Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told Brigham Young University students on Monday he's worried politics are replacing religion for many — and deepening the divide between communities.
Social media and partisan cable news channels are leading people to extremes and "getting us addicted to outrage," Cox said during a town hall meeting hosted by the Wheatley Institute and BYU Office of Civic Engagement on campus.
Pointing to time he's spent serving in leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cox noted, "We saw people leaving our faith on the left for years because maybe the politics didn't line up. Now we're seeing it on the right, in ways we hadn't seen historically."
"When politics becomes your religion, that's so damaging, and that is exactly what has happened," he said.
The governor said he believes his job would be "so much easier" if he only watched Fox News and repeated ideas he heard on the channel.
"Same thing on the left ... but I don't think that that's healthy; I don't think that that's the right way."
When asked why he uses social media and Twitter, where he has been particularly active since he was elected governor, Cox said he initially hoped to connect with residents in a way that was "fun and healthy."
But as online conversations have become more polarizing, he said, he is enjoying it "much less than I did before" and does not feel it represents the citizenry as a whole.
"I know some really great people who are really awful on social media, and so that's not helpful, and I hate to pull myself out of that sphere," he said, adding that he is getting close to quitting the social media platform.
"I don't know that either of them have run really great campaigns, if I'm being completely honest," Cox said.
Of Lee, he said, "When I see the senator, who is a good friend of mine, on Fox News going on with Tucker Carlson, I think: 'Like, everybody watching that is already voting for you. You need to be talking to the voters who aren't watching that.'"
Cox noted he has attended "thousands of events" in the state as governor and before that as lieutenant governor.
"I've never seen (McMullin) in the wild. I'm sure … he's a great guy, but I've just never seen him at anything. Which, I think you would want to be kind of at everything if you were running, you know, a campaign for the Senate in the state of Utah."
Cox also discussed his emphasis on mental health, and noted that performing service has been found by researchers to improve people's well-being. He said state leaders are discussing adding a service requirement for high school and college graduation.
"I'm all about coercive service, whatever it takes," Cox said, explaining that research has found service can help one's mental health even if they are required to do it.
The governor ended the town hall meeting with a plea to students to work to increase civility and post positivity on social media.
Cox said an ambassador from Switzerland recently told U.S. leaders that Switzerland and other countries look to the U.S. as a leader on the world stage, but said, "I don't know if we can do that anymore because you're so divided internally."
"If we're not strong and united, we can't engage on those big issues," Cox said, adding that what U.S. residents post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter "has a direct line" to leaders in Russia and China "and our ability to stand up to them."
"We need good people like you who are here today to please engage, and engage in a positive way," Cox said.