Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When Politics Become Personal

Normally I do not like to blog about politics, but lately I have been assaulted by such weirdness and absurdity via social media that I just had to comment:

When I was an at-home father I met a woman at the park. She and her husband and their twins lived just down the road, and she was the sister of a friend. As we got talking, she shared that she’d been a staff person on the Republican Senate National Committee. I shared my liberal political affiliations, the canvassing I’d done for consumer groups in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the get-out-the-vote campaign in New York.

We didn’t actually argue, but discussed, much like two people in a bar or at a party, with fervor and mutual respect. She was bright, articulate, clearly a good mother, and I liked her brother a lot. Her grandfather, a general, had been part of Kennedy’s cabinet during the Cuban missile crisis. She thought I was wrong about most issues (and I felt the same about her), but our conversation never slipped into the realm where two people (or more) start hurling outrageous accusations at one another over political opinions.

After our initial meeting, I’d run into her at the park or Whole Food’s, and we’d talk about life, politics, whatever was on our minds. She inquired about Verna after Verna was originally diagnosed with cancer. She once said, “If you think I’m conservative, you should talk to my husband.”

I looked forward to talking with her because she was friendly and open about her views without denigrating mine. I believe I treated her with the same respect.

Fast forward to today and another acrimonious election season is upon us. Two weeks ago I saw on my Facebook homepage side-by-side pictures from a former student of mine comparing Michelle Obama and a lipstick-wearing pig. I sent her a private message complaining about such an ugly promotion, and she responded: “She’s such an anti-Semite. She deliberately avoided Jews when she was in college.”

Over the past few days several people have claimed, again on Facebook, that Obama wants to destroy America, is purposely emulating the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, and he controls the media in the same manner as Hitler. These are, I think, reasonably intelligent people.

One of them actually said, “If you were a smart man, you’d do all he could to learn about the man who could be shaping the future of your precious children on your Facebook wall photos. Some folks can't look beyond the now. Sad.”

One friend claims I am close-minded because I refuse to see Dinesh D’Souza’s “documentary” 2016. An avowed conservative, she plans to view Koch Brothers Exposed, a left-wing documentary. I avoid most political movies and have little time for 2016. This analogy might not work, but I don’t have to know much about root canals to know I don’t ever want one.

I fully understand that vitriol and absurdity goes both ways. Some people compared Dubya to Hitler and slung other allegations about him, Republicans, and right-wingers etc. And still do.

What also bothers me is that once I allow myself to be drawn into these posts not passing for civilized debate, I sometimes lower myself and make fun of someone or his or her beliefs. I hope I haven’t been mean, but in the heat of the moment I often get passionate about values, not politics, and when I hear someone say, “You are brainwashed. You are close-minded. You support someone who wants to destroy America. How can you support someone like that with your children’s future at stake,” well that’s when the veins bulge in my neck and I pop a gasket or two.

So, obviously, the best option is to avoid political discussions in such impersonal forums. They are fraught with the potential for us to feel way too emboldened by the lack of accountability inherent in social media. We can be caustic because we are not actually engaging with another person, just spewing words via cyberspace.

And it’s not like any of us are going to change anyone’s minds. So, in an effort to maintain my low pressure, I am going to shun Facebook political conversations.


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