Not surprisingly, given the last four years of intense political and social divisiveness in our country, the upcoming election will be anything but ordinary. In fact, without exaggeration, the 2020 presidential vote may be the most important in American history since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, which led to the secession of seven states.
Not only are the flames of division apparent, but the tools to stroke these fires are also unprecedented. The deceptive use of social media, unwelcomed interference from other countries, and the media’s constant focus on the dangers of the radical right or the extreme left have escalated this year’s election to such a level where civil discourse itself is threatened.
As we enter into this unstable environment, it has been essential to revisit the Spy’s mission of providing a safe harbor for different points of view.
The political world has changed dramatically since 2009 when we began our work. The national conversation about all things political has been profoundly disruptive regarding how America talks about its issues. Since the 2016 election, friendships have ended, communities have been divided, while even the most thoughtful of voters find themselves involuntarily drawn to echo chambers often rampant with lies or half-truths. More alarming has been the use of name-calling or other toxic language in an attempt to win arguments rather than rely on the pros and cons of a certain point of policy.
Candidly, some of this can also be seen in the Spy’s current range of columnists, op-ed writers, our letters to the editors, and reader comments. While understandable, this form of partisan dialogue has never been our objective.
The Spy has always taken special pride in the fact that we had not only attracted gifted writers of impressive backgrounds, but that those authors covered the full range of America’s political spectrum.
That full range of political thought is now difficult to find. In the Trump era, we’ve seen many of our writers, as both lifelong Republicans and philosophical conservatives, finding themselves alienated from the current administration’s approach to both policy and leadership. While it is understandable that one’s political views are rarely static, the net result has been the unexpected dilemma of the Spy not being able to consistently present arguments to support and/or defend the Trump administration’s policies.
In addition, the 2020 election has become much more a referendum on character than policy. The character of a presidential candidate itself is a reasonable and essential value for every voter to consider, but all too often, it has marginalized the importance of talking seriously about climate change, poverty, world peace or countless other issues that impact our lives.
In taking a hard look at what the Spy itself can bring to the table, I’ve concluded that there is no reason to duplicate the current debate on the character of Donald Trump or Joe Biden now taking place in the vast majority of American media outlets. Those newspapers and news channels can do that job much better and more comprehensively than a small group of hyperlocal news sites which values education over journalism.
What we can do is to encourage a healthy debate on policy, both enacted by the Trump administration or proposed by the Biden campaign.
It will be left to others to evaluate these significant differences and their impact on our country. But the danger of not prioritizing these as fundamental to ensure a well-informed electorate is clear.
With apologies to songwriter Joni Mitchell, the Spy will encourage the concept of sharing both sides now. We will seek out Republican, Democratic and independent thinking on the most critical issues of our time with the special request that these be separated from the personalities and character flaws of those that advocate those policies.
That is not an easy task for writers nor their editors. It is instinctive to comment on the motives and contradictions of both Trump and Biden in this election. In some cases, those inconsistencies are not only significant to highlight when talking about policy, but they are also essential in educating the general public on complex issues.
Nonetheless, we will encourage all of the Spy’s contributors to avoid the trap of using moral indignation or character assassination for the simple but compelling reason that those “trigger” phases will defeat their objective of attracting the undecided or the ill-informed to hear their perspective of an issue.
We think our region needs to see both sides of an issue to make an informed decision on whom to vote for this November. The Spy is dedicated to this objective even if our ability to control the dialogue is limited.
In the meantime, thank you again for your interest and support of the Spy newspapers.
The Spy Newspapers