Cracked’s John Cleese is one of my favorite writers in the world, and recently he wrote an article called “5 Absolute Wrong Ways To Respond To Remorseful Trump Voters.” It’s a short read, and more or less in the vein of any number of think pieces imploring those of us who properly saw the horror of Orange Lantern’s light to try to be understanding if we’re going to get anywhere in the future. It’s not bad advice, though it is of course difficult not to scream at and/or strangle people who didn’t know that the ACA and “Obamacare” were the same thing.
However, all these pieces have what I think is a huge flaw in them. Let me quote a few bits from John…
For the past two weeks, I haven't been able to get on Twitter for more than a few minutes before seeing someone retweet a Trump supporter who's expressing regret over their vote. In every instance, without fail, the responses I've seen to people who are realizing they're in danger of losing their insurance has been one of the following statements ... and as much as you're going to hate hearing it, none of this shit is even remotely helpful… "What did you expect to happen, you fucking idiot?!"
You don't have to have sympathy for them. You don't have to love them or like them or make babies with them. But you do have to recognize that if you don't at least acknowledge their regret as a step toward positive change, you are perpetuating the problem. By hurling insults and anger, you are actively preventing them from coming around to your side's way of thinking.
To me the problem isn’t necessarily that many of us are justifiably angry at the regretful Trump voter. The problem is we’re using hashtags to go on social media to yell at strangers.
Maybe you have to have been the victim of a large-scale online harassment campaign to truly get this, but smacking down a random online identity when that person hasn’t done anything to you personally is a really, really shitty way to behave. No matter how noble the cause, you are essentially invading another person’s space. Literally no one is ever going to feel anything other than (rightfully) attacked in that situation.
More than that, we forget that we truly are snowflakes. By that I mean one of us is just fine, but a thousand or a million of us is a blizzard. I know plenty of people who think large-wave online harassment is no big deal to have to endure, but they always speak from ignorance. Having your online presence invaded by a horde is terrifying because in any large sampling of people with the distance and anonymity the Internet offers, at least a few are going to act terrifying. They’re going to start wishing your kids and pets dead, your family raped and worse things.
Look, I believe in shaming people for politically awful choices because shame is one of the prime ways society exerts pressure to curb undesirable behavior. It’s why the alt-right prefers that term to Nazis and Trump spokespeople prefer “alternative facts” to “bald-face lies.” It’s why calling a white person a racist has the triggering impact of a slur because being a racist (or at least being labeled one) is a shameful thing to be in modern society. I make absolutely no bones about the fact that the election of Donald Trump immediately started killing people I know, and I have no intention of letting Trump voters forget that.
However, no one has to read my articles or visit my Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Contrary to popular belief, the mere fact that someone becomes aware of a point of view he or she doesn’t agree with does not mean that point of view is a direct attack on that person. It’s true when I write something like this, and it’s true when Mary Jane Goodwife tweets a Trumpgret to her 87 followers that you see because you were bored and trolling hashtags.
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It’s fun to scream at her, isn’t it? She’s not a person; she’s a collection of vague anger you can throw rocks at. She’s not your best friend from school who won’t talk to you since the election because something something emails. She’s not your dad, who waxes ineloquently on the specter of illegal voting. She’s not the loud co-worker who turns the TV in the break room to Fox News every day, hails the mighty wall, and OH MY GOD, SHEILA, I JUST WANT TO READ MY BOOK AND EAT MY SANDWICH IN PEACE.
Dealing with those people is messy, and requires tact. Unlike the Internet, where the use of tact is about as rare as the use of nonviolent resolution in a Scorsese film. Do you get a queasy feeling in your stomach when you have to make the choice of letting someone in your life be hateful and wrong or just shut and deal? I sure do.
Those people, though, are the ones who you have some hope of convincing, and they should be the ones you focus on. They’re the ones, as John said, who are maybe on their way out of the dark. In the meantime, stop trolling hashtags and screaming at random people on the Internet that have done absolutely nothing but appear in your field of vision. Stop castigating strangers for choice owns. I’ve had many a choice own, friends, and not a single prize has ever appeared in the mail for it. You’re not getting one either.
Seeking out people you don’t even know to scream at them is gross. Period. It’s the work of a coward and a bully, no matter how deserving the target may be or how righteous the verbal whipping. All you’re doing is reinforcing their notion that the non-Trump supporters in their life have thrown in their lot with jerks and creeps. Tend your own garden, please, and leave the randos out of it. Culture wars aren’t won in the bloody comment section.