Social media puts us in echo chambers where our own extreme views become normalized.
Social media allowed fake news to proliferate, putting populists (and some demagogues) in power.
Social media has made it easier for populists and their supporters to sway public opinion.
Social media makes it easy for us to publicly hate and despise those that disagree with our views.
But demonizing “the other side” is the opposite of what we should do. I was inspired by this recent article in the Washington Post about Hugo Chavez’s rise to power, and how it should not be allowed to repeat. One passage stood out for me:
The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.
That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.
To fight the rise of populist demagogues, we must reach across the aisle, the income gap, digital divide, what have you, and understand the other person’s point of view. Read their tweets, find out what drives them, and we will soon realize that at the end of the day, we all want the same things: Love, comfort, security, a future for our children, the freedom to enjoy what we earned. Understand what makes a suburban mother of two vote for a misogynist, sexist demagogue. She didn’t do it to spite liberals, she’s fearful because she sees the loss of jobs around her, and growing income inequality. She wants her children to have a future, so she’s doing what she believes will bring about change.
From the same article (emphasis mine):
You can be different. Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires. Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.
It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.