Shadow of the Flag

We all pledge allegiance to the same red-white-and-blue flag, a symbol of our unity . . .

They seemed to emerge from the shadows. Such as . . .

  • The person who abruptly asked me about my stance on abortion.
  • The fellow that, after claiming all so-called mainstream media lied, refused to share what news sources informed his views.
  • The woman who posted an inflammatory meme about Black Lives Matter—with blatantly fabricated “facts”—that never answered my courteous reply.

In the strange, seductive landscape of social media, I encountered those three people. They are examples of the digital friends and strangers that engaged in (and disengaged from) online conversations about our most divisive subjects: racism, policing, media, and politics.

For me, their responses represent the shadow side of the American experience. We all pledge allegiance to the same red-white-and-blue flag, a symbol of our unity, as it waves over schools, government buildings, homes, sporting events, and more. And yet, a shadow is there, the murky world of our clashing views that split and splinter our country. Citizens express hatred for other citizens with remarkable ease. We thump each other with conflicting, selective facts. We mingle with the “tribes” we claim, comfortably bantering with like-minded folks while berating the “them” that is different from “us.”

Have we always been divided? The Civil War was a horrific reminder of our national quarrels. Less bloody, but how we tout or doubt today’s “green” power options, or the generations-ago battles over the prohibition of alcohol, are examples of other contentious disagreements.

But have we deepened and widened the divide through our online encounters?

*     *     *

I was engaged in a back-and-forth about President Trump’s policy on “whatever,” when a new person entered the conversation. His reply to my comment was asking my position on abortion. Wasn’t it . . . murder? We hadn’t been discussing abortion. However, like a whack-a-mole popping up, there it was. He wanted me to “pass” his litmus test to demonstrate my credibility. My take on abortion would probably determine his perception of me.

*     *     *

In a lengthy string of comments about police in America, several participants—none personally known by me—slammed the “liberal media.” In their view, the mainstream media routinely lied about or ignored the real facts. I disagreed, shared examples of news sources I leaned on when controversial issues hit the headlines (including Reuters and the Wall Street Journal). I then politely asked which media they trusted. While one or two gave examples, my question was largely cast aside. Several of the fiercer critics of mainstream media departed the “conversation.”

There, then gone! Back into the shadows.

*     *     *

For all of its limitations, social media can provide opportunities to learn about others who live elsewhere and/or don’t think like me. In my engagements, I strive to be polite, to give responses that invite additional input. In the numerous times former President Trump was the subject of a discussion, I made sure to refer to him as President or as Mr. Trump. Why inflame others with derogatory nicknames? Can I be snarky or critical? Yes! Still, I mostly seek to share my views while gaining knowledge about a stranger’s perspective.

A Facebook “friend,” a former colleague, posted a meme that derided Black Lives Matter (BLM). The meme tersely highlighted how violent all of the riots were during 2020’s summer. I reacted, noting that many of the events across the country were held without disruptive incidents.

My colleague disagreed, stating the meme was correct regarding the violence and death from the BLM riots.

I pointed out research from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) that analyzed the hundreds of protests in hundreds of locations across the United States following George Floyd’s murder in late May. The ACLED concluded that 93% of the protests were “overwhelmingly peaceful.”

My colleague never reacted to my response or acknowledged the link to the data.

It was as if they returned to the shadows.

Some of the protests with BLM involvement were destructive. Property was damaged. Looting occurred. People were hurt and killed. Cities like Portland and Minneapolis experienced nights of anguish and long months of turmoil. However, a simplistic meme tying BLM to all things violent was and is, simply, wrong.

*     *     *

Several years back, a politically conservative friend from long-ago college times mentioned that liberals ignored it when then President Obama used racist language. He gave an example of Mr. Obama saying something like Republicans now had to get to the back of the bus. He blamed the mainstream media for ignoring this reference to the 1950s civil rights protests about Blacks and segregated busses. How dare Mr. Obama express loaded imagery against Republicans! How dare the media ignore it! I found the speech where Mr. Obama said Republicans were no longer “driving the car” (because of losing House and Senate seats in the 2008 election). And then I found a Fox News segment with Mr. Obama’s neutral descriptions being paraphrased—twisted—into a comment with a racist slant.

My old college buddy acknowledged the sources I used were credible and reliable. But I also sensed he remained unconvinced. To this day, I wonder if he continues to share how racist Mr. Obama is, and would use the “back seat” example to demonstrate his point? I also wonder if my former colleague, with those concerns about BLM, remains convinced the protests during the summer of 2020 were all violent?

*     *     *

For much of my career in ministry, preaching every Sunday for years, I was selective with my resources. The books lining my shelves were influenced by where I went to seminary, by my more “progressive” understanding of scripture, and by word-of-mouth recommendations from like-minded colleagues.

I am biased! I wear experiential, cultural, and racial blinders!

