The Partisan Divide

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At another time in history, I think it’s safe to say most Americans would have reacted with horror to a black celebrity reporting that he had been the victim of a hate crime, one in which he was beaten, taunted, and had a noose put around his neck. I think it’s also safe to say most Americans would then have been outraged to discover that the celebrity had faked the incident to help his stature in Hollywood. At another time in history, all Americans would have been horrified to discover that a member of the U.S. Coast Guard had been planning to massacre scores of civilians.

In both of these recent instances, partisanship took the place of common sense and a common humanity. On the one hand, liberals were all too ready to pounce upon the strange tale told by Jussie Smollett, a cast member on the TV series Empire. Incensed by a rise in hate crimes that is only too real, they assumed that this was another case of Trump supporters run amok. In the case of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, President Trump and his fellow conservatives have been strangely loath to condemn this instance of domestic terrorism. Why? The supposed targets of Hasson’s rage were Democrats and members of the media.

It has come to a pretty pass when everything that happens in our country falls on one side or other of the giant partisan divide that makes Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful wall” on the Texas/Mexico border look like a puny Lego structure. Mind you, this partisanship has been around for a long time. Republicans resisted when the Nixon Administration was investigated and ultimately disgraced by the Watergate scandal. Similarly, Democrats bristled at the charges against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But our knee jerk reactions just seem to be worse these days. Maybe it’s the influence of social media and the widespread dissemination of stories online that is responsible for cycles of outrage and partisanship. It takes just a few clicks on a keyboard for any average Joe to become an instant pundit on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter in particular is like a loose handgun sitting around waiting for someone with a hair trigger temper to pick it up and start shooting.

What is it going to take to bring our country together? I pray that it won’t be something devastating like the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, we were mostly just Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. Sure, there were disagreements about the incursion into Iraq that grew out of that terrorist attack. But overall, Americans of both parties came together to protect our country against further attacks.

The actions of Jussie Smollett and Lt. Hasson are alleged. Both have been charged with crimes, but in our justice system they are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. That does not stop anyone from speculating, pontificating, or generally being a know-it-all about their motives, character, and guilt.

It would behoove all of us to get off our high horses and take the time to listen, learn and try to appreciate the nuances of an issue, to pause and get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Yes, it’s important to speak out against injustice. But we need to view ourselves as human beings first, Americans second, and partisans dead last. Otherwise our fractured country will continue to break apart in a massive case of partisan continental drift.

Divided We Fall

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Aretha L. Franklin, President George W. BushThe news that Aretha Franklin died this week created an outpouring of tribute on social media. Everyone posted articles, photos, videos of performances – all honoring the Queen of Soul. It was heartening to me to see, for one brief moment, a meeting of hearts and minds on a subject.

In our divided country, you can’t even talk about the weather without potentially getting into a fraught argument over climate change. Everything from the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian collusion to the prospect of NFL players taking to their knees in protest this fall is cause for anger and vitriol.

It’s not that thoughtful people can’t disagree on a subject. With a two party political system, free speech, and a free press, it’s inevitable that individuals will have differences and the urge to express those differences. What’s new about the current state of discourse is that one needn’t confront someone face to face. With social media, we can sling insults at each other from a safe distance.

A case in point is Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. The president usually tweets in the wee hours of the morning, a time when most people’s discernment and judgment are not at their highest. These pronouncements are often filled with vitriol, as Trump attacks anyone he perceives as an enemy. And even though said “enemy” can take to Twitter to send a counterpunch, there is something not quite real in the exchange. If Trump were forced to confront these people face to face, I doubt whether he would act in such a hateful and spiteful manner.

This is true for all of us, and it is making America an inhospitable place. “Comments” sections on social media are minefields we should approach on tenterhooks. Feelings get hurt, friends get “blocked,” and our images of people we’ve known and liked, or even loved, are tainted.

The divisiveness prevalent in today’s society should worry us. It feels as if the very social fabric that makes up civilization is being irreparably torn. And once it is in tatters, it may be impossible to put back together.

