An oft-repeated bit of advice in America is never to talk about religion or politics. Sadly, the reason is that Americans are dreadful at talking across political lines. When I lived in Australia in the early 2000s and adopted a pub, by contrast, I found the locals to be eager to debate the topics of the day yet remain civil about it. That may be because Australians in general have mastered the art of being confrontational by lacing it with humor and/or self deprecation.
By contrast, Americans, who pretend to fetishize individualism, are conformists. Dissent is not well tolerated at work or in social spheres. And its only gotten worse as media fragmentation and political strategies based on hitting voter hot buttons means that many people are deeply invested in their political views, whether well founded or not. Punitive unfriending and other forms of ostracism have become a new normal.
And now that we have anger over Trump directed at not the best or most useful objects, like Russia!Russia! as opposed to his packing of the Federal bench, or his environmental policies, or even his push to privatize Federal parks, a lot of educated people expect, even demand, that their friends be vocal supporters of the #Resistance.
For instance, at the San Francisco meetup, I spent a fair bit of time with a woman who had held elected offices in her community. She was clearly distressed by the fact (without using such crass terms) that her friends had turned into pod people. They all believe that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker are authoritative. When she tried arguing with them about what they’ve read in these outlets, they shoot back, “Oh, so you believe in fake news?” She said the “fake news” campaign has been extremely effective in discrediting non-mainstream views. And since her friends are also PhDs, she was also frustrated at their refusal to consider evidence, or entertain the idea that their preferred sources were biased.
One approach she has used that worked was to find information from other sources they could not reject, like Reuters and the Associated Press, that had not been covered in the New York Times or better yet, contradicted what they wanted to believe, such as a Reuters story describing how Germany opposed sanctions against Russia. But she clearly found it taxing to find these informational nuggets. She also said they would not consider foreign sources, even the BBC or Der Spiegel or Le Monde.
Readers also discussed their frustrations in Links over the weekend. For instance: