Public discourse in America has become awful.
It’s not just Trump. Or LePage. Or Lewiston Mayor Bob MacDonald.
It’s countless people, mostly men, using social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to troll and mansplain the events of the day, desperate to be heard above the rushing powerlessness of modern life.
This is the political arena of our time.
It used to be the case that if you wanted thousands of people to read your work, you had to be a professional journalist publishing in a newspaper or broadcasting on TV.
But today’s young people don’t tune in for nightly broadcasts from folks like Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite.
When we want to know what’s going on in the world, we log into Facebook and Twitter to see the articles our friends have shared. I don’t even have network TV in my house, just my computer and a Roku box for streaming Netflix and Hulu.
These days, if you want folks to hear your voice, you have to be just as incendiary as the trolls.
You have to be share-worthy.
You don’t just have to stand out from among a handful of TV channels or radio frequencies. You have to stand out from among the almost infinite morass of the Internet or you won’t even be visible.
Trump’s obnoxious, sure, but that’s an asset, not a liability. When it comes to engaging voters, it doesn’t matter that he lies constantly, has no political experience and knows next to nothing about public policy. He excels at going viral. These days, that’s enough.
But we can’t just give up.
Leslie Jones, the African American “Saturday Night Live” veteran who recently starred in the new “Ghostbusters,” offers an inspiring example.
After taking a mountain of racist harassment, Jones announced a couple weeks ago that she was leaving Twitter.
But two days later she changed her mind, tweeting:
“Welp…a b— thought she could stay away. But who else is gonna live tweet Game of Thrones!!”
Right on, Leslie! Who indeed!
Twitter claims to be taking steps to reduce harassment on their platform.
“We realize,” the company wrote in a recent statement, that “we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
I agree. Twitter needs to do a better job of moderating their system and removing dangerous users.
But the fault also lies with all of us collectively.
We teach each other what’s acceptable in our society. We can’t control what anybody else is going to post, but unlike TV and radio, we’re all in this conversation together, and we each get to choose how we’re going to react.
The Internet is still new. Perhaps the technology is still in its adolescence. Let’s pray this is just a phase that our society will soon outgrow.
Puberty sucks for everybody.