Q: It’s become apparent to me that some of my Facebook “friends” are secret Trump supporters. I am completely opposed to Trump and his basic lack of common decency towards his fellow man, and I make that apparent in my posts. As an out gay man I find it completely bizarre that there are people who could support him and yet still consider me a “friend” on Facebook. I am asking that these people “unfriend” me. Is it wrong for me to take this approach? — Joe O., San Diego
A: Alas, yes. Here’s some practical advice: Don’t bother asking anyone to “unfriend” you; you can cut the cord yourself by unfriending them. To find out who among your “friends” supports Donald Trump (or any other candidate), simply type “Friends who like Trump” into the Facebook search window. (Before you fall off your chair at the size of the list, remember that some who “like” Trump may simply be monitoring his posts or tweets.)
Or consider a much less drastic step: Instead of unfriending someone, simply “unfollow” or hide them. You’ll still be connected, but you won’t see their posts and they won’t be notified of your action.
Problem solved, right? Hardly. The real issue is: How do we maintain civil relationships with those whose opinions, especially political and religious, differ from our own? In an earlier time (i.e. before the Age of Social Media), I’d have heated political conversations with friends over a meal or a drink — we talked, sometimes shouted, agreed to disagree when necessary, and generally parted with a hug or handshake. Body language and eye contact were two crucial ingredients in this cocktail. So was humor. Emotional nuance is missing on Facebook, and Twitter — even when we add gobs of emojis.
But there’s no denying that the current polarization is about more than the tone-deafness of social media. We simply can’t seem to talk to those who don’t agree with us. I posed your question on Facebook, and many who replied agreed with author Ramona DeFelice Long, who wrote, “Trump supporters disturb me in a way that’s beyond disagreement.” Or this post from “Anonymous”: “If he’s okay with his Facebook friends dumping him for being a Clinton or Sanders supporter then I’d say go ahead. Polarized America, meet Polarized America.”
That pretty much sums it up: We are polarized. But instead of shutting out the other side, how about listening to them? One-click banishment is hardly a representation of the real world, and it’s not a solution to our fractious, political Armageddon. “I am less . . . likely at this point to ‘unfriend’ someone,” posted Michael Shawn Headley. “I want to know what they are thinking. I want to be able to challenge them, and maybe be the example — myself — of compassion or forgiveness.”
I agree. Step up. The way to resolve our differences is not with less talking but with more. Instead of shutting out those on the other side, listen to them. Instead of disparaging those who support Trump, try looking at what is causing their pain and anger.
Finally, borrow a page from the marriage-equality playbook. That effort proved successful because LGBT people personalized what same-sex marriage means to us (hospital visitation rights, tax benefits and more). Engage your friends, both online and in person, about the dangers a Trump, Cruz or Kasich presidency poses to our basic rights and freedoms.
Be mindful of your tone. Listen to different points of view; ask respectfully for sources of information you question. And don’t try to prove anything or win. One of my big life lessons is that being right doesn’t do much to bring out the love from a spouse or agreement from a friend.
A recent Pew Internet report concluded that 16 percent of Americans say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on various sites. That’s actually a huge number of voters, probably enough to sway the election. So, how about trying the chat button before you hit delete.
Oh, and unlike my earlier days, don’t drink while debating with friends or foes.
Update: The next LGBT battleground: The bathroom.
In the wake of bathroom panic in Houston and South Dakota , it’s time for a quick word about the passage of North Carolina’s HB2 on Wednesday. Not only did it eradicate all legal protections for gays and lesbians in the state, it will require transgender men and women to use the restroom that corresponds to their “biological sex.”
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) might wish he’d never signed the bill after he received a tweet from a trans man named James Parker Sheffield, 36. “It’s now the law for me to share a restroom with your wife,” he wrote as a caption to a photo showing a grown man with a beard wearing a baseball cap. Sheffield’s “biological sex” is female, but his gender identity is male. North Carolina’s new law requires Sheffield to use the ladies’ room. That is as good an example of the foolishness and incivility of the new law as any.
Agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments section below.
Join Petrow for an online chat Tuesday, March 29 at 1 p.m., at live.washingtonpost.com when he’ll be discussing North Carolina's "bathroom bill" with the ACLU, GLAAD and trans man James Parker Sheffield. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stevenpetrow.