I don't know if social media is the root of the problem, or if the problem goes much further down and social media is merely a symptom, or if social media is merely a well-placed piece of tinder next to a giant arsenal of TNT, but whether it was social media or AM radio or internet aggregators or grad student lounges, the problem is very simple: there is not a single person in this country who isn't locked in with 50 million people who want to throw them out.
No matter how hard we seek to ignore the people whose viewpoints we excoriate, social media is an intellectual market, and it inevitably confronts us all with viewpoints which we find loathsome, and the more we try to ignore them, the more insistently they make themselves known. We therefore bifurcate into ever smaller groups of like minds who persuade one another that everyone who's not initiates into the same club are not only wrong, but wrong for nefarious reasons.
Anyone who is sure enough of what they believe can eventually decide that the moral character of people who believe differently is so beneath theirs' that they can convince themselves to do anything at all - attack them, expel them, kill them, kill them en masse. Fortunately, most people don't generally take even one trick step down that staircase of horrors. The slippery slope argument is... slippery like that, but all it takes is one wrong choice out of a couple thousand, one moment where the chaos of the world reveals itself and there's no going back.
The Trump election was not just an election, it was just such a moment. It was as consequential to American life as 9/11, the Kennedy Assassination, Pearl Harbor, the Fall of Communism, Black Tuesday, Fort Sumter, the sinking of the Lusitania. It was a moment from which there was no going back - whatever country America was before November 2016, it is clearly a different country now. There is no reviving something that's been dead for three years (Biden supporters take note).
We've just had four straight years of what seems to the average American like non-stop chaos. For 90% of the world's countries, this all is business as usual, and if anything rather stable. 2020 promises to be still more chaotic. The result of the impeachment trial looks like a foregone conclusion, but even if the conclusion is foregone, before its over, there will be plenty of glimmers of hope that will probably turn out to be false. Starting with Iowa, there will be moments when Bernie supporters feel like the Presidency is just within their grasp, only for it to be yanked from him in a hundred different directions. No matter who seems to earn the Democratic nomination, be they Biden, Warren, Sanders, or even Bloomberg, there will be so much rancor between the different sides of the Democratic Party that some kind of break between the sides is going to be a serious possibility right up to the November election. The chance chance of a serious third party candidacy still very, very high, and even if there isn't a serious third-party candidate, unserious third party candidates are going to do even better than they did in 2016. And even if the extremely unlikely happens and Donald Trump is thrown out of office, why is Mitt Romney now in the Senate? He knows that there's an outside shot that Trump will lose the Presidency, and that a temporary President Pence would be a very vulnerable Republican candidate. Romney could not beat Obama, but he could very well clean house against most of the candidates who might oppose him.
But whatever the end result of 2020, it will probably be very different than any I just mentioned. The amount of organization required for an American Presidential election is roughly on par with the plans generals make when a country goes to war. Why do they need so much organization? Because there are so many agents of chaos during a Presidential election that no one can possibly foresee the turns of events, not Steve Bannon, not Nate Silver, not even Cambridge Analytica.
By the end of this year, however uncharitable we feel toward people we disagree with now, we are going to feel angrier by a factor of 10. Start thinking now about where this might lead. Chaos, not stability, is the baseline state of the world, and however sure you are of what you believe, do you really think you and those you love can stand erect in the winds that blow if you pursue your unshakeable beliefs to their logical conclusions? Whether now or in a generation after you see horrible things, you're going to have to forgive a lot of things that you think are unforgivable. And not just tacitly ignore those whom you find unforgivable, you're going to have to embrace them, work with them, compromise with them, let them be members of your families to whom you give your love. Yitzhak Rabin would say that you don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with the least savory enemies. The alternative is death.
And yes, I'm sure that many of those who've read this far will say that the issues are too important, that the world is on the precipice of planetary destruction brought about by a particular point of view. But even if that notion is true (and a large part of it is), how do you fight these people who have so much power of life and death over us and clearly choose death? The answer is, very carefully, very slowly, with the knowledge that terrible things may happen along the way which we're just going to have to accept on the chance that their acceptance prevents still worse things. These are the tough choices upon which the world is made. Everything in the world dies, every society eventually crumbles, every achievement is fragile. But one of the world's few certainties is that those who promise a transformative vision of the world that radically reduces the world's evil never bring it about, and only bring about more evil, more death, more exploitation. If you're fighting a war to prevent evil's expansion, you're the good guy. If you're fighting a war to end evil, or even just AN evil, no matter what or whom you think is evil, you're the bad guy.
So yeah, this year is going to be a huge battle for us all, and it's a battle we well might lose even if we win. The easiest way to lose a battle is to think the battle we can win rather than merely fought to a draw - the very fact that we have to fight is already tragedy in itself. Let's all manage our expectations, look out for all those we love, and try as best we can in this age where empathy is such a prized commodity, to reserve some small corner of empathy for the people we think are least deserving of it. I don't think a lot of people have contemplated the alternative, and even if they have, I think they need to contemplate it a lot more seriously.