As I think about the events of this week (and of the past four plus years) and read through social media comments, I am thinking about things that have been percolating in my mind and heart for some time. I will try to lay them out in this blog article by borrowing some quotations from my social media feed with some hope I can tie them together and make some sense of it.
I write this thinking about neighbors and people I have spent time with, shared a drink or meal with, laughed with, worked with and done some aspect of life with who don’t think or vote exactly as I do. Some of them voted for Trump; some would never vote for Trump.
I may find it hard to synthesize all of these points as I let my social media feed direct my steps, but here goes.
The first comment is political:
“The Republican Party, Democrat Party, Media, and especially Big Tech are turning President Donald J. Trump into a living Martyr and hero of the people, right now…they’re just too arrogant, out-of-touch, and just plain senseless to realize it!”
I imagine many will recoil from this statement (and some with anger and indignation), but consider how people you know have aligned with Trump. Some with whole-hearted abandon. Others with a tinge of reluctance and still others with distaste, but they did it because they felt they had no alternative choice they could live with.
Many have regretted that choice, though many of those might have made the same choice again given how the alternatives appeared to them at the time. Can we recognize that people have legitimate differences?
Our tendency is often to villainize people with whom we don’t agree, especially on issues about which we feel passionate. We have learned in this social media world to react reflexively, instead of thoughtfully, and spend our time defending our original reactions. When people push back, we dig in deeper.
This might begin to explain how some of our neighbors have walked so far down the road with Donald Trump and why some people have villainized all “Trump supporters”.
We don’t listen to each other. We don’t respect each other. We congeal too easily into us against them. This tendency is not conducive to rational discourse or progress.
To the extent that people have “dug in” for Trump, making Trump into a “martyr” may exasperate the problems we face. The true believers will rally with new zeal with the “blood” of their leader feeding their passion. They will take many otherwise “decent” people who have painted themselves into Trump’s corner further down the road with them (nearly 75 million voters!).
This is a time for diplomacy and farsighted vision. Not because Trump deserves it, but because the country needs it. Not that Trump should not be held accountable, but how we go about it will make a difference. If we want blood and a pound of flesh, it will come at the expense of our national soul.
We need to resist the temptation of nuclear options. We all know that bombs in war do collateral damage. If an effort is waged to bomb Trump into oblivion, one half of the country will be within range of that destruction. Nuclear options are self-destructive.
We also need to allow the Trump supporters of potential good will the dignity of digging out of their fox holes and meeting us on the common ground we can find in civilian territory.
To my friends who believe in God, someone posted this:
“Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other. God does not.” (Charles Spurgeon)
We need to remember things like “a soft answer turns away wrath”; and “blessed are peacemakers”. If we aren’t able to state our positions with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), it’s better that we don’t say anything.
On the rise and influence of the social media giants, one person posted this:
“People are calling us ‘west China’ and ‘insane’ because of Google, Amazon and others banning the Parlor app and Twitter suspending, then permanently deleting a sitting US President’s Twitter account.”
On this issue, I will let my neighbor from China (actually) speak first:
“I’m not sure if I agree with this, at least I don’t think this is the best way to solve it. I have seen too many [sic] news about people in totalitarian countries (mostly communist countries) [who] were punished because their words ‘incited’ people and ‘endangered’ society, and I don’t believe silencing someone or some voices is the best way to win. It also frightened me a little to see how scarily powerful social media has become.”
Before adding my thoughts, I need to clarify that this is NOT a free speech issue. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech against government censure. Social media companies (regardless of how big) are private entities. Just as the courts have ruled that bakers can refuse to include messages on cakes they don’t agree with, social media companies can refuse to allow your speech (or even the president’s speech) they don’t agree with.
But, there is another issue here of concern, and my friend from China touches on it. Social media platforms are powerful! They are universal platforms for expression and information distribution. They have taken over the place of the news media for a huge segment of our society. The issue here isn’t free speech, but anti-trust.
When several companies that have a virtual monopoly on information distribution and expression band together to manipulate the market of expression and information distribution, this has far-reaching implications. If you swing left, imagine if these companies swung right.
In the legal world, we sometimes say that “bad facts make for bad law”. This expression applies to cases in which the facts are so extreme and egregious that only one outcome is clear, but the reasoning behind it might be sketchy. If the sketchy reasoning becomes established precedent, it produces bad outcomes in less egregious factual situations.
Banning the President of the United State of America from social media is extreme. When the entire country (practically) communicates by Twitter, that platform is a power broker bigger than the President. When Google, Twitter, Amazon and others agree to ban particular apps based on ideological grounds, they are wielding their monopolistic power.
The implications should be clear. They have the power to control expression, information, opinions and thought in our country because of their power and position. You may agree with what they have done today. When they wield that same power, now established by accepted use, to silence you and shut you out of popular discourse in the future, you will think differently about it.
The real threat to us today is shortsightedness. We hang at the edge of a dangerous precipice. We may have been pushed here by extreme forces, but we should resist the temptation to jump.
I will end with this post from another friend that might help me to bind these somewhat disparate thoughts together:
“These are such wise words for today by Einstein: ‘The problems of the world will not be solved on the level of thinking we were at when we created them.’ I’m being really intentional about applying this and it’s opening up a whole new perspective for me.”
Einstein also said, similarly, that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things we have been doing and hoping for a different result. (My paraphrase) We need a new way of moving forward. Like the Switchfoot song, A New Way to Be Human.
We need to be more thoughtful and less reactive. We need to step back and look at the big picture and not let ourselves by sucked into the vortex of the present circumstances and pressures. We need a new perspective.
It’s easy to blame the happenings of the last four plus years on Donald Trump, but we created the circumstances in which a Donald Trump could become the leader of our country. We would be foolish to think we can go “back to normal”. Our normal is what got us here. We need a new normal and new perspectives.