When hate comes home: Racism, Twitter, Trump and his enablers

I was returning from a grocery shopping trip when I saw two people standing on an interstate overpass waving a large trump flag. My thought was that this is a free country and after all, I am in Indiana, so why be concerned. Then I saw their leather jackets with the crude letters across the back – “American Guard.” [1] I’m one of those people who believe the protections of the first amendment should extend to even those with ideas I find repugnant. But still, to see white supremacists standing on the bridge, waving a flag supporting the president gave me pause. Not about their right to express themselves, but why they found it acceptable to hate so vehemently. What made these two people think they needed to wave those flags. How did we, as a society, get to this place? How did racism move from Twitter to that bridge in Indiana? [2]

Among all the ways social media has decreased our quality of life, the most damaging aspect may be how it normalizes deviant behavior. Some people may call it an Overton Window effect or simply normalization. Whatever you call it, the result is that we have become desensitized to what should be horribly offensive and repugnant.

Before there was Twitter, before there was a Trump presidency, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia existed, but they were marginalized by society. There was a general feeling that some opinions, duly and appropriately protected by the first amendment, were nevertheless repugnant. When groups embraced deviant positions, society eventually found a way to quash those positions.

Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist vitriol and true witch hunts eventually were supplanted by voices of reason and society was able to heal itself. America’s dark history of slavery lead to systemic discrimination and disadvantages that are yet to be fully ameliorated. However, society did find a way to remove laws that made such racism legal.

What’s different is that today social media gives unlimited voice to ideas that are inconsistent with what I believe society should be. The positive feedback loops and information cocoons of social media have given new voice to and extended the reach of ideologies that once would have died an appropriate death of starvation due to lack of followers.

Maybe society could have found a way to address these pockets of morally bankrupt thoughts before they festered into a systemic infection. Maybe the infection could have been avoided if those ideologies had not been validated by a president who believes in them. Yes, Virginia, the president doesn’t tacitly and indirectly support racist actions – he is a racist.

What is of concern is that social media has emboldened splinter groups by a pseudo-legitimization of their ideologies. What is of greater concern is that the president eagerly throws gasoline on their fires of hate. What is of greatest concern is that elected officials are so entrenched in their tribes and fearful of the president’s tweets, that they actively enable the president to promulgate hate and destroy the norms of laws and society.

Let’s be honest. President Trump is mentally ill. Before social media, especially before Twitter, I’d like to think that Republicans in Congress would take actions consistent with the ideals of our republic. I can find a way to forgive Trump for his actions because he’s a sick individual. I say that without passion or malice. It’s simply an observation of what I think should be obvious to any observer who isn’t trying to advance a personal agenda.

A question I can’t fully comprehend is why an elected representative wouldn’t see we’re at a pivotal time in our democracy and put country before self. I wonder how the progeny of Republicans who did anything to support the president will handle being related to a person who could have done something for the country, but instead “played the game.” Do today’s Republicans realize that they have become the black sheeps that their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren will have to explain to their friends? It is a legacy that no future generation would want. It is a legacy that no individual should want to start.

I can accept that those guys on the bridge don’t know any better and want to spend their Sunday afternoon waving a flag. People tend to be stupid. What is worse than a white supremacist waving a trump flag, is a knowledgeable representative not standing up for the American flag and all that it represents.

[1] Behind The American Guard: Hardcore White Supremacists https://www.adl.org/blog/behind-the-american-guard-hardcore-white-supremacists

[2] Who are The American Guard: Patriotic nationalists, or skinheads in disguise? https://www.theindychannel.com/longform/who-are-the-american-guard-patriotic-nationalists-or-skinheads-in-disguise


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