Friends, family and followers of my Twitter and Facebook accounts may have noticed a teensy little change in my posting activity over the past several months. Specifically, a never-ending stream of weather reports on Hurricane Donald.
Since historically I haven’t been a very political person, I’ve had lots of different reactions from people about this relentless, exhausting stream of content, so I thought I’d write a post to a) clarify a few things about me and b) offer some thoughts on the situation, in the hope that anyone finds them useful, encouraging or (at the very least) worthy of some consideration.
Background is key when it comes to context, so for those who’ve only known me for a short amount of time (or only as an online persona), here’s my slightly-too-long elevator pitch:
– I’ve been interacting with digital communities since dinosaurs roamed the earth, but have worked in the online space professionally for 17 years now (including a long stretch at a social networking company). In other words, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time seeing patterns emerge and history repeat.
– I minored in Journalism in college, and I place an extremely high value on quality reporting, free speech and open dialogue.
– While I definitely find myself aligned with a lot of liberal causes these days, I’m generally an independent. This may ding my “snowflake” credit score, but I’ll have to risk it.
– I currently live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went to college at a school on the border between Illinois and Iowa. I’m allergic to hipsters and adult coloring books, and I love Doritos Locos Tacos and ’80s WWF. In other words, my “coastal elite” credentials are fairly dubious.
– About ten years ago, my wife and I became Christians, and we remain very involved in our local church. We’ve both gone through tremendously positive personal changes, and the general support system has been extremely valuable for our three sons. That being said, there are lots of different people that identify as Christians, and at a national scale I’ve always been wary of the tricky intersection between biblical Christianity and politics/civil rights. As you might imagine, I’m not alone. More on this later.
– I don’t hate Trump supporters. I understand some of the reasons why they may have decided to put their trust in him, but I’m definitely saddened by the fact that those reasons trumped (facepalm) the rest of the terrifying baggage associated with his campaign.
Now that you know a bit about where I’m coming from, let’s talk about where I’ve landed after observing and posting about the rise of Trump and his supporters over the past year or so:
Silos Are Scary
Life is busy. People want things to be convenient and streamlined, including the ways in which they get their news. We’ve found ourselves at a point where some people exclusively get updates from a single partisan cable news channel, while others have cut the cord entirely and leveraged social media to cobble together a cherry-picked array of questionable sources and like-minded friends as their primary window into national events. These people see partisan story after partisan story, and over time the silo walls grow higher, causing them to become less and less aware of what’s transpiring (and even defensive about the fact that it’s even happening).
The world is complicated. It’s ok to agree with one portion of a politician’s policy and disagree with something else they’re proposing. You can also point out that Trump is doing something insane without implying that Obama was a full-on angel. Political parties don’t have to be an all-or-nothing setup, but as citizens we’ve found ourselves now living in a bizarre “us against them” hometown sports team-style loyalty experiment. The fact that a good deal of online culture encourages a jaded and dismissive view of alternate political perspectives only exacerbates the problem. It may sound crazy, but you’re actually allowed to stray from your side’s talking points. A conservative S.W.A.T. team won’t smash down your door if you happen to laugh at a funny bit from Amy Schumer.
The Truth Is Out There
Legitimate journalism is real. Truth exists. People literally die while reporting it. These would be “duh” statements decades ago, but now people are placing outlets like Breitbart or Natural News in the same basket as The New York Times and The Washington Post. I wish I was kidding. If you’re someone that uses terms like “Mainstream Media” or “Fake News,” (when not referring to made-up stories placed for manipulative purposes) and you’re not able to tell the difference between a partisan blog (conservative or liberal) and a valid journalistic source, it’s time to let the scales fall from your eyes and realize that you’re living in a silo. The web is a free-speech miracle, but it only works if people learn how to properly vet content sources.
What Would Jesus Do?
I’ve been tremendously unnerved at the slow merging of Christianity and political conservatism in the U.S. over the past several decades. No candidates are ever perfect, and hard choices often need to be made with respect to divisive issues, but the amount of Christians supporting the Trump movement (and Republican party line talking points generally) sends shivers down my spine. Obviously there are exceptions, but the fact that some of us feel a bit like the rebels in Star Wars isn’t ideal.
Especially bothersome is the stress and guilt caused by trying to stay respectful of authorities and prevent other Christians from stumbling while observing the serious social injustices, abuses and never-ending lies from this administration. I think this snippet from the Washington Post article mentioned earlier says it best (in reference to MLK):
“King expressed disappointment at seeing white church leaders, in the midst of blatant racial and economic injustices, ‘stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.’”
If this was simply a standard American election that resulted in a win by a reasonably qualified candidate, it wouldn’t be that hard to just let things play out, lick our wounds and try again in four years. Unfortunately, the country’s in deeply uncharted waters now, and silence or indifference just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. The situation has left me stressed and anxious, but I’m erring on the side of shining a light into the dark corners and not accepting this madness as normality. While the new Washington Post motto is a tad dramatic, it’s also 100% true: Democracy Dies in Darkness.
Obviously take them or leave them, but here are some things that I’ve found helpful when dealing with this strange new world:
– Pay for real news! Support time-tested, trusted journalistic sources like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Blogs and other sources can be great too, but definitely be aware of their reputations/political leanings.
– Pay attention! Politics may not be your thing, but this is an extremely important time in our nation’s history. Seek out and share information to keep the light shining.
– Keep an open mind! Don’t let what’s happened in the past inform your opinions going forward. You may be wrong, I may be wrong, who knows? Be open enough to take that journey.
– Most importantly, seek out humor! This is some heavy stuff, and sometimes a good joke can really hit the spot.