I spend a lot of time writing about politics, thinking about politics, and conversing about politics in person and on social media. I am liberal in my approach to most things, and I almost always prefer the candidate from the democratic party over the candidate from the republican party. The things I write about, and comment about on social media, have a pretty clear left lean to them. Even if you don’t know me, and haven’t read anything else I’ve ever written, you would probably guess that I’m pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-immigration, pro-universal health care coverage, I support safety net programs to help those in need, and I am against tax cuts for the rich. I fit the identity in many ways. You’d be wrong to guess that I was vegan (I love to eat, and love to eat a variety of foods, including meat), and you’d be wrong if you guessed that I was against agricultural innovations like GMOs. But here’s what got me thinking about the topic of this post: I don’t feel the need to hide it when I disagree with the democratic party, or when I disagree with something said by a politician that I otherwise support. I also don’t feel the need to hide it when I agree with something said by a politician that I otherwise loathe. That doesn’t seem like it should be shocking to anybody, but I’m not sure that it’s the norm.
I honestly don’t know how many political discussions I’ve had on Facebook In the ten years since I signed up. I probably average about five a week, and some go on for days, so a rough estimate is two thousand six hundred separate conversations. Many of these are with the same people, and several of them will start to converse with me in the comment thread, but will at some point change to a private thread in messenger. This invariably is when they “admit” to me that they agree with some of what I’m saying, and that they don’t like something about the republican party.
In all of these cases, these are people I know. These are people who are not professional politicians. One of them has friends and business associations with republicans, but for all the others, I can’t understand what they think they have to lose by a public display of agreement with “the other side” or a display of disagreement with their “team.”
My liberal friends don’t seem to have a problem being critical of democrats (especially democrats in office…or Hillary Clinton) in the threads. I do get private messenger subthreads from a few liberal friends, but most of them are to have a side chat about how totally nuts we think something is that’s said by one of our right-leaning friends. I also get frequent messages asking me why I bother talking to some of these right-leaning folk, and how I can stay so patient with them.
And that’s where my public-private line gets drawn. I have no problem criticizing democrats in public. I have no problem agreeing with republicans in public. I do not, however, like to lose my patience in public. I might hold my head to keep it from exploding and yell at the screen in the privacy of my house, but I work hard to keep it from showing on facebook…I even do my best to avoid the ALL CAPS yell.
So I understand wanting some things to stay private. I do. I guess what I’m puzzled by is the team loyalty mentality that comes with non-professional discussions of politics. Perhaps it’s related to the all or nothing thinking that I’ve written about before (link). Perhaps some of these people think that they could have a future as a commentator (a job I would love to have), and they don’t want anything to come back to haunt them. But I think it’s more about how politics tends to become a part of our identity. I know it’s a part of mine. I know I think of myself as a liberal, and I know that’s a big part of how I see myself and who I am. Maybe some of us don’t mind changing our identity from time to time, and others do. Maybe I lack a sense of loyalty that’s valued in others. I don’t know what the difference is, but whatever it is, I find it pretty strange, especially because I think it makes people look more, not less, human to have complicated approaches to issues. But maybe that’s seen as weak by others. In one case, something I posted started a pretty long conversation, almost all among my more liberal friends, criticizing things about the approach and even some policies of the democratic party. After many comments, a conservative friend chimed in to say that he couldn’t imagine any of his right-leaning friends being this critical of the republican party, and that if they did, it would be seen as weak and lacking strength of conviction. He went on to say that maybe the type of conversation we were willing to have was part of why liberals are seen as weak, and republicans are seen as strong. Personally, I reject that republicans have a monopoly on strength, and I try to avoid making general conclusions based on anecdote, but it sure did fit with what seems to be a recurring theme among my friends. Like many things that I form these streams of consciousness about, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody somewhere has evaluated this in a scientific way. Maybe someday I’ll find that literature…or create it.