March, 1972: Shankill Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland
We set up our TV camera on a street corner in the Protestant section of Belfast for man-on-the-street interviews. The corner was empty but curiosity won over the passers by and they stopped to ask what was happening. With the wired microphone in my hand, I began asking questions. The woman asked who we were. I answered we were with an American politician, interested in learning about "The Troubles". I got an earful. There were two of us interviewing and gradually a crowd materialized. Most flowed out of the pub on our corner.
Someone asked again who we were and I shouted (it was getting louder), "We're with ABC." "BBC!" someone shouted back. And the tension rose as Protestants felt misrepresented by the UK's dominant media. "No, Americans!" I yelled over the voices. "Americans! Kennedy!" and it got even louder, more claustrophobic as people crowded in. Senator Ted Kennedy had just visited Belfast and was seen as too sympathetic to the IRA. My father's campaign manager shouted over the crowd in his booming voice, "Ask them what they think about the IRA!" He was tall, good-looking and not very bright.
That's when we realized we were in the middle of a full-fledged riot. The five of us were outnumbered by a couple hundred of them, all angry and many intoxicated. A group of women surrounded my husband Scott, protecting him from the angriest in the mob. I continued talking to people, trying to reason, calm, soothe. Idealistic college kid. Then I felt someone pulling me, my father shouting in my ear, "Let's go!" I started to say "just a minute" and turned to see dense, angry humanity stretching all the way to our cab. My father pulled me back to the cab and struggled to get the door open against the press of angry people surrounding the car.
As my father finally shoved me into the back seat, the crowd kept pressing and the door slammed on my hand. Back home, the California headline read "Candidate's Daughter Injured in Belfast Riot". Our riot. I learned then that television could create events.
Fast forward to the 2016 election season.
It's 2016 and the economy is rolling along strong. Unemployment is low, the stock market is high and America is once again well regarded around the world. While 1972 Northern Ireland was in the midst of a Civil War, tied closely to a struggling economy, the United States is enjoying relatively good times.
So why the vitriol and violence in the presidential campaign? How did the bigotry and misogynism of Trump rallies propel him to be the GOP nominee? How has the Bernie Sanders campaign derailed into similar vitriol and violence against "the establishment"? Why are they so angry? How did the Nevada Convention get so out of control?
In 1972, we inadvertently started a riot with a TV camera. Today, the media -- and especially social media -- has stirred up passions and convinced those on the left or right to move still farther from the center. Surrounded only by our own echo chambers and "blocking" or "unfriending" those who disagree is what we do instead of discussing, arguing or listening. No one has to listen today to anything that doesn't fit her world view.
I'm learning now that social media can also create revolutions. And not just the Arab Spring.
If a civil war is upon us, it's of our own making and completely devoid of setting. This is not France in 1789, not Russia in 1917, not China in 1949. Are we in for a whole slew of pointless conflicts, fired by our collective imaginations?