No one will say that before the Nixon presidency that the American people had complete faith in their government—a libertarian streak has always run through American politics. Americans pride themselves on being independent of the government, with no need for government handouts and an acute sense that people’s privacy should be protected. But at the same time, Americans previously saw no need to doubt every word from the media and the government.
But the Watergate scandal changed that dynamic in the country–now, politicians were the enemy, constantly hiding something from the people in order to give Washington DC (or its Wall Street backers) even more money. The fourth pillar of American democracy, the press, became more adversarial with the government, sensing the next opportunity for a career-making expose around every corner. The American press was also responding to an issue of supply and demand: they were supplying the demand for more hard-hitting journalism, corresponding to a greater wave of skepticism in the American people who were no longer comfortable with the cozy relationship between the press and Washington elite.
In the decades since Watergate, media outlets have only proliferated, especially with the advent of the Internet and social media sites. Now, anyone can be a pundit with millions of followers with a few blog posts and YouTube videos. As American citizens consume the political news that best suits their own political views, their own skepticism and political views have been cemented. Americans’ voices have been magnified through websites such as Reddit, whose trending topics become the news on major news outlets. These magnified voices have snowballed into movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, and becoming part of the national science, with the Tea Party staying and eventually shaping the very dynamics of the federal government that it professed to hate.
But at the same time, Americans are not perfect, logical beings. The thoughts of Americans, especially with regards to their government, is not always rational. People still remain easily swayed by flawed arguments in the media and dubious “evidence”. A 2012 poll of Americans indicates that seventy-seven percent of Americans believe that aliens have visited earth and eighty percent believes that the government has hidden information on UFOs from the public. Americans have a deep faith in other beings but an even deeper faith in the nefariousness and power of the federal government (1).
In this blog, I hope to examine how the American people have become empowered through the Internet and how the Internet fuels the continuing skepticism stemming from the Watergate fallout. Looking at the latest political issues to raise Americans’ ire will perhaps reveal what Americans hold dear. Additionally, Americans’ take on these subjects may hint at the American people’s character as a collective—what is it about an issue that captures the American public interest? Is it the people involved? Is it how the media frames the issue?
In other words, what political issue will rouse Americans out of our ADD culture to rise up against Big Brother?
(1) Cline, Seth. “Most Americans Believe Government Keeps UFO Secrets, Survey Finds: Survey for National Geographic finds extraterrestrial visits not that crazy an idea to most Americans.” US News & World Report. 28 Jun 2012. 27 Sep. 2013.