In 1998 there was a movie that had a profound impact on me. Well, besides the Denise Richards/Neve Campbell make-out session in “Wild Things.” It was “American History X.” The story was compelling, the acting was excellent, and as I grew up “punk rock” I knew many skinheads (all decidedly anti-racist) and it resonated deeply on a personal level. As I get a bit (a lot) older, the most crucial scene is the principal character meeting with Edward Norton’s character following his being raped and severely beaten in prison. He asks, “Has anything you’ve done, made your life better?” Edward Norton’s character breaks down as his entire schema he’s applied to life, his actions, his motivations, have all failed and brought him near death and made him a murderer. (An aside: One thing that always bothered me. Norton’s character got out of jail in three years for manslaughter, though it could’ve easily been first degree murder. The black man he befriends in prison is in for 6 years for assaulting a police officer. Could be a subtle reference to institutional racism in the criminal justice system. Or a plot device.)
The question from the principal is the framework by which I endeavor to judge everything I do. I fail at it a lot. One area where I have clearly, vindictively, egregiously failed to apply this thinking is my activity on Twitter. Prior to the 2016 primary I wasn’t a regular Twitter user. I mostly used it to antagonize sports figures I don’t like. I’m shocked the Green Bay Packers account didn’t block me years ago. During the 2014 war with Hamas I found myself in some pretty intense arguments and interactions. It’s hard to be a pro Israel voice on social media at any time, especially when Israel is taking military action.
When the Democratic primary began ramping up I similarly ramped up my twitter use. First and foremost I was surprised by those on the left who were so quick and enthusiastic to rail against Hillary Clinton and embrace Bernard Sanders. I’ve written extensively about my objections to the misappropriation of the Democratic name and party apparatus by Bernard, and I don’t intend to dwell upon it again. What is worthy of note was the intention of so many “left” organizations and news sources like the Intercept, Young Turks, Salon, Jacobin for example, to from inception, reject the only candidate who had a chance to win the Democratic primary and beat a Republican. Critique of a candidate is fine, and should happen. However, no reasonable observer can conclude that news coverage of Secretary Clinton was in any way similar to that of her opponents. The emails, servers, pneumonia, Goldman Sachs speeches, and BENGHAZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII were all addressed as serious campaign issues, while largely ignoring Bernard’s campaign information data breeches into the DNC, his authorization of dumping nuclear waste on a poor Latino community; and anything and everything Trump Was doing or saying.
I watched as people I know and like in real life turned into my ideological foes. I did nothing to help this and in fact encouraged it to happen, if not directly, certainly indirectly with my invidious rhetoric. I was energized during the 2016 campaign and not always in a positive way. I’ve always considered words the most interesting of tools (former English major here). The only thing I wanted a tool for was complete annihilation of anyone or anything that was an impediment to Hillary Clinton becoming president. I still believe that was the correct motivation, but I didn’t harness that energy appropriately. I certainly didn’t think about what I could do to reach my goal, which would make life better.
I chose to focus the brunt of my ire on the farther left than me in lieu of the right. I did this as I consider myself of the left and therefore the right was not my audience. The Republicans were afraid of Secretary Clinton, and were willing to sacrifice any sliver of integrity their party had left in order to adopt the mantle of a madman charlatan. My voice on the left certainly would be worthless in the face of that desperation. So I lashed out at the “Bernie Bros.” The people who voted for him in the primary but wouldn’t vote for Ms. Clinton in the general. In my mind that was the cardinal sin of any Democratic voter following the primary. That was the harm I feared most about Bernard’s campaign. I don’t know the extent of the damage it ended up creating, but even one person considering doing that would have been enough.
Following the election and the horror it has wrought any pretense of thoughtful discourse I had in mind for Twitter died in a blast furnace of seething rage. It was time for war. Nothing was off limits, no decorum, just scorched earth social media fire. I didn’t stop to think about the bridges that would also, and did burn. I became a caricature in the minds of people I know and love in real life. Caricatures are easy to hate in return, and even easier to dismiss. I was warned about this, I did not listen.
While I do firmly believe people are more than they present on social media, I’ve come to learn that one’s social media presence cannot be wholly removed from the person himself. There is a part of me that’s every bit as vitriolic and malicious as some of the attacks I’ve offered on Twitter. Twitter as a medium invites little more than that; little more than petty, short form hate. It is a reactionary, not thoughtful platform. And as such, Twitter is the last place public discourse should happen. It’s easy to fire off an angry tweet to an anonymous account, or one managed by a staffer who really doesn’t care what @clompthestrong says. It is much harder, and vastly more important to have a thoughtful critique, fleshed out in prose provided for public review.
I am choosing to focus on the latter. I will tweet sporadically, probably mostly about sports, Crazy Ex Girlfriend (best show on TV) car performance stuff, and coffee. I hope to refocus my blog on Israel, Trump and thoughts on the Democratic Party. That does not mean I won’t be critical of those on my left and my right, but I will not excoriate them in 140 characters or less on Twitter. I propose to be thoughtful, with solutions and not insults. I’m not going to always succeed, but I can at the very least reject a medium that served as a catalyst to display the uglier parts of my nature.
American History X also introduced me to this brilliant quote from Lincoln’s inaugural address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Twitter hasn’t made my life any better, and I intend to work harder to appeal to the angels of my better nature.