Michael W. Wagner – “Communicating the Wisconsin Idea in a Polarized Era”
Michael W. Wagner, Ph.D., School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Michael W. Wagner is an associate professor and Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow in the University of Wisconsin Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. His research, teaching, and service are animated by the question, “how well does democracy work?” Wagner approaches this question from a variety of perspectives, incorporating into his work the study of political communication, political parties, journalism, public opinion, political psychology, political behavior, religion and politics, the presidency, and biology.
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Michael Wagner made an excellent presentation of the way data is gathered and displayed, and how the graphic forms make the concept of differences and trends become an “ah-ha” moment quickly grasped by a graph or graphic. Especially enlightening was the series of maps of how the country voted red/blue – geographically, by population and by weighted population. That final weighted graphic looked like a Purple Phoenix rising from the ashes. Not clearly red nor blue, not clearly coasts versus center. We are more homogenous than the verbal stories seem to indicate.
Yes, data gathering and interpretation is important – that key “who, what, when, where, how” – but two crucial journalistic questions are missing – “why” and the all-important “so what?”
No question that the right and left are different – we know that well. But what made them that way, and can their frames of reference be meshed or overlapped so communication is possible? I see the various camps not as red/blue, right/wrong, left/right but they are more like quarks – strange, charmed, bottom, top, up, down. They are not actually against each other, but they are viewing the world through different lenses, points of view, priorities. As long as each faction speaks a different language, we have the tower of Babel a.k.a. Washington.
The most insightful, and mind expanding, take on these differences are clearly presented in this month’s Atlantic magazine – main cover story: “Is Democracy Dying?” The clearest explanation of “how”, “why” and especially “so what” is in Anne Applebaum’s article “A Warning from Europe: The Worst is Yet to Come”. (If you have not read it, I urge you to.) The concept we have been living with – that our democracy is a meritocracy where the best and brightest rise to the top – is what is actually under attack. So why shouldn’t the low-IQ and talentless be left out of positions of power. Aren’t we all created equal? So why are the dimwitted barred from being CEOs or astrophysicists? So let’s have a NEW criteria – how well do you fit into the tribe? How tight do you tow the party line? In this new “good-ol’-boy network”, not rocking the boat earns you power-points. Mindlessly echoing the party message elevates your position. How closely your genetics and idealogy enhance the tribal ideal is the key to power. Not money, not talent, not intelligence – those elitist traits lock out so many who want power but can’t earn it themselves. Just be the Greek Chorus and this new way will enfold you – so simple. Those who have always felt left out, alienated, down-trodden have found a home here. Like a cult, just echo the leader.
The key question to ask: What does it mean to be “equal”? Your answer might make you either “strange” or “charmed”…..
(Watch out – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” makes you Marxist!)
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