My mistake was logging on to Facebook.
It was a bit of a rough weekend, wasn’t it? This weekend that began with Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States on Friday, continued through the Women’s Marches around the world on Saturday, and whimpered to a close on Sunday. And from what I observed, it was rough regardless of whom you voted for in the November election.
I am not a Trump supporter, for reasons that transcend ideological differences (outlined here), so on Friday I was filled with a deep sadness. But by Saturday afternoon, when I logged on to Facebook and saw so many loving, empowered dispatches from friends and family who were participating peacefully in Women’s Marches across multiples states, I felt hopeful, maybe even a little joyful.
Then, the comments started up on social media. The comments came from liberal and conservative alike; those opposed to Trump, and those in favor. For a good 24 hours, Facebook was filled with discord and critique. The hundreds of thousands who took part in Women’s Marches might have been peaceful, but the couple hundred protestors who damaged property and scuffled with police in Washington, D.C. the day before were “animals.” Or maybe the Women’s Marches were too peaceful, because they were mostly attended by white women who are seldom targeted by police. While the Trump administration quibbled with the media over attendance estimates for the inauguration, my fellow citizens nitpicked the numbers on social media. Also: Some of the signs at the Women’s Marches were vulgar (mostly because they quoted our new President, but still, keep it classy ladies!) Even children weren’t immune: I saw statements ridiculing the youngest Trump child, statements raking the ridiculers over the coals (“monsters”), and all “liberals” branded incompetent parents based on one child who apparently set a fire on the sidewalk outside of a Trump hotel. All this between people who label themselves “friends.”
And a confession: Even I wasn’t immune. Although it’s long been my policy to refrain from making any political comments on Facebook, I broke with myself and responded to a relative who’d been spewing a steady stream of social media vitriol. While I don’t regret my comments, which I attempted to keep respectful, logical, and brief, I still felt icky after the fact: I had fed the beast.
Sunday night, I lay shaking in bed. My body had been in fight-or-flight mode, cortisol pumping through my system for the entire day. My heart and head both ached and my breathing was shallow; I felt like dark clouds were gathering over our little house. Trump’s election had shaken my faith in our country and our government; the past 24 hours of Facebook comments had shaken my faith in humanity.
So here are three small suggestions that I am making to myself for how to behave well in a politically charged climate. I write them here to keep myself honest; if they help anybody else out there, so much the better.
In the coming days, I plan to breathe deeply and:
1. Avoid passing judgement on other humans.
On inauguration morning, I woke up early to read my Bible, and my passage for the day began with Romans 2:1 (here in The Message translation): “Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.”
Uh, okay God.
Let me be absolutely clear: The verse does not mean that we should all become doormats or moral relativists. It is not saying that there’s no such thing as right or wrong. It’s not even saying that we shouldn’t speak out against injustice, corruption, oppression, or other immoral or hateful acts.
It’s just saying that we have no right to condemn other people. We are not in the judgment seat for humanity. It is not for us to assign people to heaven or hell. Because, frankly, turn the spotlight around and we are all a mess (And boy, was that apparent on Facebook this weekend, myself most absolutely included.)
This may be related to my personal religious beliefs, but I think it’s also just good human practice: The more we get wrapped up in critiquing the deeds of others, we ourselves become hardened little nuggets of bitterness and anger.
The lovely flip side of this is that there is no person who is not redeemable. No matter what foul things a person has said or done in their lifetime, as long as they are still breathing there is the opportunity for them to change for the better. In other words: We are all deserving of grace.
This was beautifully illustrated by my child’s preschool teacher on Monday morning. During circle time, she showed the 3- and 4-year-olds the preschool’s handmade “Book of Peacemakers,” which included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Bernie Sanders (this is Vermont!), and all of the preschoolers themselves.
“Donald Trump’s not in that book!” commented one little boy.
“No, he’s not,” said the teacher calmly, without missing a beat. “He’s not, because he just became President and we don’t know how he’ll be a peacemaker yet. But when you see him doing some peacemaking, you let me know and we’ll add him to the book.”
As difficult as it may be for me to swallow the fact that he will be the leader of my children’s country for the next four years, Donald Trump is my fellow human. No matter how deeply I abhor his words or actions, he is redeemable and worthy of grace. It is not up to me to condemn him.
Also: No human being should ever be referred to as an “animal” or “monster.”
Finally: Leave the children alone.
2. Take a long, honest look at what our country actually is and has been.
Many of the emotional comments on social media this weekend could have benefited from a remedial civics lesson.
For instance, I am no fan of vulgarity. Not in my home, not outside my home, and not as a means of making a point. But our country has a very special governing document called the Constitution, and according to this Constitution, we all have the right to free speech. We have the right to put whatever words we want on a sign and march with it as a means of protest. Our right to expound upon our personal religious and political views is a massive freedom that is not available to many throughout the world; whether or not we happen to approve of someone else’s choice of words seems a rather minor concern. (I do, however, draw the line at someone running for public office who brags about having acted on his offensive words.)
I am also no fan of violent protests or property damage; I’ll pick Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests every time. But the curious thing about our country is that it was actually birthed out of violent protests and property damage. The early colonists rioted and burned paper products that were being taxed under the British Stamp Act in bonfires in the middle of the street. They dumped tons of tea into Boston Harbor, which probably would’ve gotten some scathing comments if the Brits had Facebook back then. They targeted Tory sympathizers and rode them on rails through town. And then they fought a war, featuring actual weapons and death. (I bet they used some choice language, too.)
We gloss over these facts, although they’re in every American history book; we teach them to our children like they’re quaint historical points of pride. We Americans just wouldn’t stand for the tyranny! And then we call people who use similar forms fo protest today “animals.”
I am not advocating violence; I am simply reminding us that there have been times in our country’s past when we felt that violence and property destruction were legitimate ways to be heard. If people are protesting similarly today, perhaps we need to listen more closely.
Finally, a wise friend reminded me yesterday afternoon that the very things that make the character of Donald Trump so repugnant to many — his greed, his unfettered speech, his objectification of women, his self-aggrandizement — are, in fact, the very things that American culture has come to represent. As a country in general, we consume like gluttons, we worship sex and beauty, we post unfettered comments on social media, we think only about our own comfort. Perhaps, my friend suggested, we have elected exactly the President we deserve. Perhaps Donald Trump is our mirror, our Picture of Dorian Gray.
3. Take a rest from social media.
When I go fiery, my husband goes calm. So, after my weekend in the social media maelstrom, he kindly reminded me that Facebook is a company, interested in making money. In order to do this, the Facebook folks want people to stay on Facebook as much as possible. In order to do this, they’ve developed a clever little system of likes an dislikes.
Here’s how it works: We post a little nugget of our identity on Facebook. People like it! So we feel great, and we keep coming back for more. Or people don’t like it. So we feel angry and inflamed, and we keep coming back for more. We’re like those rats in neuroscience experiments who keep pushing buttons for food until they die — except that instead of buttons, we post comments.
Facebook is great for posting photos, personal updates, and for sharing information. Got a good recipe or a thought-provoking article? I’d love to see it!
But Facebook is a terrible place to air political opinions. Our “friendships” on Facebook are pale substitutes for actual, in-person relationships. The Facebook “community” is an anemic substitute for real community. Engaging in heated political debate in this forum changes nobody’s mind, and it only encourages more emotion and division. True understanding and change happen best when we sit with people in the flesh and look them in the eyes; when we listen to each other, not when we post comments at each other.
I put a 30-minute-per-day limit on my Facebook access after this weekend, and I may go further. It felt like social media was draining my time and energy, which are needed for far better things these days.
The Revolution will not happen on Facebook.