by PAJAH WILLIAMS
If you know anything about me at all, then you’ll know that I am an avid social media crusader.
I use Facebook as a platform to advocate for social justice and peace, and yes, at times, to discuss politics. Indeed, I heavily criticized Donald Trump throughout the extent of his circus of a campaign for president, and yes, I will admit to being among those who declared that Trump is #NotMyPresident.
I did these things because I felt it was important to vocalize my disdain towards some of the xenophobic and hateful ideologies that he stood for as a part of his campaign. I did it to extend support to my Muslim and LGBT friends and the media that Trump has outright attacked in ways that are unprecedented of a president of the United States.
I was a social media crusader fighting the forces of “evil” from behind the comforts of my smartphone like so many people around me. And we’re not wrong to protest or vocalize what we perceive to be injustice. That is the American way. From the Sons of Liberty to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the protests outside of Trump Tower, peaceful assembly and freedom of speech have been the foundational values of this nation.
But lately I have grown to resent social media for the same reasons I previously adored it. Constructive political discussions have morphed into meritless rants. We have people like Tomi Lahren on the right spewing closed-minded vicious rants that are entirely charged with emotion. And on the left, ceaseless, equally emotion-driven propaganda that take the form of memes and quick videos that have millions of views.
The president himself takes to Twitter to bash people who disagree with him! What petulance! What has become of our executive branch? My greatest fear is that we will find ourselves entering a brutal war because Mr. Trump decided to flex in a Twitter beef with Xi Jinping. Obviously an impossible scenario (God forbid).
The point is that today’s people are becoming more irrational, speaking of politics based on emotion rather than reason. This can be attributed at least in part to the fact that we are constantly fed propaganda on social media, even more so than on other forms of media. The average person spends 6.9 hours per month on social media, and some of us spend that much time on our feeds every day. Donald Trump is constantly a trending topic, and as a result, he is the object of infinite memes, articles, and posts.
The web is predominantly filled with people like myself who are in opposition to Trump and some of his policies, but most do not focus on the actual issues. They’d rather ridicule his terrible tan, tiny hands, and raggedy comb-over hairstyle to hide that obvious balding at the top of his head. They’d rather grow enraged by small snippets of Trump’s executive orders that they heard from some biased mainstream news source, or maybe they didn’t read the details of the policy at all and are only blindly joining in on a new culture of cognitive dissonance. And so the result is an influx of angry citizens cultivating the hatred they claim to despise by harassing and discriminating against people for their political preferences.
At New York University, conservative Gavin McInnes prepared to deliver a speech that was boisterously interrupted by protesters who became violent and interfered with the event. They didn’t even give him a chance to defend his political views or express his position. This is absolutely absurd, and I will not condone it. There is a fine line between a worthy protest and trying way too hard to villainize and stifle the opposing side’s voice. That is not productive, nor is it noble.
On Feb. 1, a speech scheduled to be given by right-wing commentator and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at University of California Berkley was canceled after prot
ests escalated into a small riot that caused damage to several buildings on campus. UC Berkley, ironically, spawned the Free Speech Movement.
It is pathetic, to be quite frank, that people can no longer have opposing political views while remaining cordial in discussion with one another. It’s frightening and only furthers the divide that some liberals have been trying to bridge through valuable social justice movements. They argue that Donald Trump has set this nation back 400 years in terms of social liberties, but they, too, have set this nation back to the McCarthy era when people were persecuted for alleged political beliefs that sympathize with communism. Social justice is important. I am a strong advocate for it, but healthy democratic participation is also essential. We need unity for the first time in the “United” States.
I will leave you with a quote from the first president, George Washington’s farewell address:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”
While political debate and discussion are infinitely important, we cannot continue to be consumed and divided by political parties. Contrary to its title, the United States has never really been united, always divided by race or sex or politics or some other factor. Let us be agents of change, to advocate respectfully and appropriately for our cause. Let us not resort to ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments to vilify those who have opposing political opinions. Alas, let us engage in productive conversation that will propel the nation into one that truly regards those fundamental values of freedom, equality, and political participation.