GOP Sen. Ben Sasse blasts own party for peddling discontent on different platforms

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blamed his fellow members of the Republican Party for continuing to spread discontent on platforms like Twitter and cable news.

Video Transcript

BEN SASSE: We have a government of the weirdos, by the weirdos, and for the weirdos. Most real people are tuning out regrettably but understandably, and they're letting the very online, very angry dominate our politics. Our politicians now consistently act like jackwagons and they do it for a reason. It's because they're primarily just performing for other jackwagons.

Echo chamber politicians drinking their own bathwater isn't entirely new, of course. But what is new, and something is new here, is the instant feedback loop of social media. Politicians increasingly addict themselves to likes and retweets. And they act and they think, but mostly they just feel like social media is where real life happens.

Happily, they're very, very wrong. Yes, there's lots of grandstanding going on, but the grandstands are really small and they're mostly empty. Political Twitter isn't real. Only 22% of Americans use it, and more than half of the one fifth of Americans who use Twitter never follow politics on it. The vast majority of traffic on Twitter is driven by well under 2% of the American public.

And yet politicians, again, left and right, are barely distinguishable in seeking to cater to this tiny minority and the algorithms that drive their addicted engagement. Political algorithms run on rage. We know this. Nobody goes viral for making a good argument, a good faith argument. Nobody goes viral for admitting that there are policy trade-offs. Nobody goes viral for being honest that 280 characters probably won't allow enough space to have an honest debate.

It is dumb to talk about a particular piece of federal legislation as either the arrival of heaven on Earth or the harbinger of hell by Tuesday. Nonetheless, the loudest politicians and the media demagogues who enable and encourage them, they still go viral daily just by preaching to their little siloed choirs.

They get clicks for divisive headlines and for outrageous overstatement, for misrepresenting their opponents position, for telling their audience that if you're not with us entirely and immediately, then you're the enemy. Cable television obviously suffers from the same problem. Tucker Carlson had the most watched show on cable this year checking in at 3 million and 30,000 viewers one night last month. Lawrence O'Donnell clocked in at less than half that, and Anderson Cooper on CNN about 800,000.

It's sort of sounds like a lot until we remember that this gorgeous continental nation has North of 330 million souls. To review, on a typical day, less than 2% of the nation is watching all cable news combined, less than 2% of the nation. And that 2% is not remotely representative of the country. The median age of an MSNBC viewer, what do you think it is? 68. CNN basically the same.

Fox evening programming has an even more geriatric audience. Gen-Xers and millennials and Zoomers, the generations that make up our entire future, they're not listening to any of the fan service media. Politicians who spend all day shouting in Congress so they can spend all night shouting on cable, they're peddling crack. Most of it to people who are already addicted, but also with some glittery hopes of finding a new angry octogenarian out there.

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