How is it in a country full of Americans, half of us consider the other half un-American, and vice versa?
To me, this seems like a fairly recent development.
Some people who know me today might categorize me as a “Godless libtard, who cares more about immigrants than real Americans.”
These same people probably didn’t categorize me at all 10 years ago — even though I was pretty much the same person then — a progressive liberal atheist.
On the flip-side, 10 years ago, I probably didn’t categorize some of the people I knew as “fascist-leaning individuals who’d rather wrap themselves in the American flag than care about their fellow human beings” — but that’s how I’d categorize them today.
So, what’s changed?
In terms of our politics, I don’t think we’ve changed all that much. The biggest difference is the manner and degree to which we broadcast our politics. That’s totally different than what it was 10 to 20 years ago.
Today, we have access to a social media soapbox, and many of us get up on that soapbox, and with a keyboard as our megaphone, we share our opinions (and other people’s opinions). We speak our values; we argue politics, and whether we realize it or not, we present our views on what it means to be American.
I used to think this was a good thing. Now, I’m not so sure.
Too often, our use of social media results in a singularly-focused and myopic view of one another, to the exclusion of the many things we likely have in common – a love of music, parenthood, art, literature, sports, science – the things that we could (and used to) connect over, but now, choose not to, because of political tribalism and a strange social media sectarianism.
Social media magnifies and intensifies our political differences, making it difficult to recognize or even care about things we have common. This unintended consequence benefits foreign enemies, who flood social media with content designed specifically to deepen the divide between Americans — and its working splendidly. Facebook has turned out to be the perfect crowbar to our Pandora’s box- dividing our American house and weakening our country from within.
How do we combat this?
The genie is out of the bottle in terms of social media. Its unrealistic to think people are just going to stop using it – and let’s face it, it’s a bit of an addiction.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter rely on two very human traits; the desire to communicate with one another, and our desire to fight with one another. Combine those two things with an insatiable need for affirmation, and you’ve got the perfect weapon for division and discontent.
The “thumbs up” or “heart” emojis are like herrings to a seal, as soon as we receive them, we instantly bark out more opinions on Trump, Biden, Guns, Abortion, Religion, and Immigration — widening the gap between one another, burning bridges, fueling hate.
Weirdly, social media is weakening the fabric of our country by allowing us to show others who we are, and what we believe in. We were a stronger / less vulnerable country when I didn’t know your politics and you didn’t know mine. If we both liked the Beatles, that was a good enough foundation to at least be kind and respectful to one another.
I looked back at some of my early social media posts, a lot of them had to do with my kids; a shared newspaper article, pictures from family gatherings, photos from sporting events or school dances. You know the schtick, obnoxiously proud mom or dad posting stuff about their son or daughter — often embarrassing them in the process.
“Ah, the early and innocuous days of social media.”
I looked at some of the respondents to those early posts. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure if I shared similar kinds of posts today, many of the same respondents would make a point of not responding.
No emoji herrings for me!
Many who responded fondly to my innocuous posts in the past, probably think I’m an asshole today. In their eyes, I’m a meme machine – a opinionated jerk – an atheist – an intolerant liberal fuck — and I totally get that.
When 9 out of 10 FB memories are rants about politics, you might have a problem (talking about myself here), and who can blame others for seeing you solely through a political lens, if that is all you show them?
It’s not easy to un-see what you see on social media, and some posts leave an indelible mark on our opinion of others and vice versa.
My High School has its 40th reunion this Summer. Our last reunion was in 2016, before Trump won election — before the war, so to speak. But even at that stage, you could see battle lines being drawn on social media. I even remember a plea from one of the organizers to refrain from talking politics.
A lot of shit has transpired since 2016. I know I’ve annoyed the fuck out of Trump supporters on a near daily basis (and vice-versa ). I wonder if we’ll be able to put our megaphones down for 5-to-6 hours and just pretend that we’re not offended by one another? I hope we can, though I expect some top gun-like maneuvers, as we buzz around the clambake tent, trying to avoid in-coming liberals or conservatives who might be looking to engage.
Social media has wrecked us. Its a shame, I wish it were different, and I don’t know how or even if we can fix it.
I think the best approach is to talk more about what we have in common — lead with those things, rather than politics – broadening the perspective might help lower our emotional temperature.