Lessig speaks to the notion that the media divide in American culture lies near the root of many of the countries problems when it comes to their democratic process.


“What is the role of education in a democracy? Must the electorate be informed? What happens when we are operating with a different view of reality?

Obviously it’s incredibly important that people understand their democracy. They understand the facts about what’s going on in the world and they begin to use their values in light of the facts to press for one set of policies over another. So we need some level of education. But we have moved from a world where much of a public education about matters of public import was provided by broadcasting and into a world where we can’t rely on that anymore. People are going to be less reliably aware of important issues––at least in a way which is grounded on a common set of understandings or a common set of facts. So it’s going to be harder for us as a people to resolve certain questions when those questions require common judgment.

For example: the question of impeaching the president. If the Congress goes through with the impeachment, and the Senate goes through with trying the President, there will be a very significant proportion of Americans who cannot believe the results, and a significant proportion of Americans who take the results as completely obvious. And that’s true regardless of what the result is. And that’s because we built this world where people live in these separate tribal bubbles and they don’t have an understanding of facts held in common. That’s a product of the media environment.

We’re not going to solve that, in the sense that we’re going to get to a place where we all know the same stuff. We need to think about solving it without trying to get everybody to the right place. We need alternatives to everyone being in the right place. That’s why I talked about things like the civic juries that can help people decide issues. That would enable reflective and informed judgments of the people, as opposed to unreflective judgments of the people. Regularizing that dynamic would be a critical part of what we need to do.

Will the result of the Impeachment hearings also illustrate something about whether our democracy is representative?

The reality of today is that any impeachment is going to be conducted in an environment where politicians can see the people and the people can see the politicians––but the people don’t see a common set of facts that the politicians are supposed to be viewed against. That’s because a significant chunk of the people are going to view the facts through the lens of MSNBC and another are going to view the facts through Fox News, and those two realities are going to conflict. They don’t agree; they don’t see the world in the same way. So that conflict is really debilitating, because it’s going to lead to one side believing something deeply unjust has occurred. That kind of recognition or belief is really invidious, poisonous to democracy. It’s something we should recognize as new. When we’ve had impeachments before, either the public was invisible, like with Andrew Johnson, or the public came to a similar judgment, or was driven to a similar judgment, like in the context of Nixon. So this change is very significant.”

This scares me.  Not sharing a common set of facts is essential to functioning society.  What’s worse is that the same phenomena is happening in Canada.  I hazard to guess that the majority of my fellow residents of Alberta do not take the time to reach outside their media bubble and sample the waters of the ‘other’ side.  I hear it in the online debates and talking with my fellow citizens, a decided lack of common ground and lack of agreement on shared facts when it comes to the governance of the province of Alberta.

Talking across the divide is very difficult and often ends in insults and more pertinently no forward movement toward a nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.  And as Lessig says, the lack of common reference, is toxic for democratic societies.