Politics has been an exhausting and ugly endeavor this year, and we’ve still got six full weeks to go until Election Day. I’m sure most of us have seen stories about or heard people say that, dissatisfied by the choices before them, they intend to sit this year out. And you don’t need me to make the case for why staying home is not an option: That it is our civic duty and in our civic interest to vote, and, to own and embrace the rights of a democracy that so many have fought and died for, and that so many still seek.
What I would like to address, not for the first time, is the importance of not shying away from the online discourse about politics.
You are, no doubt, aware of the vile state of online ‘discourse.’ Maybe you’ve even experienced being a target of the anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying, racist and sexist images, memes and comments being posted on news media sights and in twitter storms. Frankly, this stuff isn’t new, much of it has deep roots in hate movements going back generations. But it has been amplified and brought out of the dark corners and into our online town square during this very political year.
I get why, right now, giving up on social media seems to be all the rage. But we can’t afford to withdraw and disengage – especially not now. Our silence in the virtual public square is not the answer.
Our response – to distortions of fact, to vilification of others and to vile discourse needs to be a wider engagement in responsible conversations about the great challenges of our time with our friends, coworkers and others; in person and on social media.
The Jewish approach to addressing difficult questions throughout our history has been to engage in more discourse. The Talmud offers the idea that when making hard decisions, Sh’tikah Ke’Hoda’a, or, “Silence = Consent.” We cannot afford to be silent about our nation’s future. Leaving the public square at this critical moment would not end the hateful online discourse; it would only cede the space to others, who do not share our interests, our values, and our commitment to the common good.
What Can You Do?
Do not shy away from addressing critical questions you see on social media. Comment on sites and articles about issues of concern, offering your own informed insights. Send letters to editors of local papers. Share articles on social media that reflect the complexity of the challenges we face and which offer thoughtful analysis and well-reasoned recommendations. Invite the feedback, expose the haters.
And then, come November 8th, as Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted the other day:
And if you haven't yet, register to vote.