“Plenty of high bridges in your general area! Maybe you need to visit the edge of one and contemplate your future?”
“Grow up and get a REAL job!”
“You keep whining about stuff that doesn’t matter Lexie and we’ll Make America Great Again.”
“Yea, Lexie [says] Trump has ‘degraded women for decades’…but she’d go down on Slick Willy in a heartbeat.”
“As a ‘journalism student,’ this [is a ] very young, inexperienced, poorly/narrowly educated person (female if you weren’t able to figure that out).”
After reading those comments, along with a handful more, I had to disconnect from the internet for a few days. Those were the online comments posted on my final college op-ed last year, where I expressed my concern and fears of then President Elect Trump from a feminist and environmentalist perspective.
In the article, I talked of how Donald Trump will be a threat to women’s reproductive rights, how he’ll pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and further our toxic dependence on oil. Unfortunately, I was right: he has rolled back the birth control mandate in Obamacare, announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and desires to drill oil in the Atlantic and the Arctic.
And yet, I was harassed in the comment section of my article by Breitbart-loving online trolls.
There’s a way to disagree with someone, but not degrade them. Then again, Trump is not a shining example of grace, patience and maturity when dealing with criticism, especially with his daily Twitter tantrums.
This week, his Twitter rage is aimed at a grieving widow of a slain U.S. soldier—and it’ll be a new person by next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.
So, when we have a president who encourages this kind of harmful rhetoric in our society, how do we continue to have challenging yet tame political discussions? Is it even possible to have such constructive conversations in our current society?
Truly, I don’t have the answer. To me, it seems that today’s political climate is too divisive to have any sort of prolific discussion. The other day, after the Las Vegas massacre, I had a long-winded online argument with a Facebook friend about gun reform. After many comments—and some screaming into a pillow—it went nowhere. He half-agreed with my ideas for gun legislation, but then backtracked and said that gun reform would accomplish absolutely nothing and called me naive.
My friends often wonder why I still engage in political discussions with people online, especially after the crude comments on my college’s op-ed.
Even worse than Facebook, I found, is Twitter, where a woman countered my pro-contraceptive stance a few weeks ago by telling all women to “keep their legs closed.” Twitter is also the digital paradise where I’ve found Neo-Nazis telling me that black people have contributed nothing to society and civilization.
Honestly, I can’t blame my friends’ puzzlement about my weekly online discussions—or, in most cases, arguments.
Today, political affiliations are no longer some check mark on a ballot. Now, having a political identity also comes with a tribe-like mentality, as seen with progressives, Democrats, Republicans, the alt-right, and so forth.
It’s difficult—to me, seemingly impossible—to change someone’s perspective and political beliefs by spamming them with hyperlinked comments. I’ve done so with many people, such as those Neo-Nazis I mentioned before, and as I expected, it went nowhere.
With this kind of unrelenting barrage of distorted beliefs based on fear, propaganda, and misinformation, it’s tempting to also fire back with insults. Except, it only grants me, and many others, one second of relief. No matter how many times you curse a troll out online, it doesn’t extinguish the outright anger and irritation that they initially sparked.
Taking the high road isn’t easy. We don’t have a president who does so, so some may say, “If our president can respond to criticism through rude insults and baseless claims, then why can’t I throw do the same?”
When someone’s hatred, immaturity and spite manifests itself into outlandish affronts at another person, it doesn’t solve any problems, resolve any differences or uphold your stance.
In fact, there are rare occurrences when having a calm and tame discussion, despite another person’s obscene language, can result in a positive outcome. This happened for me, surprisingly, the other week, when I messaged a man on Facebook who left some nasty and sexist comments on a friend’s status.
After an hour of back-and-forth, without any name-calling on my end, he ended up apologizing for what he had said and thanked me for listening to his side of the story. Again, it’s rare to have that kind of result when it comes to such dissentious topics.
Still, even changing one person’s mind, no matter how small that change may be, is worth it.
In the end, this kind of political climate is new for much of my generation. We grew up during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years, and although there were many litigious debates during their presidencies, from police brutality to the Iraq War, none of those presidents woke America up practically every morning with incendiary tweets attacking world leaders, members of their own party, members of the opposite party, Gold Star families, NFL players, the people of Puerto Rico, and countless others.
This is a new kind of political landscape for not only millennials, but most Americans. As we learn how to navigate it, the very least we can do is to not fight immaturity with even more immaturity.
We have to keep ourselves informed, aware, and engaged, or else this kind of toxic political rhetoric will be normalized—when it’s anything but normal.