As our political culture has become increasingly polarized, so too has social media. Over the past six months, whenever we’ve opened Facebook or Twitter, we’ve unavoidably scrolled past anti-whomever posts of whatever kind.
However, many posts go beyond criticizing policy. Beyond signaling support. Many are neither inviting nor measured. They are angry. Hateful. They delegitimize other candidates as having won by conspiracy or foul play and therefore deserving overthrow or worse because they must, by having won, be evil itself.
They’ve displaced cat videos. Which, frankly, upsets me.
In the digital age, we commonly express our frustrations, political and otherwise, on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and other apparatuses leverage the pseudo-anonymity of posting online against our captive, ready-made audience: friends, family, colleagues, and whomever else we’ve befriended over the years.
But unlike typical posts, these ones alienate friends, especially with different views. The meme-oriented nature of social media promotes dubious, mud-slinging character attacks. And rarely, in my experience, do Facebook “debates” remain civil, nor does the character limit of Twitter foster nuanced discussion.
I’m sure you’ve seen it, too.
The culprits are young and old alike, across ideological and demographic divides. Among my college-aged friends, as Bernie Sanders’ chances dwindled, the anti-Hillary Clinton posts sky-rocketed, as did the anti-establishment and anti-rich ones. Among more conservative friends, the posts have been eerily similar: anti-Clinton, anti-Donald Trump, or anti-establishment, depending. And the dismissiveness of Clinton supporters stems from the same trend.
The end of the primaries might have, in another era, marked the joyous reuniting of embattled political parties (or the dog-tailed return of rogue members after populist forays). In the modern age, this might mean the deletion of now-embarrassing posts on Facebook, the scathing ones in which we attacked and delegitimized the candidates and voters that, in the end, represent our friends.
But not this time. Our political culture has, apparently, become so polarized that Sanders supporters continue publishing conspiratorial posts and chastisements of Clinton’s FBI investigators well after she’s clinched the nomination — it’s been months — and after their own candidate has transitioned from revolutionary ambition to stubborn temper tantrum to, ultimately, unity with her.
The conspiracy of last month, for example, was systematic voter fraud in California, which claimed to “prove” that Sanders actually won the state’s primary — despite trailing in state polls in the preceding weeks, despite Clinton’s strength in California’s early voting, which comprises a large portion of the state’s vote, and, of course, despite his fourteen-point deficit in the popular vote throughout the primaries as a whole. Not even alleged “collusion” by the D.N.C. against Sanders could manufacture a margin that large.
Is this who we are?
Of course, the nature of Facebook only feeds the frenzy: a steaming, unfiltered pot in which low-quality information can circulate without barriers of entry, and where group-think self-selects for desired information that enflames whatever pre-existing biases we have about the American political landscape, the opposing party, or the standard-bearers that we love to hate.
This election is unlike any other. As a college student whose Facebook feed is saturated by Sanders crusaders, I unfairly pick on them — Clinton supporters dismissed his candidacy. And after Donald Trump clinched his party’s nomination, many Republicans responded as Sanders supporters did. These frustrations, ironically, suggest that our system isn’t corrupt enough: that party leaders cannot (or will not) override the majority for one’s candidate.
In any case, the defining mood of the American electorate is polarized mistrust. And, as consequent, so too is the mood of our Facebook feeds.
But as we close the primary season, we must come to grips with the present state of things: Trump is the Republican nominee, and Clinton the Democratic. As distasteful many of us may find it, as “unfair” the process has seemed, we cannot delegitimize the wide voting margins by which both candidates won. Their winning does not signal a corrupt system. It signals American democracy, in which we exercise voting rights and concede to the majority.
In accepting their winning, we must drop the baggage of the primary battles. The Bern hereon must be survived by updated Democratic Party ideals and its nominee, not by the overstayed “welcome” of a challenger whose chances evaporated long ago. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio must be survived by whatever remains of the Republican Party after November.
Our democracy is beautiful. We have the greatest privilege: to freely choose candidates that best represent us (or to run ourselves), to express our dreams and frustrations without fear of discrimination or repression, and to vote. Our polarization — and our Facebook posts — reflects this freedom. But, in order for democracy to function, we must also cooperate. We must compromise.
If we lose, we must embrace it. And move forward, too.
Let’s enter a post-polarization era without conspiratorial rejections. Let’s scrub our Facebook feeds clean of hateful and hate-mongering posts that alienate friends. (Really, have they ever convinced you?) Let’s unite around common goals. And, once November comes and goes, let’s again clean our social media of political frenzy and, having accepted the election results without polarized protest, work with our new president to further our most important interests.
Because that is American democracy. And because I miss my cat videos.