For those of us that grew up in the information age, the memory of someone in our lives warning of the dangers of speaking your mind too freely online isn't too distant. Now more than ever, our social media has become self-branding, networking, proof of our relevance and ability to behave with tact in an adjacent public sphere, and an archive for which others can do quiet research on us with or without our full knowledge.
As a result, teachers, advisers, and guidance counselors tell us to keep vulgarity and base humor out of the picture and follow the rules of "polite company": if you won't say it around children or in front of your grandmother, keep it off public profiles. The idea is our social queues of whose immediately present don't extend into an entire friend's list past, present, and future anymore than it covers the college applications, interviewers, or even future in-laws that might be scouring the web for an insight into you as a human being. There are real-life consequences for slipping up - missing out on a scholarship, losing a job, or even offending a potential friend or networking contact without realizing the first thing that comes up with your name on Google is a heinous tweet from 2010 or a less-flattering photo that you should have never been tagged in. What's appropriate on a Saturday night with peers might not be so great at 9am on a Monday in an office when an assistant does a quick reputation-check before your meeting with a hiring manager. Or how a revenge post of intimate photos from your ex can turn into a career-ruining nightmare.
When posting, many of us know better than to post without considering the broadest possible audience that could potentially see it. When thinking of this "polite company" rule, however, does it extend into all social graces? What about the controversies your mother begs you to dodge at family reunions, like politics and religion?
I've personally given this consideration a great deal of thought this past year. All of my core values, personal research, sense of humanity and ethics, ideological views, and belief in human decency feel strongly opposed to the Trump administration. As a man proud of prejudice, a long history of mistreating people, and the ability to make absolutely anything and everything extremely personal (one look at his Twitter account makes it clear his world is distorted into an extreme worship-Trump or "losers-that-despise-Trump" binary), he brings up more than traditional platform debates. Is it talking politics to say "grab them by the p****" is offensive, predatory, evidence that counts towards a horrifying amount of sexual assault accusations, and misogynistic? Is it talking politics to say that his first campaign speech was full of unfounded racism? Is it talking politics to say we should be horrified that he is stealing national money to fund golf trips and keep his wife living in partially-estranged luxury in New York City? Is it talking politics to say that him insulting another nation for whom we have been on the brink of nuclear war for decades is terrifying, dangerous, and one of many acts of a mad man?
If he himself refuses to behave with professionalism and the usual boundaries of political rhetoric, and as I would argue, refuses to act presidential while being entirely unfit for office, is it talking politics to return that same lack of decorum?
After a certain point, is it even ethical that I'm concerned about retweeting a damning post from a meaningful and qualified contributor because I'm a senior wondering if a potential future employer will like Trump, or the absence of objectivity will harm a chance at professional or graduate-study journalistic pursuits? Is that not selling out? When is it bad judgement or poor manners to speak your mind, and when does it become blatantly unethical not to?
Well, now. We've crossed that line.
The amount of tongue-biting it takes to be polite and professional, particularly online, is more difficult some nights more than others under this administration for me. The State of the Union address was one of them.
It is a national tragedy is that I'm a 20-something studying in nowhere, Massachusetts with no presently immediate impact on global affairs and I have exerted more self-control and impulse-tweet-filtering in the last 24 hours than POTUS during his entire campaign.
Which is saying a great deal, because about 3 hours ago the words "orange devil" (only a conservative step down from my usual quip of 'cheeto demon' and some timely Oscar Wilde quotes) found their way to a Facebook post. It's not as though I slipped on my keyboard - creativity is coping, and disoriented rage is the fallback for those of us running on fumes. Presuming we survive the next three years and find a replacement that doesn't continue the constant threat of an impending reign of terror (I'll take anything closer to 44 than 45 at this point), the nation will need a time of healing and rest after. (Not to mention, the challenges ahead for presidential predecessors in damage repair are mounting daily.)
It's alarmingly easy to open-mouth-insert-foot in the land of eternal records, where history cannot die - only haunt you - and everything you say lasts forever: the internet. Sometimes, though, you have to say something. Sometimes the world is too strange, extreme, and exaggerated for satire to wrap its mind around, and our traditional civility is bought out, chewed up, or banned from the White House press room. There's a call to action and the rules don't apply as they used to.
Tweets. Picketing. Marching. Praying. Donating. Something to speak up and speak out. It's a moral imperative, a personal compulsion, and a coping mechanism - a matter of sanity,a question of the right side of history, and a need those of us staring in horror to have a solidarity as a band aid restoration over lost faith in humanity.
It's why we're all asking the same questions:
Anyone else seeing this? Anyone else HEARING this?
Anyone else crossing themselves every time they update themselves on breaking news and the global state of the affairs?
It's not just me right?
Is existential dread just a sign of the times?
If it feels like you're on thin ice, can we really afford not to be deliberately political? We're living in slippery-slope times where everything we say and do and are becomes inherently political. Some people are more conscious of this designation than others - particularly those whose personal lives can be destroyed, frayed, threatened, or even ended because of a powerful rich stranger's opinions - the kind that become legislation - on their rights to live and exist.
We can't be distant from politics now, even those of us who don't feel wired for those conversations and lack general interest. Those with certain privileges have the luxury of being theoretical about it - they live bulletproof lives and can walk through political battlefields unscathed, treating policy like hobbyist ideology with nothing on the line. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should ignore what's happening and affecting those around you. Just because you're here doesn't mean you relate to drafted boots on the ground.
Refusing to make a meaningful, ethical contradiction to the world you don't want to see isn't just keeping your head down or not taking a stand -- it's pure complacency. If you don't understand now, after all this time, why that's the most dangerous thing you can do, take a walk to the library. Pick up Elie Wiesel.