American politics have become incredibly polarized, as evidenced by some citizens pushing online petitions demand secession in response to President Obama’s re-election. But this isn’t anything new. I remember Democrats promising to leave the country and/or demanding secession when President Bush won re-election in 2004.
Dr. Timothy Keller, writing from a theological perspective, writes that these extreme reactions are evidence of political idolatry. Those overreacting “believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart,” he writes. “They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement. The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.”
“Put not your trust in princes,” if I, an atheist, may be excused for quoting the Bible. That is the basis of my limited government philosophy. If you invest your hopes in dreams in the government providing for you and/or making your life better you’re going to be disappointed.
But I digress.
One factor in the increased polarization of America, I believe, is the rise of the internet and social media. We know more about what our politicians do, thanks to blogs and other online news sources, and they’re less able to get away with the sort of departures from principles and campaign promises that greased the wheels of Congress in the past. What’s more, our national political debate is now a much more intimate thing. It’s not just the arguments down at the local diner, or your daily perusal of the paper’s opinion page. The brawling now takes place on your computer. On your phone. In your social media streams.
The dissent and discussion, fighting and recrimination, is everywhere. Which brings me to my question: Do you feel like you lost any friends, or grew distant from family friends, because of politics over the last year? Did you unfriend people on Facebook? Did you unfollow them on Twitter? Do you now delete their email forwards unread?
This is something I deal with daily. Thanks to this blog I’ve become a quasi-public figure, and because of that (and all the jeers and insults and denunciations that come with it) it can be hard to maintain friendships. Sometimes people who disagree with me have a hard time looking past my politics. So I get unfriended. Or unfollowed. Or avoided. Not by a lot of people, but by a few, and it can sting.
And I wonder how many others go through this same thing?
It’s a difficult problem to solve. On one hand, I think it’s important that we be outspoken about politics. That we engage our friends and family on the issues of the day. If we are to self-govern, there must be a healthy and robust public debate.
On the other hand, nobody wants to anger their friends and family. Or, for that matter, put their employment at risk.
I’d love to hear about your experiences, and how you balance your political speech with your personal life and relationships.