Prairie Lights: The dis-United States of Facebook

LikeI saw on Facebook the other day that a Trump-loving tow-truck operator in North Carolina refused to help a disabled woman whose car was inoperable, saying it was the Bernie Sanders sign in her window that prompted his decision.

This gentleman, who calls himself a Christian, told local reporters, “Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave. And when I got in my truck, you know, I was so proud, because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed.”

At least he was upfront about the whole thing. A friend on Facebook alerted me to a story about another jackass, a Trump supporter who claimed to have been assaulted by Trump protesters just for wearing a Trump hat. Turns out he was a liar, a cyber terrorist, a serial felon and a pedophile.

It was also via Facebook that I learned of death threats being made against Republican delegates who fail to vote for Trump, and where I first heard of the excellent Hillary Clinton video of Republican leaders condemning the new leader of their party.

It’s all so reassuring, this daily flood of stories, video clips, editorials and one-liners that all point toward the same conclusion—that I, along with nearly all of my Facebook friends, even the ones I couldn’t identify in a police lineup, are on the side of the gods this election year, and that nearly everyone on the other side is an idiot, which is putting it politely.


Ed Kemmick

On so many other matters, particularly in regard to the so-called culture wars, Facebook feeds me delectable morsels all the livelong day about Neanderthals boycotting Target, flying Confederate battle flags, refusing to bake cakes for gay couples, shaming food-stamp users at grocery stores, etc., etc., etc.

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether I’m really in need of so much reassurance, and whether I shouldn’t give up Facebook altogether. I doubt it would help the country much if I quit, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? It would be like refusing to litter.

To be fair, much of the blame lies with all the competing media operating on a never-ending news cycle. In the old days, one person doing something really stupid might not even qualify as local news. Nowadays, one stupid act anywhere can go viral in minutes.

Facebook compounds the phenomenon by gathering up millions of small, discrete stories and letting your friends cull them and introduce them into your news feed. So now my views are validated and reinforced throughout the day. It makes me think there’s no reason to think. I don’t need to articulate my own views—I spend all my time mocking morons.

Most of my Facebook friends fall in the progressive camp, but I see just enough posts from right-of-center friends to hint at the existence of another Facebook universe. In that universe, the stream of incendiary stories focuses on jihadist refugees, drug-dealing immigrants, hypocritical leftist movie stars, the Clinton Mafia, etc., etc., etc.

And, boy, do they think we’re morons. You know how we laugh when some halfwit bitching about Target’s policies confuses “transvestite” with “transgender”? Well, in that other Facebook universe, they find our confusion over what an “assault rifle” is endlessly amusing and worthy of scorn.

Does anyone else suspect that having our beliefs confirmed every day—in the positive sense of proving we’re right and in the negative of sense of demonstrating that our ideological opponents are brain-dead—is not the way forward?

I want to put all the blame on the Tea Party fanatics and the anarchist crazies who support Trump for the same reason people watch bar fights, but where does that get us?

Fortunately, a lot of useful stuff can be found among the flotsam on Facebook, including a thoughtful piece in the New York Times by David Brooks, who makes the point that getting things done in a society like ours takes either politics or some form of dictatorship.

He fears that Trump is stumbling down the path of dictatorship and he concludes that the only answer to Trump is politics, somehow working with people who don’t share our views. “It’s acknowledging other people exist,” he says. “It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements.”

An even better article, which I did not find on Facebook—probably because it is so very long and thoughtful that it runs counter to the whole ethos of Facebook—was written by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine.

There are things I disagree with in the article, but we should all listen to what Sullivan says about the stereotypical Trump voter—the kind of person all my Facebook friends love to despise: “(T)he white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome.”

A bit later he continues: “Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well.”

Maybe it’s easier for Sullivan to take pleasure in our differences, given that he is a conservative, gay, British-born Roman Catholic, but all of us need to start thinking of how we can create the United States of America again, regardless of what happens in the November elections.

We can’t continue living in the dis-United States of Facebook forever.

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