In My Own Words: National Everyone Shut Up About Politics Day

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Executive Editor

What if we called a Shabbat on political social media? Or, even better, what if we decided there should be a Rosh Hashanah (meaning two days that are legally considered one long day) when no political social media would be posted? Regular readers of this column will think I’m talking about President Donald Trump, which is understandable, but I want this to cover all political parties. Or, if we can’t stop politicians from posting, what if we just ignored them?
Imagine, tweeting to get a reaction and being ignored. Since many people are tweeting simply to provoke reactions – good or bad – from those affected by the statements they tweet, being ignored is the worst thing that could happen to them. Publicity hungry folks might implode from the lack of reaction. Or write wilder and wilder things just to get someone to react, which would give us insight into their character and standards.
A confession is necessary here: I am not on Twitter. I don’t ever plan to be on Twitter because it seems that, at one time or other, almost everyone on Twitter says something that’s either stupid or gets them into trouble or both. When Twitter first came out, I joked that I can’t say anything meaningful in only 150 characters. The reality of that is that most problems we face are too complex to be solved with sound bites.
You might be excused for thinking that I’m anti-politics, but that’s not true. It’s just I miss reading educated, well-thought-out essays about problems that recognize their complexity. Those essays and opeds couldn’t appear immediately, which means the writers had time to think about their ideas, rather than releasing them in a rough, simplistic form. It also meant advisors and editors had the opportunity to comment on a piece before it was published in order to make certain the issues were stated clearly. (Believe me, I appreciate that type of editing for this column. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been saved by someone suggesting I change a word or clarify a sentence.)
Social media also makes it too easy for debates to focus on personalities, rather than issues. The discussions become an argument about people rather than ideas. The increased noise – and the ease of posting –makes it easier for things to get nasty. That includes name calling and snide remarks that have no place in our political system.
Those tweeting often make comments quickly before they’ve really had time to study an issue. When criticism – even if it’s legitimate – comes, some people react badly because everything is done publicly and that tends to feel more like a personal attack. But our feelings are less important than working for the good of our country.
That phrase – the good of our country – has been used more frequently in this column as I see politicians caring more about their personal agenda or keeping their party in office (that’s true for both sides) than helping our country. The political polarization in the United States is dangerous – literally. What used to be expressed in words is now being expressed with guns and blood. Maybe if we all just shut up for a day one week, things might get better. Then again, the cynic in me wonders if the political split is now too wide for us to ever come together. I can only hope I’m wrong.