I have avoided discussing politics on social media for several years because I watched as my friends, both Republicans and Democrats, got into some of the most brutal, verbally-violent, abusive "screaming" matches I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, and lost scores of Facebook acquaintances as well as close friends and family members. It was pitiful and - most sadly - completely avoidable.
I say "avoidable" because - speaking as an "old" person with the wisdom of more years than 85 percent of the American population - I know that today's political climate has been a direct result of our collective American psychology. I have watched it happen slowly over the last 50 years.
"Younger" people today have grown up with a different psychological climate than I did.
First, they grew up with television. I didn't. This created instant history, instant opinions, and a need for speed in making snap judgments with little underlying knowledge or basis. Everyone is writing a book these days - but no one actually reads books anymore. Well - I exaggerate - the average American today reads 4 books a year and 83 percent fall into the youthful and school age population of 16-29 years old when you would expect them to be reading for school! More than a million books are published in the United States every year now, half of which are self-published, and on average sell fewer than 250 copies per year. Consequently, publishing experts suggest that, given the grossly overcrowded market, authors front load their main ideas at the beginning of their books, keep books short, and write them at an 8th grade level vocabulary.
This is part and parcel of the overall "dumbing down" of America.
And make no mistake about this - there is nothing more frightening than a stupid population. They are too lazy to take the initiative to learn and want to be spoon fed their moral positions. People in power have been only too happy to accommodate this need by feeding the population with "sound bytes" of propaganda - easily gobbled up by those who are too lazy to investigate truth on their own. A stupid population can be led like a flock of oblivious sheep to their own destruction.
This is all the more reason why people should learn how to respect the differing opinions of others. They need to approach this kind of "conflict" as an opportunity to learn from someone else's experience or knowledge - and not as a "threat" to their own identity.
Second, they grew up with advertisements. I didn't. This created seemingly socially acceptable lies and deception in the name of the "good guys" - money, greed and power. As publicity-manipulated capitalists we have been taught to believe these are virtues of "hard work" not deception. But this has also created a weird schizophrenic spin on our reality. For example, your typical pharmaceutical ads play happy music, showing happy people doing happy things, while a soft voice briskly announces - only because it is mandated by law - that the use of the drug could result in permanent nerve damage, loss of hearing, liver infections, kidney malfunction, life-threatening asthma, skin infections, nausea, vomiting and death! The result is a feeling that one is living in a schizophrenic nightmare reality - like happy clowns with painted smiles that frighten people to death!.
Third, they grew up with social media. I didn't. I don't need to restate all the negative side effects of social media - they have been rehashed many times - except to say that people have now found a way to have "virtual" (not real) "friends"; to manifest and shape shift themselves as nasty "trolls" without ever suffering consequences of their rudeness; and have lost a sense of true interpersonal connection and friendship with live human beings. People now seem to feel free to rip others to shreds like a blood sport. No consequences! True friendship requires one to be kind, often diplomatic, and recognize that the friendship is more important than "being right" all the time.
Fourth, they grew up with technology like cell phones, Skype, WhatsApp, texting, and internet connection. I didn't. This generation assumes that communication is best done through an electronic medium. Hanging up is easy. Ending a difficult conversation is easy. Cutting someone off is easy. And you don't ever have to see them live and in person again!
Fifth, they have grown up with no distinction between "entertainment" and "news." I didn't. I remember the first time I heard a TV news show play "rock and roll" as part of its intro music instead of teletype news wire sound! I was shocked because it appeared to cross the line between pop music entertainment and what had always been "serious" news.
With Trump's bold new pronouncement that all journalism in the United States (except Fox News) is "Fake News" - he has unfortunately (and perhaps intentionally) caused a national psychological crisis. No one feels safe in terms of what they can trust. There is no Walter Cronkite father-figure any more. There is no "legitimate" or "non-rag" newspaper any more. There is no one to respect any more. So no one knows where to turn for the "voice of reason." Toss in planted "fake" advertising by large companies and "fake" Facebook stories and political groups planted by the Russians and presumably others - then you cannot trust anything. Of course, all newspapers and media commentators have an editorial perspective. That has always been true. But despite planted stories by government sources and leftist/rightist leanings, the "legitimate" media - at least 50 years ago - was primarily an "editorial" choice. They were still held to a higher standard of fact-checking and sources. Facts have disappeared from our landscape. We live in a sea of unfounded and vicious opinions.
"Opinion news shows" now dominate what was once "the news." The new generations of Americans don't know the difference any more. This has given rise to "newscasters" yelling their flagrant personal opinions and abusing guests on their shows by snarky comments, dismissive conclusions, failure to ask true questions, and abusive treatment. The sad truth is that the new generation of Americans now equates "loud" nasty opinions as "good." Why? Because they are assumed to be truthful because they are loud and so nasty!. Emotion is confused with honesty. Unfortunately, loudness has nothing to do with honesty or truth. It is pure theater. Entertainment. Increases the ratings. Higher ratings bring in more money. Money creates more power. Power creates more control over the media. The media controls the mind of the American population. And that's how we roll.
Furthermore, people who feel a need to yell their opinions are almost always people who are trying to overcompensate for their uncertainty, lack of facts, or shortcomings. They are the opposite of truthful.
Of course, much of this "loudness" and "nastiness" has come as a direct backlash to a perception that the country's media "intelligentsia" is dishonest. Why? Because they use big vocabulary words and seem to hide behind a false facade of polite commentary and political correctness. To some degree, that is a valid point. But this has all contributed to our psychological demise. It has resulted in Americans feeling free and justifiable in beating up anyone who disagrees with them. It is a dangerously toxic and poisonous environment.
All of these factors have contributed to a public and political "screaming" match that - as I have already predicted years ago - is leading us down the road to a civil war unless we address the underlying psychological issue. What is it? It is the issue that we learn how not to be mortally threatened by someone else's different opinion and different solution to a problem. In fact, while visiting the other side of the country recently, I was told by a guns-rights supporter that liberals should fear the coming uprising because they won't have the firearms to protect themselves! Yikes!
This can and will only be solved by people willing to take a personal courageous step of sincerely trying to understand why other human beings - who are good people - would believe something so different from them. This requires kindness, courage and a genuine unbiased belief that we are not infallible in our own beliefs. It also requires a return to facts - if we can still find them anywhere.
Are you up for the challenge? Our country depends on it.