Americans have sought technological explanations for their politics longer than they’ve been Americans. It’s no coincidence that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of assembly, religion, and “the press,” which, in the 1790s, meant the freedom to operate a discrete technology.
And surveying today’s deeply divided political parties, Americans still do the same. Many have blamed not only Citizens United for the strangeness of the 2016 president election, but also the Internet and social media. After all, Donald Trump runs a thoroughly unfiltered Twitter account, and Ezra Klein has written about how Vox devoted more coverage to Bernie Sanders once it discovered how well stories about him did on Facebook.
Speaking at the 2015 Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday, Al Gore did blame a technology for the race’s unpredictableness—but not the one people might think of.
“I think there’s a big wheel turning slowly and we’re now in a phase where our politics have been debased,” he told The Atlantic’s James Fallows.
He described this wheel—this cycle—as profoundly technological.
“When our country was founded, our information ecosystem was formed by the printing press, and it had certain characteristics where individuals could easily enter the public square. The ideas were treated more according to a meritocracy.”