It Takes a (Virtual) Village

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Behavior on social media sites has been getting a lot of scrutiny lately. Commentators are understandably disturbed by the many uncivil exchanges and downright bullying that can occur when people are allowed to speak their minds under the cover of anonymity.

Yet I have also found that sites such as Facebook can be a helpful tool for families. For instance, my son’s college has a parents’ Facebook page, on which members post queries about everything from dorm assignments to meal allowances to the availability of campus tutors. Whenever a parent asks for help on this page, there are dozens of answers from other interested and concerned parents. Families will ask for doctor or dining recommendations, off-campus apartment suggestions, and even prayers when an ailing or upset child is keeping them up nights. The college Facebook page has become a great way for parents to share information and ideas, and just to support each other during a difficult transition in their own and their children’s lives.

There are other internet sites that provide parents with advice, encouragement, and support. Some are forums such as The Parenting Spot. Others, such as Scary Mommy, inject a needed dose of humor into the all-too-serious business of raising children. And the relative anonymity of the sites, while it opens comment threads to abuse, also allows parents to share their struggles without worrying about what their friends and neighbors might think.

As a mother, I have often felt alone trying to deal with some of the challenges of raising my kids. Whether it was a medical challenge, a discipline issue, or a problem at school, I felt as if I were the only one facing such struggles. That is one of the problems with our intensely private culture with its emphasis on the nuclear family and the exclusion of outsiders in our day-to-day decisions.

When my husband and I were in China having adopted our youngest daughter there, we were approached on the street by a group of strange women who seemed to be chastising us about our baby. Our guide explained that the women were telling us, “Take off her socks. The baby is too hot!” We were a bit taken aback, as in the United States such unsolicited advice would be anathema. Not so in China, where children are considered everyone’s treasure and everyone’s business.

Reflecting on it later, I had to admit that I liked the idea of an entire community looking out for my child. I remember with fondness growing up with all the moms on my block, who had absolute authority to discipline me but at the same time the absolute conviction to help me should I ever be in need.

In our hands off society, maybe it will take a virtual village to help us raise our children to be happy, healthy, and safe.

Facebook Addict

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The other day I decided to make a list of all the things I actually do in a day. It went something like this:

Made coffee. Went on Facebook.

Got kids up for school. Drank coffee while on Facebook.

Made breakfast.

Drove kids to school. Came home and went on Facebook.

Drove husband to train. Came home and went on Facebook.

Read an article about how sitting takes years off our lives.

Got up and threw in a load of laundry. Cleaned the kitchen.

Went on Facebook.

You get the drift. I realized that I have a certain obsession, bordering on addiction, with my online community via Facebook.

To be sure, Facebook has helped me connect with old high school classmates, former students, and other friends who live near and far. And I have learned a lot from the many posts my friends have shared on their Timelines. I have also been entertained by snippets from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher from their shows that I don’t really watch on TV. And as my friend Janice would say, who doesn’t love a picture of baby goats in little sweaters or pajamas?

The problem is that my Facebook time is eating into my productivity time. While no one is going hungry in my family and they generally have clean clothes to wear, I must admit my housekeeping has gotten a bit slovenly. This would be fine if I were busily writing the Great American Novel, but I’m not. I’m scrolling through my news feed to see what interesting posts there are – or checking my notifications to see if anyone “liked” my latest blog post or silly pun about donuts.

One of the pitfalls of being in charge of your own daily schedule is the ability to get sidetracked and waste time. Facebook has not caused this problem, but it has certainly facilitated my procrastination tendencies.

Ironically, many of the posts on Facebook admonish us not to waste a precious moment of our fleeting lives. How is it that I nod and smile at these nuggets of wisdom while refusing to acknowledge that my behavior contradicts those sentiments? It’s akin to my penchant for reading nutrition advice while eating a cheese danish and drinking lots of coffee. (I’ve also been known to sit on my couch and watch exercise videos.)

I think it’s time to tame the Facebook habit. A short perusal of the news feed in the morning and some Facebook time at the end of the day as a reward for all my hard work might be a sensible way to enjoy the wonders of social media while still living a happy and productive life.