in which many Democrats and Republicans, convinced of their righteousness, vilify, condescend, and talk passed each other, refusing to hear what the other side has to say. Rather than welcoming points of view that challenge our own, we, all too often, prefer the echo chambers of partisan news outlets, and social media, which reinforce our world-views. Gone are the days when there were a finite number of news outlets, feeding everyone the same basic set of facts, regardless of party affiliation, after all, agreeing on facts is a necessary pre-condition for any productive debate. Unfortunately, we have reached a dangerous era of alternative facts, in which politicians and faux-news outlets intentionally circulate untruths by every means available, intending to obscure the truth for political and financial gain. They do so at the expense of a credulous constituency, which is happy to have a set of “facts” to support their existing prejudices and beliefs.
On the rare occasions when political debates do occur, they reflect two increasingly disparate realities that simultaneously confuse and drive people on both sides of the aisle deeper into their trenches. In the spin room, both parties insist that they have won the debate, while the talking heads often select a winner based on style rather than substance.
The objective of this essay is to illuminate the ways in which both ends of the political spectrum are perpetuating this era of false facts.
The Right: Fake News
Republicans have been the preeminent purveyors of fake news for some time, but they have reached new heights since electing Donald Trump. For decades, Fox News, created by long-time Republican operative Roger Ailes, has been, in essence, the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Fox News and its many imitators on television, talk radio, and the Internet preconditioned Republican and conservative audiences for the counterfactual positions and prejudices espoused by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Since the 2017 presidential election, fake news spread by Trump’s administration has taken on a particularly ominous tone, as its unmistakable aim is not just to undermine those governmental and non-governmental organs of society that should limit Trump’s abuse of his executive powers – the Press, Congress, and the Courts – but, at bottom, to undermine the truth itself. Trump insists we believe him, rather than our own perceptions and judgments based on objective facts.
Perhaps most insidiously, Trump, amping up the time-worn Republican “voter fraud” trope, has systematically purveyed a false reality in which widespread voter fraud – to the tune of millions of fraudulent votes – exists and works to the detriment of Republicans, particularly Trump himself. Trump’s aim, like that of Republicans nationwide, is to leverage this disinformation to justify legislation that makes voting harder for groups usually favorable to democrats. In essence, this is an attempt to subvert democracy itself: its ultimate aim appears to be a one party system entirely controlled by Republicans. Ironically, the American right wing appears to be moving inexorably towards a brand of un-American authoritarianism that they have historically defined themselves as being against.
Whether it is the fear of terrorism, the second amendment, or abortion, Republicans are easily distracted by social issues in general elections, and as a result often vote against their economic self-interest and well-being. This was exemplified in a New York Times article I read shortly after the election, in which ill people who voted for Trump, but needed the Affordable Care Act to survive, were shocked that Trump was planning to repeal it. Similarly, if one looks at Trump’s cabinet pick for the EPA, Scott Pruitt, the man is in the pocket of the energy industry and will certainly deregulate environmental protections intended to protect the health of American citizens.
If we look at Trump’s cabinet pick for Secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose main objective is to divert public school funding to private charter schools, it is painfully obvious that her objectives will not benefit the poor or working Class Republicans that helped put her in office. On the contrary, DeVos will promote more social inequality in the United States and rob poor and working class taxpayers of an education.
The Left: Political Correctness
Political Correctness, a phenomenon primarily associated with the political left, inhibits factually accurate analysis by discouraging discussion about contentious and potentially offensive issues, thereby allowing ignorance and alternative facts to fester, and subjecting its otherwise progressive purveyors to justifiable criticism from the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos.
The underlying basis of political correctness is that white heterosexual men, otherwise known as the patriarchy, the most privileged class of people in the world, have systematically disadvantaged women, minorities, and the LGBQ community throughout history, and that these disadvantages permeate all aspects of western society, including the classroom. Political Correctness is supposed to act as a kind of affirmative action within the classroom, meant to protect women, minorities and the LGBT community from topics, discussions, and comments, which could make them feel disenfranchised.
While Political Correctness may be well intentioned, in my experience, it creates a chilling atmosphere in which slips of the tongue, missteps, and controversial remarks too easily subject a speaker to social ostracism and being labeled as misogynistic, racist, and/or homophobic. In doing so, it inhibits learning and scholarship by discouraging students and academics from openly discussing controversial ideas and thereby subjecting them to consideration and comment by their colleagues.
The fundamental problem with political correctness is that in imposing a narrow, rigid rectitude based on a set of absolute prohibitions, it precludes fair, nuanced consideration of the shunned views and those espousing them. By painting Republicans/conservatives with too broad a brush, it obscures important differences among them, and the potential existence of common ground with some of them that could provide a basis for productive debate and even action. The Politically Correct delude themselves into seeing the world in black and white, tolerant (themselves) and intolerant (the political Right). Ironically, they are often oblivious to the intolerance and censorship inherent in their own positions.
It is clear that the combination of ignorance and polarization are central to the perpetuation of false facts. While elements in the right wing establishment systematically attempt to delegitimize facts for the purpose of political and financial gain, the left perpetuates ignorance by inhibiting the free flow of ideas and inquiries in academic settings.