The Corner

Culture

Tune Out the News, and You’ll Get the Government You Deserve

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A few readers are objecting to a portion of today’s Morning Jolt about the Iowa farmer who said he had never heard of Joe Biden. I can understand readers wishing they had never heard of Joe Biden, and my aim is not to mock this particular farmer. But the choice that farmer has made — to be so inattentive to news and current events that he doesn’t recognize the name of the immediately preceding vice president, a man who’s been in the news for about four decades — has consequences.

I get why people would rather not pay attention to news about government and the people who are in it. What government does can be boring, confusing, full of jargon, with lots of promises that never pan out, deliberate lies and clever obfuscations, flip-flops, gaslighting, and just endless amounts of negativity, finger-pointing, scapegoating, and anger. It’s easy to understand why so many Americans would prefer to watch, read about, and think about almost any other topic.

It’s a classic “tragedy of the commons” situation — each individual can choose to tune out the news and coverage of what government is doing, but once enough people make that choice, everyone gets hurt by politicians and officeholders who think the public will be fine with whatever choices they make.

We’re approaching a perfect storm to minimize public accountability of government’s actions. Journalism layoffs are at the highest level since the Great Recession. In Oregon, California, Connecticut and most other states, the number of reporters covering state government is dwindling. Social media generates all-too-perfect, shallow “you won’t believe what this customer wrote on her receipt to the waitress” stories all the time. Negative polarization stirs partisans to dismiss, downplay, or excuse scandals involving politicians on “their side.”

It’s a bit surprising that any elected official resigns anymore, because a lot of scandal-ridden pols have demonstrated that they can hunker down and ride out the storm. Their shamelessness can often outlast public outrage.

That farmer in the restaurant isn’t the biggest problem in modern America. But anyone who genuinely tunes out news to the point where they don’t even recognize the name “Joe Biden” isn’t really part of the solution, either.

Most Popular

White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More