Halfway through watching the president’s rally in Phoenix Tuesday night, I had the almost uncontrollable urge to jump on social media and blast off a post expressing my anger. Blaming the mainstream media, democrat’s, disloyal Republican senators and left-wing protesters for legislative failures and bad press doesn’t sit well with me.
But, since I am the author of the book: Polarized! The Case for Civility in the Time of Trump-- An experiment in civil discourse on Facebook--restraint won the night.
As the shock of last November wore off, I began to tire of the unceasing outpouring of anger by disappointed Clinton voters. Surely there is a higher and better use of social media networks than insulting political opponents or posting cat videos.
Can’t we use Facebook as a medium for common ground on important issues plaguing our nation? Could Facebook be a place of healing in a divided country? At the very least, couldn’t we use it to better understand those who voted differently than we did?
Maybe; maybe not.
Perhaps Facebook is maturing (or degenerating) into a new phase which has coincided with the polarization of the American people.
Users may have grown tired of the sometimes pleasant and often narcissistic expressions typically posted on Facebook. They might enjoy being juiced with outrage at a political post that infuriates them. We might need to let off steam about the stupid things our politicians do. And so, social media is a perfect venue for getting high with rage and then letting it out.
It doesn’t hurt anyone, does it?
Using Facebook for political purposes does make it a more meaningful experience. But the increasing anger of political posts, dating back to the 2012 presidential campaign, reflects the rising temperature within the country. Not due to climate change, but due to the swell of animosity toward Barack Obama by the Tea Party movement and then the fury of progressive liberals over the election of Donald Trump.
The reality of an angry, divided nation smacks you in the face whenever you log onto Facebook or Twitter.
There are benefits, one can argue, that have come from this trend of angry political posting.
It’s an avenue to vent. Which, releasing anger, we’ve been told, is good for our mental and emotional health.
And that’s true to a point; but words can do harm, and people get hurt enough on Facebook that they unfriend each other.
And that is not healthy.
Some argue that the virtual world would be more habitable if we honestly expressed our political views. But that requires a commitment to civility and tolerance of disagreement, and most of us, in this deeply divided political world, don’t have the self-control that requires for a meaningful debate.
If your typical experience of political-oriented posts was meaningful only to the extent that you learned a friend was outraged about something Obama, Clinton, or Trump did, how valuable is that? If your own posts are expressions of ridicule at the stupidity of those who support politicians you can’t stand, how much value are you getting from the time spent writing those tweets or comments?
Rage is not a healthy state of being to marinate in. Being hot with anger is an accurate description of the physiological response to a stimulus which angers us. If anger is sustained for long periods, or is experienced too frequently, it can cause a stroke or heart attack.
According to Harper’s editor Rebecca Solnit: Anger is hostile to understanding. At its most implacable or extreme, it prevents comprehension of a situation, of the people you oppose, of your own role and responsibilities. “On social media,” Solnit claims, “audiences give perfunctory attention to facts so that they can move on to the pleasure of righteous wrath about the latest person who has said or done something wrong.”
We users of social media should ask, “Is that all there is?”
We’re entering the most volatile political era since Watergate. Making work at the grassroots level ever more constructive and important.
Finding and supporting political candidates who are wise, pragmatic, independent of special interests, and devoted to the commonwealth is extremely important.
If we use our social networks to promote objectivity and civility, instead of partisanship and volatility, then we turn social media into truly one of our most important and powerful tools.