John Adams once said, “Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.” As I began to write this column, my mind wandered to what Adams would think about the nature of today’s political discourse – not only with the partisan machine and government officials, but with the everyday political consumer as well.
Over the last decade with the emergence of social media, it seems as if the filter from brain to mouth (and keyboard) has totally dissolved. With a few strokes and a click of a mouse, the words of rage, discontent, or pure hatred are plastered across the mediums of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Social media has effectively put a window into what used to be the private political thoughts of an individual. A bombardment of tweets and status updates now instantly follows what one views as a stupid remark or action by a politician. From calling President Obama the Antichrist, or awful jokes about Chris Christie’s weight, to equating Sarah Palin to a dumb Barbie, the personal attacks and adverse rhetoric is exhausting. Even the best of us are subject to such actions because of the ease with which expressing our thoughts instantaneously are available. The negative space that social media is entering is a scary thought. Occasionally, a nightly news broadcast will showcase a schoolyard fight gone viral, but what’s even more alarming are the words being dispensed from people all over the world. Just take a look at any famous politician or government official’s Facebook comments or Twitter mentions and you’ll see why. Racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments flood the profiles of various politicians. From death threats, to words not to be used in front of mothers anywhere, to demanding said person do something anatomically impossible, social media has become a breeding ground of negativity directed at anyone in the public spotlight, but especially those tasked with making decisions for the betterment of the people.
My next point is one that I hope will resonate loudly: You can disagree with the actions, views, or comments of another person without personally attacking said person. That’s a shocker, right? Current media outlets serve as to only perpetuate this type of attitude from their viewers. Fox News bashes the liberal wing constantly and without remorse; while on the other hand, MSNBC makes any conservative seem vapid and unable to think critically. Instead of receiving news void of any bias, now we get news that is nothing but biased. Following night after night of viewing the same vicious attacks, we as a people have grown accustomed to going directly for the jugular when someone disagrees with us. The people we trust to report what’s going on in the world have made this normal. Instead of disagreeing with the views and policies of another, we sensationalize our claims and intend on doing the most damage to them. Social media has aided this type of behavior. Especially with the anonymity associated with these sites (certainly on Twitter), it’s nearly impossible to hold an individual accountable for the words they use. Without accountability, we see the worst that is to be offered from social media.
Now, I’m not insinuating that politics haven’t always been debated with passion. People cling to their beliefs unfailingly. However, it seems that nowadays the respect held between political opposites is gone. We must enter a time in American politics and culture now more than ever, where we listen to our neighbors. Political gridlock is running rampant. Washington, D.C. is chock full of people that don’t take the time to listen to anyone that disagrees with them. Alas, should we be so shocked? We can easily look on any social media and see the same type of behavior in ourselves. We as voters are so quick to judge the political gridlock in Washington and the inability of our government officials to get anything done. How can we as a people demand a cohesive government when we can’t even peacefully debate ourselves? Expecting opposing politicians to reach some type of agreement when we ourselves are unable to cordially discuss hot topics is just hypocritical. Much like the old saying, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we demand cordiality to be met in Washington, we must exhibit the qualities we expect out of our representatives. It takes a change in our culture as a whole to expect any change to come out of the people tasked to represent us. They are people, just like us. The people we vote for every election cycle are not immune to the negativity we demonstrate when we debate. This attitude has infiltrated America – from rural settings to urban ones, from Atlanta to D.C. We must fight against it.
We have to learn as a people to be less harsh and to think before we speak. We can disagree with someone on virtually every level, yet still be cordial. Now is the time for people to take a stand with the civility and respect required to debate important issues. People don’t take the time to view an issue from another’s view – this shows most clearly on social media. We can’t automatically greet the views of others with incredulity. We must stop ourselves from shutting out an opposing view and take the time to realize that people from different walks of life naturally have different influences, and therefore have different views on issues. We can’t expect an opulent person educated in the country’s best private school to agree on everything with an impecunious person educated in a failing public school. Yet, we can’t automatically expect them not to be able to come to the table and share life experiences, views, and comments. That’s part of what makes this country great. Every person should be valued for his or her opinion. We as a nation must learn to give respect and expect the same respect from others. Only then will the political culture and discourse shift. Even personally, as a libertarian-minded conservative, I can befriend a big government minded statist. (Sorry, Ron Paul.) I have plenty of friends that I wholeheartedly disagree with politically, yet I don’t view them any differently, because I take the time to listen to why they’ve come to espouse those views.
I hope this article serves as a reminder to think before you speak, or more importantly, type. This should function as a call to action to hold yourself in higher regard than to publicly bash another human being. It’s normal to disagree, but to do so respectfully, because that only aids others’ view of you; your argument is only strengthened by your ability to listen and respectfully debate with an opposing view. Be better. Rise above the quagmire of negativity.