Judging by the responses by people on my social media feeds Tuesday night, President Barack Obama’s “farewell” speech that evening was either, (a) a reminder that Obama and his family have been wonderful representatives of all that is good in the world, and champions of hope for the future, or, (b) Obama is a foreign-born agent of terrorists who has been diseasing our nation from the inside since the day the doctor smacked his backside.
Seriously. This is the kind of stuff I see.
I wish I could just say that Obama is the only polarizing figure in the world right now, but that’s clearly not the case. I have some very smart friends who are encouraged and optimistic that Donald Trump is going to make this country “great” again — that he will use his business savvy and negotiation skills to make our nation secure and financially strong. Of course, I have other very smart friends who see Trump as a dictator-in-waiting who doesn’t understand that you can’t run the country as an oligarchy.
To put the divide into some context, Trump just won a national election by receiving more electoral votes than his competitor, but a poll released by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday suggests that Trump only has a favorability rating of 37 percent.
See what I mean about a divide?
It’s not just politics. Mention Tom Brady on an Internet message board and watch the comments. “Brady is the greatest quarterback the world has ever seen, and possibly only one confirmed miracle away from being a saint.” “Brady is a cheater, and any quarterback would win by throwing 3-yard passes in a Bill Belichick offense.”
LeBron James is either a superior basketball player to Michael Jordan or “hot trash.” Meryl Streep is either an overrated actor who should keep her mouth shut, or a once-in-a-lifetime talent who is using her platform for good.
There is climate change, or we have been the victims of a complicated ruse by the Chinese. The Russians are hacking, or they’re not. We need more guns or less guns. More prayer or less prayer. More patriotism, or less.
I read the other day (and I’m not citing the source because of a very complex issue — I forgot where I read it) that in this “age of information” that is around us, we are less-reliant on facts and more dependent on emotion than ever before. It’s as if we have this amazing trove of information available to us at the touch of a button, but we scan a headline, advance to the comments section and fire away whatever feels good to fire away.
Which, to be honest, is understandable. Though we were created as a nation that purports to give everybody a voice, that was never really the case until the age of the Internet descended upon us. Oh, you could stand on street corners and complain about the government without being arrested (without some extenuating circumstances), but did the average person really have a platform where they could share their thoughts with, literally, the world?
No, that was reserved for a few. The politicians, celebrities, shockingly-handsome bald newspaper columnists, sky-writers, self-indulgent screenwriters, etc., had free rein to opine whatever was on their minds at any given time, and the rest of the world was relegated to spouting off at a bar or the dinner table. But now everyone can create a blog, or pen a comment or make a post — and it can be seen in nearly every corner of the globe.
That’s good, right? Right?
No, no, no. Of course it’s a good thing. It’s actually a great thing. I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to defending and celebrating the First Amendment, and that means accepting all its warts along the way. We all deserve a chance to be heard, and it is indeed a wonderful time we live in when people have an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions.
But I wonder if what we are seeing is either a reflection that we are fundamentally more different than I ever supposed, or if the free flow of opinions and chest-beating has created more divisiveness than ever before. Chicken or the egg? No, please don’t answer. It will only start a fight on Facebook.
We don’t see shades of gray anymore. We see black or white. We see “those who think like me” and those who are wrong. Is there any opinion, or person, that we can all agree as people is good? I’ve liked both of our past two first ladies, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, very much. They both appeared to serve the nation with grace and a sense of purpose, and I don’t see how people can really have a problem with either of them as human beings.
But there are people who hate Laura Bush, and there are people who hate Michelle Obama.
Renewable energy? Nope, takes away too many traditional jobs. Good relationship with Russia? No, don’t trust them. Don’t want it. Tea? Can we all like tea? No, too much caffeine, and too British.
Oprah? Too succesful for some. Julia Roberts? Too Hollywood. Pope Francis? Too opinionated and political for many. Clint Eastwood? No, not even Dirty Harry.
Dolly Parton? Anybody? Come on, who can hate Dolly? There you go. The world needs more Dolly and less hate.