This week, former Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend Indiana Pete Buttigieg had several clips go viral online.
For those of you who don't know him, "Mayor Pete" was one of the Democratic presidential primary candidates this election cycle and during the primary process, he became the first openly gay candidate to place first in state delegates won at the Iowa caucus back in February of 2020. He also now works on the Biden-Harris campaign and even acted as the role of Mike Pence in helping Kamala Harris prepare for last week's vice presidential debate.
Based on this description of him, some of you may assume that he went viral for a clip posted to an outlet like Occupy Democrats, MSNBC, or NowThis Politics. However, all of you would be mistaken. Buttigieg went viral this week for interviews he did on Fox News. To many, these interviews may not signify much at all. But to me, they were a demonstration that now more than ever is the time to keep having conversations especially with people who disagree with you.
Buttigieg could have easily declined to speak on Fox News and chosen instead to focus his efforts on speaking to Democratic audiences who he knows will not scrutinize or disagree with him. But there's a value in a broad and diverse coalition and Buttigieg has the eloquence, intelligence, and overall demeanor to expand the base of voters for Joe Biden to include what he affectionately calls "future former Republicans."
Buttigieg's actions this week should serve as a reminder to all of us that the important conversations are happening around us right now and more importantly that we should never back down from having them with people who disagree with us.
So often, I find the course of behavior for the average person confronted with conflict goes as follows:
- Post something about your beliefs online
- Someone disagrees or calls you out
- That person is blocked or you take the post down
- You "take a break" from social media
I think that this common course of action following a disagreement about politics is deeply flawed and illustrates one of the greatest downsides to the experience of using social media.
Consider if this were a conversation you were having in real life, and someone approached you to disagree with your opinion. You wouldn't be able to mute them for a month and I hope you wouldn't just turn around and walk away from the conversation entirely. But this is the experience of interaction online that I see far too often. Now more than ever in the age of coronavirus, many of our interactions are being carried out online where it is easiest to not engage with those who think differently than you do.
In speaking with Fox News this week, Buttigieg has reminded us all that there is no mute button in real life, and that there is no walking away from challenging questions. He reminds us that it is all of our duties to engage with those who disagree with us in a productive way.
In saying this, I hope I do not inspire anyone to be overly aggressive or combative online. That is not the way to pursue the task of talking with those who have opposing viewpoints. Instead, I hope that people will speak to those in their families or friend groups who disagree in a positive and productive way. This means calling your great aunt out when she shares conspiracy theories about where Kamala Harris was born. This means explaining to your friend that mail-in ballots are not actually fraudulent at all. This means digging your heels in when someone online resorts to calling you names as a response to you challenging their obviously flawed line of reasoning. But above all, it means always engaging with others in the same way Buttigieg engages with those who watch Fox News — it means being level-headed, intelligent, and fiercely committed to the truth.
So, I encourage all of you to stop pressing the snooze button on conversations that make you uncomfortable. Lean into the feeling of discomfort you get from telling that woman in your comment section that masks DO work despite her belief in conspiracy theories that they are ineffective. Back yourself up with facts and reliable sources and keep pushing to have important conversations. Do all of these things because this is how we overcome the Trump age of disinformation and conspiracy theories. Do it because this is how we expand the coalition of people fighting to elect Biden and Harris. Do it not only because this is how we win in November, but also because it is how we begin to heal and find the strength to bury the chapter of Trump deep in the garbage can of history where it belongs.