Jean Barker

Polarising politics

2016-03-25 07:59

Jean Barker

“Friends, please, CALM DOWN! I’m tired of hearing candidates belittle anyone who challenges them...but I'm even more annoyed by all the nasty political virals you guys post".

An LA friend posted this on Facebook, a few days ago. For a moment, I defensively judged him. Then, I felt shame.

I’m all for passionate discussion, but this isn’t what’s been happening. It’s like we’ve become lazy tourists, thinking if we just shout loud enough, and long enough, we’ll get what we want. Actually, making an effort to speak the other person’s language would be much more effective.

But it feels harder than ever before to have a discussion about political opinions that doesn’t end in an angry exchange. It’s like somehow, Donald Trump (or Herr Drumpf, as some have dubbed him recently) has lowered the tone, and we’re all kids in a schoolyard, refusing to even speak to the people in another clique.

Our words have become a uniform. Five words out of a stranger’s mouth, and you can tell if they’d watch Fox, or MSNBC, and whether they listen to a liberal source like public radio, or something else, “coughs”, like KFI.

Social media and media fragmentation seems to increase the divide. Don’t like one thing someone’s saying on Facebook or Twitter? Just unfollow them! Having an opinion on social media has become pointless. It doesn’t affect anyone who it needs to hear it. Because we can choose what we see, we’re mostly just preaching to the choir, or subdividing within our cliques. Sure, my friends may “like” what I say about Trump and Cruz, but everybody other than very closeted Trump supporters stopped reading anything I said when I un-friended them for being Islamaphobic, in 2010.

The source has become more important than the message. American friends rarely like anything I post from Al Jazeera, or Muslims Against Isis, even though their views are mostly well aligned with both sources.

'Polarised' doesn’t cover it

If only there were only two poles...but it’s more complicated than that. It’s not just about the left and the right anymore, or Republicans and Democrats. On the economic left, you’ll find people who’re rabidly socially right wing, and on the economic right, those who believe themselves to be “social liberals”... like the two issues can even be separate, unless you’re upper middle class.

I’m not above this. I wish I could say I were, but just the other day, I found myself refusing to spend time with people I actually like, and who like me, because they’re Trump supporters. I can justify this – I refused to hang out with racists in South Africa. I still do. I hope I would have stood up to Hitler, had I been German in the 30s, and not gone to Nazi BBQs. I want to scream at them and call an uber, and I know I eventually would.

I’ve also fought with the “Bernie or Bust” crowd - those who threaten not to bother to vote at all, if Hilary Clinton is the candidate. More than once, friends of mine and I have been forced to delete childish public spats, and agree to disagree, because though I am very critical of Clinton, specially on foreign policy, I don’t see how she could be as disastrous as Trump would, and I can never be critical enough for their tastes.

Meanwhile, I secretly, silently accuse people who favor Hilary of wanting to hold onto their wealth (or at least being status quo-hugging old farts who prefer to operate on the cowardly principal “it could be worse”).

Where do I get off?

Perhaps, if I could just stay calm long enough to talk to any these people, spending some time with them could have positive results. Or could it? Would they listen? Could I? Would I just find myself angrier, more frustrated, and more isolated than ever before?

You’d think, as a South African, after years of (sometimes drunken) complicated, interracial, even religion-related political arguments with friends around the braai fire, that I’d have the wisdom of experience, but I still don’t know what to do when someone I respect thinks we should build a wall between the USA and Mexico, register Muslims… or refuse to vote against that wall, if our candidate isn’t nominated.

Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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