A month ago today, our nation broke my heart. In the immediate aftermath of the election, it became clear to me that I needed to withdraw from social media, among other self-protective measures, in order to continue to think the best of people. On social media, it was all too easy to only see the worst.
And it wasn’t just because conservatives were gloating or saying things like “Aren’t you over this yet?” They were — even while implying that not being over it emotionally was akin to not accepting the election results as legal and just, which I most certainly have. Folks, let’s be clear: a citizen can feel deeply disappointed in her country and its people, and reaffirm her commitment to stand against injustice, without questioning that country’s basic democratic institutions.
It was also liberals who made social media an intolerable place to be. Facebook and Twitter have devolved into echo chambers of loss and fear, as fear especially has seemed to reproduce itself more efficiently than the Gemini charm from Harry Potter.
Some of that fear is legit. I think Hillary Clinton was correct when she told us that when someone shows us who he is, we should believe him; Donald Trump repeatedly showed us that he had the temperament of a toddler, a gaping hole where knowledge of world affairs should be, the personal morals of a narcissistic sybarite, and the social morals of the pre-repentant Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But just over a quarter of American adults did not believe him, and their votes were enough for him to win.
So now we are left to wonder in fear: Which of his campaign promises will be among the 73% that, historically, modern U.S. Presidents have implemented into actual policy?
Will it be to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”? “Build the wall” between the United States and Mexico and deport more than two million people? Register all Muslims? Repeal the Affordable Care Act? Overturn Roe v. Wade? “Grab [women] by the pussy”?
All of these have been hashed and rehashed on social media and comments sections in recent weeks, often with deep vitriol. Consider this exchange I found on YouGov:
Surely this demonstrates there is more than enough “moronic, child-like behavior” to go around. I needed. To. Get. Away.
That first week, I stayed off social media almost entirely. I visited people in their houses (remember when we used to do that?) and called friends on the phone. I did not blog or read other people’s blogs. I ate a lot of leftover Halloween candy, and I cried.
I also prayed more than usual. One message that I received during one of those shaking-fists-at-God prayer sessions was that our nation was getting the president it deserved. We’re obsessed with riches and power and celebrity, so we voted all those qualities into office. We don’t give a hoot about servant leadership, not really, but we adore being entertained: therefore we elected someone with no history of either public service or responsible leadership to be our Entertainer in Chief.
So: not the answer I would have liked to receive in prayer, but an answer that was barbarically true nonetheless. This is our bed, and now we have to lie in it.
Since that first week of total fasting I have ducked in and out of social media for brief bursts of activity, only to find that the one safe place is Pinterest. But then I feel guilty about that, because Pinterest is only safe because it’s a prettified world in which people do not talk to one another and the only choices to be made are about which recipe looks tastier, and should we pin the lemon bars or the snowman marshmallow cookies? (Both, of course. This is still America.)
I find I have a lot more time for other things now that I’m mostly fasting from Facebook — not just prayer and Pinterest, but writing and editing and reading. I’ve been reading actual books, the kind with ink and paper and everything. I’d sort of forgotten what it’s like to sustain attention for serious non-fiction for 250+ pages.
Sustained attention is nothing to sneeze at in the Age of Trump. In fact, we’re going to need the lost art of sustained attention more than ever, as well as deep friendships that are nourished by more than just superficial likes on Facebook. And we’re going to need time to reflect before we react.
I’m sure the day will come when I’ll come back to social media for more than a few minutes at a stretch, and remember why I used to love it. But I can tell you that it’s not yet.