Lately I’ve been avoiding Twitter. Just after the horrible 2016 elections and for a year or so after that, I checked in frequently to see how my fellow liberals were handling things. It made me feel like I always had a finger on the pulse, so to speak, and I felt comforted by hanging out online with like-minded folk, but around the middle of this year I started to feel weary. Not only did the circus peanut and his tribe manage to hit a new low every day, the fighters I followed just seemed to keep…tweeting. The snark factor increased, which still occasionally brought me a great guffaw, but overall it just all started to sound the same, and then it got increasingly meaner. I also realized that my furious liking and retweeting wasn’t really accomplishing anything at all. I felt more frustrated than ever.
I’ve been checking in periodically, and things seem to be growing steadily worse. Some people who used to tweet about all sorts of things and have a smart sense of humor have grown humorless, even almost vicious, especially if people who reply don’t just automatically agree with them. I have in mind a particular Popular Author (PA). I’ve been following PA for about five years, long before PA had really become P (and I do think the P is rightfully granted; PA is clearly very talented and intelligent). PA used to tweet funny and insightful things about books and writing and pop culture and cooking. But over the last year or so, PA seems to have started to look for insults and wrongdoing everywhere. Yesterday I decided I’d had enough, and I unfollowed PA (along with about 200 other accounts that seemed to have gone the same course). Here’s why: PA was traveling to an event. When PA boarded the plane, someone was sitting in PA’s seat. PA said, “That’s my seat,” and person said, “No, this is my seat. You are in that seat.” So then PA gets out the boarding pass and shows it is most definitely PA’s seat. The mix up? The person was assigned that seat—but for the next leg of the flight. For the current flight, the person had the same seat one row up. Now really, this isn’t a big deal, but PA made a thing about sticking it to this person who thought he was in the right seat, and then here come the replies about all the fucking stupid idiots who sit in the wrong seat and then act all smug and WHAT A BUNCH OF FUCKING JERKS OH YEAH TAKE THEM DOWN. And all I could think was, here’s a person with two boarding passes, who has a long flight home or to wherever, who maybe had a shit day or a sleepless night for all you know, and who was handed the boarding passes at the gate and saw the one on top and looked only at the seat and not the flight number and said, Okay, that’s my seat. And so when PA came along, the person felt fairly confident he was in the right seat. Because, let’s face it, the opposite also happens. You’re in your correctly assigned seat and along comes someone looking at the ticket upside down or with an old boarding pass and they’re like, That’s my seat! And it isn’t. It isn’t their seat at all. This is a common misunderstanding and a moment where most of us who fly (or go anywhere with assigned seating) have been on either side. I have been in the wrong seat, and I have been in the right seat and been accused of being in the wrong. But in neither case did I feel the need to take to social media and act like a jerk, like I’d won the day, like I’d done humankind a solid because I GOT THE PERSON OUT OF MY SEAT GODDAMNIT. It was so self-righteous and icky, and the responses were just as bad. Seriously, when did everybody start looking for a fight?
And then, later in the day, I had a moment when I had to check myself. Another author I follow (and am still following) tweeted about an article on CNBC profiling someone who voted for the circus peanut and now feels left out in the cold. Said author went on a little rant, posting a thread along the lines of WAKE UP WHAT DID YOU EXPECT. There were a lot of responses along the lines of WE NEED TO STOP WITH THESE PEOPLE ALREADY, and I was all prepared to jump in and agree when it hit me (forgive me, I’m slow): really, these people are not at fault. I mean, yes, they voted for the circus peanut and his minions, but hear me out. I’m talking very specifically about the (economically) poor white people who have been on the side of the GOP for a long time. And the GOP has been quietly gutting education, removing federal funds and services from their states, and using fear and religion to maintain a vise grip on this population. We are talking about people who’ve grown up hearing the same message everywhere they go—church, work, school: Trust the Big Man! Show your faith! You will reap the rewards! They believe this with their whole hearts—if they align with power, they will be rewarded either in this life or the next. It’s a lie they’ve been sold time and again, and they simply, through no fault of their own, are not smart enough to figure out the truth. They are not equipped. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, it’s like they’ve been handed a can of soup and a hairbrush and been expected to figure things out from there. And the truth is, telling them to WAKE UP is the lefty equivalent of those right-wing assholes telling people on welfare that they could get out of poverty if they only wanted it badly enough. It simply isn’t true, because the system is (very purposely) stacked against them. Not the government, like they often think, but THE WHOLE FUCKING SYSTEM. And with this last election, the GOP pulled off the biggest and best trick of all: it finally got liberals to hate poor people, or at least white poor people. And don’t come at me with the idea that white people can more easily get out of poverty. I used to believe that was true, too, but after living in the deep South, I don’t think so anymore. There are a lot of white people interested in keeping the white man down, if you get what I’m saying. Lots of poor whites feel like the ones who want out are a bunch of traitors who’ve gotten high and mighty and will do what they can to make sure Billy Bob doesn’t get too far above his station; lots of rich whites would rather just keep what they have for themselves so you can just stay right where you are Billy Bob thanks very much and no, I don’t want to pay for your healthcare or school lunch, either (not that Billy Bob would ever accept such charity; he’s been trained not to). We are all complicit in furthering this right-wing mess, even us liberals, and we need to stop acting like this is a GOP problem and not an American problem. I don’t know what we can do, but maybe realizing our own hypocrisy is a start?
So I have decided not to dump Twitter, but to try, one tweet at a time, to make it a better place to be. And I know that a lot of people are using Twitter to really fight the good fight. Let’s focus our attention on these areas, shall we? (Maybe you already are!) Happy Friday, everyone.