Why I Won’t Be Unfriending Trump Supporters From Facebook
“Conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white American males,
Gay-bashing, black-fearing, war-fighting, tree-killing, regional leaders of sales.
Shirt-tuggin’, frat-housin’, keg-tappin’, back-slappin’ hater of hippies like me,
Tree-huggin’, peace-lovin’, pot-smokin’, porn-watchin’ lazy-ass hippies like me.”
-- Todd Snider
July 29, 2016 -- An anagram for P.T. Barnum is “Ban Trump,” but I won’t be doing that to his supporters, no matter how big the circus gets.
The above lyrics, from the song “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males,” by the powerfully funny bare-foot, folk-singin’ hippy Todd Snider, popped up randomly on my iPhone yesterday. Though I’ve loved this anthem for years, listening to Snider bisect the American population particularly resonated with me this time. As the two presidential conventions are now wrapped, it’s safe to say no one my age (46) has ever experienced an election season quite like this. To me, the Donald Trump phenomenon is the most fascinating news topic of my lifetime, somewhere akin to watching Tonya Harding, club in hand, chase O.J. in a white Bronco down the highway past a basketball court as Steph Curry drains 3s over John Wayne Bobbitt, who is complaining that Tom Brady let too much air out of the ball.
I cannot get enough. I’m captivated and astonished by how two halves of the country can look at the same thing and see it so differently.
I covered both presidential conventions for Bloomberg News in 2004: in Boston with the Democrats and New York with the Republicans. It was my first and only in-depth involvement with politics, and after dealing closely with congressmen, senators and governors of both parties, I came away feeling that I had just spent my time with essentially the same people. Many on both sides of the aisle were friendly and genuine, while some from both parties were slimy pricks. Yes, they championed different agendas, but all had essentially the same career. They played the exact same game. Incidentally, I felt the Republican Party was much better at driving home its key message (“Swift boat!”), so I wasn’t surprised when the election ended as it did.
That experience was pretty eye opening for me. It helped me come to terms with friends whose worldview was different than mine. And by friends, I mostly mean old schoolmates with whom I am friends on Facebook.
I live outside New York City in perhaps the most liberal town in New Jersey. I did not know how meaningful that would be to my wife and me in raising our children until we got here. Our kids, 9 and 5, operate with essentially zero concept of homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other ism. They’ve made introducing the seemingly complicated topics of interracial two-dad families or gender bathroom rights completely boring. To them, that’s just life in Maplewood, or anywhere. Sure, they’ll learn some harsh realities as they mature, but they’ll be armed with compassion as they do so.
And in my everyday interactions, these are the people I’m drawn to. Whether at work or play, I don’t often find myself totally digging someone’s company only to discover that they’re conservatively Republican. While, yes, there are outliers, I gravitate toward likeminded folk.
And then there are my old grammar school friends.
The neighborhood of my adolescence, while solidly liberal in comparison to much of the country, was much more conservative than that of my kids. Our Democratic family lived in a small, very middle-class, probably slightly Republican-leaning suburb of Philadelphia. As a fairly non-confrontational and easygoing guy, I got along well with just about every subsection of my high school student body: from the jocks, to the nerds, to the beautiful people, to the druggies, to the guys who just wanted to screw around, get drunk and fuck shit up.
Like many people, I added the lion’s share of my friends in my first year on Facebook, reaching far into my past to include dozens whose paths I hadn’t crossed since tossing my cap into the air upon high-school graduation. Few of these people are real-life examples of Todd Snider’s “Conservative Christians.” They’re not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, but plenty of them are Republicans. They’re socially conservative, anti-big government and pro-America-before-anyone-or-anything-else. That’s how they were raised. Oh yeah…and they hate Obama and the Clintons.
For the most part, this has had very little impact on our relationship. I’ve enjoyed having them as part of my adult life, even if that part involves mostly living inside my computer. I’ve come to believe that their political beliefs are just a part of who they are, and that it really speaks little about their personalities or decency. Overall, I was lucky to grow up in a much more forward-thinking town than most, so while I haven’t agreed with many of their Facebook posts over the years, I’ve been able to let it go.
And then Trump happened.
Oh, to read the Facebook posts people have angrily written to old friends about divisive topics such as politics, only to chicken out just before hitting SEND. I’ve done that dozens of times, if only to feel good about what I might say in response to some completely idiotic post. And then, after settling down, BACKSPACE, BACKSPACE, BACKSPACE. It just wasn’t worth damaging old friendships.
Over the Edge
The other night though, I made the leap. A Facebook friend, claiming not to be a supporter of either Trump or Hillary, took issue with the media’s focus on Trump after he suggested that Russia should engage in cyber-espionage to interfere with our presidential election. Others joined in, supporting her post, blaming the media for creating this “circus.”
As a long-time journalist who’s had dozens of exceedingly thoughtful, intelligent colleagues, I was unable to hold my tongue, or I suppose my fingers, any longer. (Apparently, I still can’t.) I responded that if she thinks Trump was being acceptably sarcastic about a topic like that, then she shouldn’t kid herself. She is a Trump supporter.
She, of course, gave that careful consideration before responding by telling me that I have no right to tell her whom she really supports, and then she called my remarks the kind of elitist bullshit that Republicans hate about Democrats. Thankfully, it ended there, but it took every bit of strength to pull me away from that keyboard.
OK, so this is the moment where I either go full-tilt bat shit over my absolute disdain for Trump or I try to stay on message.
Almost a year into this election process, I’ve learned that nothing I write here will change any Trump supporter’s (aka Hillary hater’s) vote. The work of dozens of amazing journalists and persuasive columnists at the New York Times, Washington Post and newspapers nationwide won’t do a thing to convince people that he’s a dangerous sham, and neither will this. So be it.
Here’s my point. This election promises to divorce more people from their “legacy friends,” neighbors, colleagues, and family members than any event I can remember. I’d be very curious to see a chart on Facebook “unfriending” levels these days. I’d imagine it looks a lot like the Cliff Hanger game on “The Price Is Right,” with the yodeling on full blast and the mountain climber, rocking his lederhosen and walking stick, about one rung away from falling into the Alps.
This does not feel like progress. It’s not American democracy successfully at work. Rather, it feels what I imagine the precursor to civil war feels like. And with months still to go until Clinton v. Trump is decided, I’ve written this in an attempt to set some personal ground rules.
Yes, I have a lot more in common with the tree-hugging, peace-loving, pot-smoking, porn-watching lazy-ass hippies of this country than I do conservative Republicans – and I’ll certainly be voting for Hillary Clinton and advocating for her policies – but I won’t be unfriending the people who brought me to this point.
Of course, they might just unfriend me.
--Mason Levinson is a freelance writer and photographer based in Maplewood, New Jersey. See more of his work here: http://masonlevinson.zenfolio.com/.
Your blog was a good read. You picked up a very sensitive subject and handled it very nicely. I wish you the best with your future work.
Trump Cirus has grown larger than expected. I think touching up on topics that can throw more light on how this moron can take this country in dark ages will be very helpful.
This stupid single neuronal asshole must be put to a stop.
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