Representative Jim Cooper (d-TN5) admitted that not many people want to hear about the state of politics in Washington, DC these days. In fact, he joked, most people tend to turn away when the subject of the federal government comes up. But the long-time member of Congress spoke to the Nashville Rotary Club on 3/13 and gave his assessment of why so many Americans are so angry about the national discourse regarding the direction of our country.
He began by suggesting there was a clear winner from the 2016 presidential election, but it wasn’t Donald Trump or the alt right. It was the national media. Cable audiences have grown exponentially in the wake of the election, Cooper said, meaning television networks are reaping millions in additional revenues by giving air time to people on the farthest fringes of the political spectrum and keeping their audiences in a constant state of anger and agitation. Cooper’s advice to the audience was to pay attention to their daily media diet, just like they pay attention to their food intake. Use moderation and gravitate towards those things that are good for you.
The biggest loser from the election, Cooper suggested, was the idea of objective truth. “Who dreamed we’d live in an age of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’” he said. “Washington has always been a tough and ugly place, I’m not telling you anything different. That’s about as cynical as it gets, but that approach has been working. Having a disregard for the truth actually gets you a lot of votes and gets a lot of people stirred up.”
Cooper recounted the story of Senator Howard Baker (r-TN) who cast a vote in favor of the return of the Panama Canal even though the idea was immensely unpopular in Tennessee and retired from the Senate because he knew that vote would imperil his reelection. “Can you imagine such a vote being cast today?” Cooper asked. The 5th District Congressman suggested the current divided political environment places enormous pressure on Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and offered the opinion that President Trump’s visit to Nashville this week may be in part to show support for Tennessee’s senators.
“All it takes is for three senators to defect in the current climate,” Cooper said. “And none of Trump’s agenda will get passed. It’s an incredibly important political equation and we’re right here at ground zero.”