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Can America Survive Memes?

It’s easy to post something political that demonizes the other side.  The formula is simple.  It’s us vs. them.
“Billionaires are getting richer while normal people can’t see a doctor.”   
or
“They wanna take our guns and they hate cops and soldiers.”
 
or
 
“This historical figure who made a bunch of breakthroughs also did evil things. So, every time you go see a Star Wars movie, you’re supporting Disney, who was racist.”  
 
But that stuff doesn’t persuade. How could it?  It divides. And, in a meme, or an online conversation we can’t supply the context or nuance required to really “get into it.”
A lot of times these memes have some truth. The left and the right both have times where their ideas make a point. The left, at its best, is rightly concerned with equality, and the right, at its best, is rightly concerned with preserving our fair systems.
 
But right now? We reduce everything from a sound bite to, what, a little morsel of outrage?
 
That stuff kills us a little at a time.
 
It kills us because it kills our ability to reason. We react to something. It neuters our ability to make a counter-argument because it’s a picture and an emotional quote. 
 
You either stand for the Flag or you hate America (nevermind the fact the NFL itself is using the sacrifices made by our soldiers to sell its product in a crass and commercial and evil way).
 
You must either believe everything on one side or nothing.  
 
After all, any time you bring up a point against President Trump or the Democrats, you get a response “Well, you weren’t saying this when Obama was president,” or, some inverse.
 
Our country has to be resilient and understand what has created prosperity and has pushed us forward.
 
And we have to be able to observe things and tell the truth.   
 
America is a precious idea. Freedom for all is precious. We remade the world in an image where billions were lifted out of poverty. The freedom we have has created prosperity and is eradicated poverty.
 
But that doesn’t mean that Jim Crow didn’t happen.  It was barely more than 50 years ago that it was going on.  
 
To survive, we have to stop with the nonsensical tribalism and we have to agree on first principles. Here are a few:
 
 Integrity: so that we can know the truth. And that we have the smallest remove between our observations and reality. 
 
Consent:  We can’t do things to others that are against their will.  This means that, by default, people are free.
 
Kindness – so that we can do things that benefit others.
 
Justice– so that both the rich and poor get justice and can get brought to justice.  
 
I don’t know how to do this.  I’ve dropped out of too many political posts. I’ve opted out of the “pro-wrestling” element of it, and I can’t bring myself to care about national politics.  To believe that my friends who supported Hillary hate America, or that my friends that support Trump were secret KKK members is a bridge too far to cross.
 
I’m not comfortable with the left. Their ideas and policies are destructive. The story they tell about America isn’t the true story of the amazing progress that we’ve lived, but one of recriminations, exploitation and a neverending cycle of hopeless victimizations. There’s no curiosity towards the long-term impact of their programs and how enfeebling they are. On social issues, they certainly have a point. But they require victims and they tell stories of despair and not hope.
 
With Bernie’s recent rise, we are denying the fact that everywhere it’s been tried, Socialism has brought famine and/or massacres, especially in heterogeneous populations. It’s chilling how we’ve forgotten the genocide in China, Ukraine, Russia, Cambodia, Eastern Europe and the starvation in Venezuela, etc. Socialism will, of course, be different in this country they say.
 
I’m no more comfortable with President Trump and his supporters. The strong man “love it or leave” riffs, the pro-police ideas…the disregard for law and process. These things threaten our freedom. His supreme court nominee – Kavanaugh’s own words in his own confirmation hearings are disqualifying; while that may be a “yes” vote for many things, his hearings revealed a truculent man predisposed against the left and elevated him to a lifetime appointment that he shouldn’t have.
 
This creates the appearance of injustice, and not without reason. There are other issues with President Trump and the party.
 
I don’t know how we got to this point. A friend told me it started with Rush Limbaugh in the late 80s.  I remember those days, especially in the 1992 election.  In the basement of my church’s youth group, one of the… leaders  Xeroxed some over-the-top cornball material about why Clinton was bad.  
 
That had come from Rush Limbaugh, I’d later recognize.
America is currently committing suicide by meme.
Pithy clever half-truths spread faster than we can stop them. Some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy takes hold. We say “hooray for our side.” In the last major election, our candidates were Faustian choices.  It’s hard to imagine heartfelt enthusiasm for either side.   The idea of our country is precious.

Over time, we fought a war to end slavery.

We spread the franchise to all men and all women.
We codified civil rights.
We ended European tyranny and created a world order that has lifted billions out of unspeakable poverty.
These are all things to be proud of.  There are achievements on the left and the right which have made us a stronger country and somehow it seems that we’re being torn down by memes.
We have a lot to confront in the coming years: conserving our planet, the rising threat of totalitarian China, the rise of Africa and Asia and all of the threats to the rule of law.  A culture that’s divided and doesn’t know basic civics.  We can only meet these challenges if we learn to work together to confront them all.
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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.
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