Across the Aisle

12 mins read

Photo by Kalisa Veer via Unsplash

A conservative colleague at my husband’s place of work recently reached out and asked if anyone would like to get together to discuss and try to make sense of current events. He said he especially welcomed those who leaned more liberal to get a different view. Of course, my husband and I took him up on it and met outdoors, socially distanced in lawn chairs. He was not a fan of Zoom. How often does a chance like THAT come up where someone from work WANTS to talk politics? We actually had a nice conversation. 

He said he was concerned about the “riots,” used the word “mob” a lot, and — as a man in his late 50s — said he was sad that it seems youth are being taught to “hate America.” Though, as a college-educated man, he claimed he wanted to get out of his bubble, it seemed he was consuming information on the far end of the political spectrum. He asked us to check out former Bernie supporter Tim Pool (as evidence he listened to “the left” as well?) and seemed to like things Tucker Carlson had to say. Maybe he just talked with us to make himself feel better, tell himself he’s “open” to other views. Even so, we tried to explain our views of the protests and other events to give him another perspective. I also suggested he try using something like to help find a variety of highly factual or pro-science sources that lean left, right, and center so he can get more diverse but reliable views if he really wants to.

We ended on very friendly terms, finding, as always in civil conversations, that we had more in common than expected. We had planned to meet again, but coronavirus cases spiked in our area, so the following is the next bit of correspondence I shared with him regarding things we were going to discuss next (the first meeting was 2+ hours!). I hope this might be helpful even for short passing conversations that come up about where family and friends are getting information. 

Happy 4th of July, _________!

Quiet day here, no parties, so I was reflecting on our conversation from last week. It was nice to meet you and talk politics. As you said, in order to have a stronger democracy, we need to stop shouting past each other, operate with a baseline set of facts, and use good sources of information to solve problems.

We checked out Tim Pool as requested. Looking at his feed, he is clearly not a “leftist” as he says. Every recent video seemed out of the right-wing echo chamber, some even echoing Trump’s tweets within a day. Most content condemns “the press” and Democrats over and over (sound familiar?). I didn’t need this article to tell me he is no longer a “liberal”; it was obvious. I saw no recent videos on “Bernie” issues of universal healthcare, closing the wealth gap (rich paying fair share of taxes, raising minimum wage, etc.). Pool even urged us to buy his “merch.” Since his involvement with Occupy, he must have realized he makes more $ slamming Dems. Consuming his content won’t help you get out of your bubble or hear the other side. Take the “Democrat-run” cities issue: cherry-picked and oversimplified, ignoring complex issues of job opportunities, homelessness, community resources, schools, food deserts, etc. What about 90+ of the country’s 100 poorest counties run by GOP? Or the majority red states that take more federal handouts than they contribute, while majority blue states pay more to the feds than they get back? These are over-generalized topics engineered to tell us what we want to hear so that we feel good that our “team” is better than “theirs.” What we should focus on instead is uniting to demand POLICY that will help ALL communities. Who at local, state, and federal government has the best ideas to help us recover from our current crisis?

You mentioned, “We don’t even operate on the same set of facts!” This should not be in a democracy where citizens must be informed. YouTube self-proclaimed “journalist” Tim Pool contributes to this problem. While researching him, I found this disingenuous tweet that hides the actual title of a Snopes article:

Why would Pool try to discredit a well-reputed fact-checking site in such an obviously dishonest way if he follows the journalistic code of ethics? Again, he lines up with right-wing media which seems to work overtime to get its faithful to scoff at fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact along with traditional news organizations. He is counting on that “confirmation bias” we talked about. Followers already trained not to believe Snopes will see the tweet and say, “YEAH! Stupid Snopes!” Without even clicking the article (as many did). The article is actually a great look at how confirmation bias causes many to get “fooled” by satire.

*A word about fact-checking sites. It is not a matter of whether you “believe” or don’t believe them. Like any reputable source, they show their work. You don’t have to agree with their analysis or conclusions. THEY SAVE YOU TIME by doing some of the verification work for you. They can lead you to original sources, more complete sources, or sources that challenge the claim. You can investigate for yourself and decide.

Proprietors of misinformation do this constantly with “mainstream media” even though the free press was enshrined in the Constitution as a check on government corruption. If that is its purpose, we must question a government that relentlessly attacks it and trains us not to trust it. Current example: The New York Times can break a detailed, well-sourced story about Russians paying Taliban bounties to kill soldiers and no action being taken by our government, and instead of demanding investigations, millions ignore it simply because it came from NYT. It has gotten so bad that even the Wall Street Journal and Fox News (the newsroom, not their TV pundits) found the story credible and newsworthy enough to report on, but many people still ignored it. They have been convinced not to believe traditional news outlets, despite the efforts of the reputable ones to provide the reader with sources and specific details they can crosscheck themselves. 

So much easier to watch a YouTube personality who makes people feel good about what side they’re on than have to READ, question, and verify stuff we might not like hearing, am I right?! Youtubers like Tim Pool or Andy Ngo, who at first may seem convincing, but with a little lateral reading (open a new tab, see what other sources say about the claim AND the source, check fact checkers that produce things like actual police reports and court documents) more often than not turn out to hyper-partisan cherry-pickers at best, and outright liars dividing us to generalize whole groups of fellow Americans as “the bad guys” at worst. BUT they are profitable.

Since you asked for “the other side” of the PragerU censorship controversy, here are a couple articles that give it.

I find it amusing that conservatives would argue that government needs to step in and tell a private company how to run their business. I guess we don’t want big government until we do.

The second article links to an analysis by the Economist (which I think we can agree is trustworthy) showing how left-wing groups are censored equally.

Factual, reputable conservative orgs like the Cato Institute have also had problems with PragerU’s shamelessly one-sided content which claims to educate but is often divisive “us v them,” inaccurate, oversimplified, and cherry-picked, but that is a discussion for another time.

Finally, since this is more of a quiet, reflective 4th of July, I’ll share some readings. We often think of military service as true patriotism. This Washington Post article about the untold stories of soldiers caught up in a political controversy moved me to tears. True stories of sacrifice, service, and perseverance. 

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written because, like today, people were criticizing his marches. “They’re disruptive!” “They’re breaking the law!” I know you have been hearing more about the “mob” side of the story, focusing on destruction of property, or “hating” America. But there are many stories you could read outside the bubble that focus on the CAUSES of the unrest. MLK urges his colleagues not to focus on the disruptions, but on the CAUSE of the demonstrations. It has profound relevance to today.

Sorry to write you a whole seminar about this stuff! Can you tell I’m a little enthusiastic about library science?:) I do believe reliable information improves our lives and our country. I guess I get a little excited when I meet someone who is interested in finding reliable sources and getting diverse information:).

Enjoy the rest of your day (and summer!).



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