But I truly try not to live in the shadows. If I express my views in the realm of social media, I won’t level anger or criticism at someone and then “vanish.” I want to understand what others’ think . . . and why. I would like to know what resources inform their views. Can we agree on any common resources that both of us trust?

Our nation’s divisiveness, even if we’ve always been at odds with each other, is unsettling. That much of it now lurks in the shadows only makes it worse.

I fear that too many are content to associate with those harboring the same views. In the shadowy world of social media, you can momentarily step forward, hurl an insult or join a chorus that belittles someone else’s views, and then retreat back to your tribe.

Even with my many faults (and occasional online sarcasm), I prefer to pledge allegiance to openness and learning.

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  1. If I skull back into the shadows I am working (still employed), involved in Marti’s Honey-do list, reading email or magazines (news,trade, or investment), etc. I don’t have time to read everything but try to read the most important.
    Many discussions on your page and others require following the thread, searching for data I read someplace, and thinking through to an opinion.
    I follow your page because I find you reliable, thoughtful, and considerate. Unlike others who did not like Trump you never disrespected the office of the President. Some who I call friends were vile and hateful.
    I am not going to open up the issues you spoke of but admit that I am not as trained as you when it comes to formulating or defending positions, but I really believe many of the liberal positions are bad for the country. Just as you wrote 93 percent of BLM protests were peaceful I think 98 percent of policemen try to be fair and honest. I have a meeting this morning and I need my sleep. Thank you for the opinions and observations you bless us with.

    1. Craig:

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      I agree and understand with you regarding the obligations (a honey-do list or work demands) which prevent someone from responding. I truly get that! But my point in this post has to do with folks on social media who have engaged in some back-and-forth “conversations” about divisive subjects and then they completely “vanish.” They aren’t gone for a moment or day. They have asked hard questions or are asked to answer hard questions, but leave without ever returning. They insult someone, and then leave. They share “facts” that prove to be wrong and stop engaging. It’s strange! Why be critical if you’re not willing to be accountable?

      I don’t agree with you about police being 98% “fair and honest.” I’m guessing it’s 99%! Maybe more! But we would both be guessing. Nonetheless, I do believe nearly every cop is a good cop. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to explore and enact some serious changes in policing. I believe the police have become too militarized. I think there are certain things that police face every day with their current responsibilities that could instead by handled by some kind of trained social workers/counselors. Not every situation needs an armed response. Look at what the Camden, New Jersey police department has done. Look at what the CAHOOTS program does in Eugene, Oregon.

      What is not a guess is the research done on the BLM protests. 93% were peaceful. That does not excuse the terrible, grim violence some places have seen. But I get irked (!!!) when someone casually, thoughtlessly claims all of the protests were violent.

      Again, Craig, thanks for taking the time for your response . . . now, get back to that honey-do list!!

  2. Hi Larry. I randomly and happily stumbled onto your platform, while going down a Google rabbitt hole on Hospice care. My wife is in her last stage of living, having been in Hospice for a month now.
    Your above essay on the division in this country, struck a chord with me. Between being exposed to the political turmoil of the last 5 years, to watching the insane debate over whether or not Covid is really a big deal or not, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are doomed. The reason we are, is quite simple: Love. Or, lack of it in these cases. If you were to oversimplify everything and anything and put them into one of two columns, you’d see why we are losing. Love or Hate. Those are the two choices. In each of those choices, there can be a wide and varying degree of itself. But to keep it simple, just add whatever topic or person you can think of into one of those two columns. This could be a literal or a figurative exercise. It all boils down to the demeanor of the citizens of this country: too many of us hate. We may feel completely justified in our responses, but at the end of the day, if it isn’t Love, we’ll then, it’s Hate. Hatred is such a visceral human response. It breeds and festers within us. Love could, too – if we would let it. Too many think Love is a weakness, which is irony at its finest. There is nothing greater, nor more important than Love. It’s a gift bestowed upon us, a gift we don’t deserve. A gift many simply don’t understand or choose to use.

    I’ve adopted this Love or Hate approach during the months and years I’ve cared for my ailing wife. The love we have for each other, is the most beautiful and powerful thing I have ever known. I’ve sat by her bedside, month after month, loving her and helping her,. While I’ve watched the rest of the country do its best to dismantle the many things we supposedly cherish – freedom, respect, dignity and peace.

    Without those four things in check, we won’t survive as a unified country. We are such fools.

    1. Mark:

      Thanks for “finding” me and sharing your thoughts. I am truly sorry to learn about your wife.

      While we could always make the choices more complicated (and we humans often do!), I think you are correct: Love or Hate?

      Again, thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi, Larry.
    I followed you here from your website. (I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker. You invited me/us. ;-)) I sought information for two friends with loved ones who are at death’s door but hesitant to go through it. I so appreciate the honesty, language, and tone (poignance mixed with humor) of your writing that I came here. Your wife and fur babies are lucky to be your companions. Enjoy your retirement.

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