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EDITORIAL: Jefferson's advice for social media
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EDITORIAL: Jefferson's advice for social media

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Over in the Caucasus Mountains, where Europe and Asia come together, so do lots of ancient feuds that Americans, both blessed and cursed with short memories, can never understand.

The Armenians are fighting the Azerbaijanis, or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s all about a patch of earth called Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but home to Armenians. The two peoples apparently do not like each other and find it difficult to live in such close proximity, even when they chose to live apart.

This is not about them, though. This is about us, because we seem in danger of heading down that some dark road.

There are many examples. Here’s but one that’s close to home. Shortly after the election, a professor and dean at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach posted on Facebook—nothing good hardly ever comes after the phrase “posted on Facebook—the following: “Please, please help me with something. If you voted for Joe Biden, please unfriend me. Or reply that you are a Democrat, and I will unfriend you. If you were ignorant, anti-American and anti-Christian enough to vote for Biden, I really don’t want to be your social media friend on social media. I wouldn’t hang out with you in real life, I don’t want to hang out with you virtually either.” The post went on for awhile after that, but you get the idea.

We single out this post not because it came from a supporter of Donald Trump, because we’ve seen many similar ones from Biden supporters, as well. This particular post by Paul Ewell is significant only because he occupied a position of some trust, so his Facebook post got reported on by the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, generated a social media firestorm, was retweeted by Trump himself—and ultimately led to Ewell resigning from both his jobs.

If some of you are thinking “serves him right” and some others of you are thinking “he got railroaded,” you’re both wrong. The real question isn’t how we got to such a point that people are losing both friends and jobs over politics, but how we get out of here. The question is, how do we avoid becoming a North American version of Nagorno-Karabakh where the liberals live here, the conservatives live here, and the two sides simply despise one another?

Trump retweeted a screenshot of Ewell’s post with the one-word message: “Progress!”

No, no it’s not. It’s exactly the opposite. In fact, it’s dangerous. Here’s why.

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The professor said it was “anti-American” to vote for Biden. We’ve seen some on the left say it was “anti-American” to vote for Trump. If more than 70 million Americans vote for someone—and both candidates drew votes in excess of that number—can it really be said they were “anti-American”? Even if you think the absolute worst about either candidate—that Biden is a front man for socialists, that Trump is a thinly veiled white supremacist—neither of those traits can truly be said to be anti-American because both socialism and white supremacy have deep roots in the American experience.

The other candidate—whichever one is the other candidate from your point of view—might be wrong, might even be deeply wrong. But he’s not really out of step with the country’s history, maybe just a part of the nation’s history we don’t care for. As for being “anti-Christian,” we are loathe to delve into religious matters, but we must point out that Christianity covers a broad range of sects. Let’s not argue over which is the one, truth faith, shall we?

Americans right now are deeply polarized. That’s a pretty safe statement. Our nation is not helped by each side seceding from the other and retreating into our own pristine social-media bubbles where we need not be troubled by any thought contrary to our own. We’re all still here and somehow we need to get along. Do we really want to have two separate societies living cheek-to-jowl, neither speaking with and certainly not understanding the other? Is that really good for the nation’s civic health? (If you need a prompt, the correct answer is “no, it’s not.”)

We’ve just been through a tumultuous election and, as happens in elections, one side has won and the other side has lost. Americans, who have been having elections (and winning some and losing others) for 232 years, ought to be mature enough to deal with the results, whatever they may be. No, it doesn’t help that some people have just spent the past four years saying that Trump “isn’t my president”—when, actually, yes, he was.

If we’re going to apportion blame, though, we’ve got more than enough to go around. If we’re going to do that, then arguments will never end and we’ll be no better than the Armenians and Azerbaijanis, still arguing over things that happened more than a century ago.

We could quote a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, who said on the night he was elected: “A campaign is a disagreement, and disagreements divide. But an election is a decision. And decisions clear the way for harmony.” That, though, might be something that Biden supporters like a lot more than Trump supporters. Instead, let’s go further back, to something that Thomas Jefferson said and which applies more equally to both sides.

In 1800, Jefferson wrote: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” He went on to write to William Hamilton (no relation to Alexander): “During the whole of the last war, which was trying enough, I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side.” If Jefferson could still maintain friendships with people on the other side of a war, surely we can remain friends with people who are simply on the other side of an election?

Jefferson wasn’t done, though. 1800 was an election year, one that was every bit as tumultuous as our recent one. Jefferson told his friend: “I have seen during the late political paroxysm here, numbers whom I had highly esteemed, draw off from me, insomuch as to cross the street to avoid meeting me. The fever is abating, & doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart, & return again. If they do, they will meet the constancy of my esteem, & the same oblivion of this as of any other delirium which might happen to them.”

Thanksgiving is just past, and Christmas is coming. Perhaps now would be a good time to set aside the rancor and reach out to that old friend you’ve unfriended? Or was Jefferson wrong?

The Roanoke Times

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