American political conversation, particularly in the mass media, has significantly deteriorated in recent years in a number of ways. One of the most disturbing of these is that it increasingly no longer deals with the substance of politics but instead with group dynamics. The purpose of far too many newspaper and magazine editorials is not to convince the reader that a particular perspective is logically or morally justified, but to convince them that it is “mainstream”. At the same time its goal is not to persuade them that the alternative perspective (and by extension those that represent it) are incorrect but that they are “on the fringes” or “extreme”. In other words, the objective of the article is to get its audience to conform to what it depicts as “the popular view”.
The article asks them not to think but to follow. The entire substance of the article is often merely a play on group dynamics. The reader is politely informed of where he or she had better situate themselves if they wish to avoid the status of “outsider”. The tone of the article assumes that the reader is of course already within the mainstream and among the ranks of the “ acceptable ”; but to avoid any potential for confusion, clear lines are drawn by the author for his benefit. Now the opinions represented as the most popular view may not actually be so at all and the claim may require a one sided or skewed set of statistics for support. But that is not what is important for our purposes. What is important is the thought process of the reader. And so what we have is a model of journalism that trains its audience to be followers instead of political thinkers.
Whereas open and rigorous discussion of the substance of political issues leads to civility because I am forced to respect the reason of my opponent, the avoidance of substance and the exploitation of this group dynamics approach leads to incivility . It teaches the reader to denounce and denigrate the holder of a particular view rather than to engage their arguments.