The phrase is from the late Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, referring to the news media. I think, however, in today’s poisonous climate, it refers to most populist politics. According to an article in the current edition of The New Scientist entitled “We Are What We Vote,” we find the following paragraph:
Research in the past few years using information on brain structure and function from MRI scans, psychological responses, eye-trackers and behavioural genetics, shows that individual political orientations are deeply connected to biological forces that are usually beyond personal control…. Despite initial incredulity—people like to believe political opinions are rational responses to salient events—the evidence that political preferences are linked to systems that often involve subconscious is growing. An admittedly simplistic but useful summary of this research is that human emotions are grounded in biology, and politics is grounded in emotions.
If you are left-leaning, a look at Raw Story or Salon.Com will send your blood boiling based on what such fear totems as Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh are saying. If, on the other hand, your news source of preference is The Drudge Report or RedState.Com, you will find articles bemoaning attacks on liberty, gun ownership, and fundamentalist religion. The intention is generally to make you feel outrage and hatred.
For each article by a reasonable commentator, there are typically half a dozen or more pieces excoriating “the enemy.” If it is hard to get away from knee-jerk reactions, it is partly because, amid all the clickbaiting, there are all too many examples in the mainstream media.
There is even an entire news network dedicated to fear and outrage. Do I have to name it, or can you guess?