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An open letter on political discourse to my Facebook friends

I don't care which politicians you like or

I don't care which politicians you like or dislike. I do care what you do with those sentiments on Facebook. Credit: Getty Images/filo

As Election Day draws nigh, here are a few thoughts. Hoping you won’t be offended. I treasure my Facebook friends. In this awful time of social isolation, you’ve been my lifeline to humanity. That goes for my friends who are Democrats, those who are Republicans, and those who are independents or otherwise aligned. I don’t care whom you plan to vote for. I don’t care which politicians you like or dislike. I do care what you do with those sentiments on Facebook. Though I’m slow to act, at times, posts by friends (of varying political persuasions) have led me to mute them or, on rare occasion, to unfriend them.

If you deeply admire Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and wish to share your positive thoughts on their contributions, past and future, that’s fine. If you want to do the same for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, go for it. I do wonder why anyone bothers to post such things on Facebook, since everyone you know already has intensely strong views on Biden, Trump, Harris and Pence — and virtually nothing you say will change a single mind. But if sharing earnest, upbeat, positive, well-informed missives pleases you, then good for you. Thoughtful commentaries on policy are fine, too.

If, on the other hand, you wish to spew floods of negativity and hatred toward politicians you don’t like, then that can be wearing. Again, all your Facebook friends read or see the news. Very likely, you’re not informing anyone of anything they don’t already know or feel. You’re primarily sticking bamboo shards under the fingernails of those who plan to vote differently from you. If some of your friends disagree with you, I cannot imagine any coherent reason for doing that. And if all of your friends agree with your politics (how sad for you, if that’s the case), then what is the point?

I tend to look past the occasional diatribe and just move on down your timeline. If, however, your timeline becomes an endless stream of invective in either direction, I begin reminding myself of how the mute function works. Each photo you post of your children, grandchildren, dogs, cats, meals and vacations is a treasure to me. Each ball of political dung you fling is a penalty, a punishment, a tax — even if I plan to vote the same way as you. I am an economist by trade, and when your timeline reaches the point that costs are greater than benefits, it’s mute-button time.

The quickest way to a mute or unfriend command from me, however, is to attack not the politicians, but rather their supporters and voters — many of whom may simply be holding their noses and voting for whomever they perceive to be the less awful choice. (I include broad-brush attacks on all public officials of one party.)

Let me offer a small glimpse into my own political thinking: The 2020 race isn’t Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa on one ticket versus Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Aquinas on the other. If I had the last say, both parties would be running different tickets and offering different platforms. But neither party asked for my thoughts, so I must be charitable toward my friends, regardless of how they plan to vote. If pressed, I can say positive and negative things about both tickets. But, since nothing I write will influence your thoughts or your vote, I don’t do so.

Hence, my Facebook posts generally concern music, food, technology, travel, animals, kind deeds, natural wonders and humor. I work in the realm of public policy, so I sometimes post about topics that hover near the edge of politics and arouse strong positive or negative feelings among my friends. But I try mightily to avoid any implication that those who disagree with me are stupid and/or evil. I enjoy dialogue — not frothing, hurtful, hateful monologues.

My list of Facebook friends is pretty evenly divided politically. I like that. If your choice is to repeatedly vilify half of my friends, then perhaps you have nothing to say that I care to read. And as long Facebook offers a mute option, I may not be reading you for long.

Robert Graboyes is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he focuses on technological innovation in health care. He wrote this for InsideSources.com

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