There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.— Hunter S. Thompson
Well, it finally happened. It was inevitable, I suppose, but that doesn’t make me feel one bit better about it.
What happened? Over last weekend, I was summarily and, as far as I know, unceremoniously kicked out of a private Facebook discussion group in which I’d been included since not long after its inception following the presidential election last November.
I say “as far as I know” with regard to the latter term, because I think it’s at least possible, and perhaps even probable, that among the group at large, the realization of my banishment brought some number of snarkily celebratory comments. And in the virtual world in which we increasingly dwell, I suppose that would count as a ceremonial act of some sort.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how it is that someone as reticent about sharing their opinions as I, someone who never strays into the territory of the droll or sarcastic, could possibly manage to find myself unwelcome in a forum that bills itself as a place where people who share similar interests — in this case, ostensibly, the good of our country — can have private and civil discussions about the great issues before us in these unsettled times.
You’re wondering what kind of people would kick me out of their group.
Well, even though I’m quite certain that the foregoing is not really what you’re thinking — at least if you know me, and particularly as it regards the qualities of reticence, drollery, etc. — I’m going to tell you something about what happened.
I’ll start with the rough estimation that at least 90 percent of the members of this group voted for President Trump. Having shared that bit of data, now I really do know what at least some of you are thinking.
First, you’re wondering what I was doing in such a group in the first place. I am, after all, an unabashed liberal, as I took pains to own up to in a recent column. I’d venture to say that I am as dismayed as anyone can be that our republic has sunk to such a sorry state of self-regard that the highest elective office in the land has been awarded to a person who is, from most every indication to date, demonstrably unfit to execute faithfully the duties and responsibilities that come with that office.
That’s my considered opinion, anyway. And I’m sticking to it until events prove otherwise, or until the possession of such an opinion becomes a capital offense for which I am tried, convicted, and dealt the requisite punishment — whichever comes first.
Before any reader gets too excited over that last bit, let me say that I don’t think either of those things is going to come to pass. I believe that the American system is designed to self-correct in reactionary times, and I’d be hard pressed to accept any argument against the notion that the times in which we live are exactly that.
The second thing that some of you are thinking is, Good riddance! You’re questioning why in the world getting my liberal self ejected forcibly (virtually speaking) from a relentlessly pro-Trump forum would cause me the slightest emotional unease.
Well, I’m going to tell you that, too.
The person who banned me from his Facebook group — and, simultaneously, “unfriended” and blocked me from his personal page — is an old friend, of the actual variety. This is someone I’ve known and loved since our childhood together in northwest Alabama.
As happens with old hometown friends, we both left home after high school and went our respective ways into the world. Other than running into one another periodically and renewing our mutual esteem — even in our youth, he was a critical thinker; culturally aware, extremely well-read, and precociously intellectual (I’ve never figured out why we got on so well) — we went somewhere north of three decades without seeing each other or talking much.
Then came the miracle of Facebook (if you’re having trouble picturing my attitude as I type that sentence, I’ll tell you that my tongue is planted as deeply into my cheek as is possible in the absence of outside assistance). My friend and I connected there a few years back, and happily fell into frequent communication.
Not infrequently, we communicated about our mutual lifelong interests in history and politics. As when we were young, we came from different — not to say “opposite” — points on the philosophical spectrum. In the case of my friend, this means decidedly right of center, though in an open-minded, non-doctrinaire kind of way.
Likewise with me and my left-leaning views. I’ve said for a long time now that, for me, self-identifying as a liberal is a lot like self-identifying, as I also do, as a Christian or an Alabama football fan. In a way that is intended (mostly) to be humorous, that means that I am alternately, and often simultaneously, amused, bemused, and not a little embarrassed by the attitudes and behaviors of my supposed fellow travelers (before proceeding, let me stipulate freely that people in all three camps might offer similar criticisms of me).
Regardless, the more my friend and I talked, the more we seemed to find grounds for some agreement, some sense that, for the good of the nation, a meeting of unlike minds was advisable. He was still a critical thinker, culturally aware, etc., and I was pleased to have him as a reasoned counterweight to my own views of particular issues and circumstances.
Last year, as the Republican and Democratic nominating processes ground to their respective inexorable conclusions and the general election campaign began, we also found ourselves sharing numerous frustrations regarding both outcomes, and the process in general.
I was voting for Hillary, albeit with a vocal displeasure that some of my liberal friends, virtual and otherwise, are still mad at me over. For my old, non-liberal friend, voting for Hillary was out of the question from the get-go; he was voting for the Libertarian Gary Johnson, on the rather quaint grounds that he was considerably more in agreement with Johnson on substantive issues than with Trump.
And then Hillary called my friend “deplorable.” That’s the way he took it anyway. And, without getting into the rightness or wrongness of the comment itself, or of any particular reaction to it — my friend’s, mine, yours, anybody’s — let us understand that it was not a smart comment. That’s a fair assessment not least because it caused my friend and many other people from various walks of life to recoil completely from Hillary and the “Liberal Elite” to which her campaign was almost exclusively directed. In the end, rightly or wrongly, it caused them to vote for Trump.
Prior to the “deplorable” comment, these were people whose votes were, if mostly not winnable for Hillary, at least not very likely to go to Trump either. Prior to the comment, there were some people who didn’t like Hillary or Trump, and had decided to sit this one out rather than “throw a vote away” on a third- or fourth-party candidate. Prior to the comment, there were reasonable people who were undecided about how they would cast their votes.
Prior to. But not after.
But we know how all of that turned out. It was after the election that my friend decided to move political discussion off his personal page and into a private group. I half-jokingly kidded him about not inviting me into the group, and he half-jokingly allowed as how he hadn’t been sure how welcome I’d feel. And then he invited me to join, which I did. And then the fun began.
I’m not going to get much into the detail of it, because you probably can guess just about how it went. There was occasionally some earnest discussion about this or that issue or policy or point of view, though from my perspective, most of those had the aspect of people sitting around the living room of a house that’s on fire, blissfully ensconced in unanimous agreement about how nicely the new drapes go with the carpet.
Mostly, though, it was a steady descent into increasingly vitriolic disagreement, for which I take my fair share of responsibility. I admit that by the time my friend kicked me out of the group, I’d spent the last week or so basically trolling.
That’s kind of a degrading thing to have to confess, but by that time I’d come to the unhappy conclusion that the people I’d been arguing with for several weeks — biding my time, I thought, until the sheer egregiousness of Trump started to come home to roost — were only becoming more hardened in their determination to believe things about our new president — his intentions, his actions, his fitness for the job — that are, to me, beyond belief. It’s as though we aren’t seeing the same things, or even speaking the same language.
And that makes me sad. Not at the fact that we disagree, but at the fact that we can’t even find ways to talk about it. At the fact that our ability to communicate with one another — the key to whatever semblance of democratic self-determination remains to us and our nation — is failing us at a time when it has never been more important.
That, plus I’ve lost an old friend. Maybe we’ll reconcile sooner or later. I sure hope so, because, having reached an age at which I’m beginning to lose old friends to more natural causes at an ever increasing rate, losing them over political differences is not a pleasant prospect. And, if I may say, it’s not one that bodes well for the future of our increasingly fragile republic.