The instruction for unfriending someone on Facebook says to go to that person’s profile, hover over Friends at the top of their profile, and select “Unfriend.” It sounds simple enough, but the action is irreversible and requires acceptance of consequences. I have been hovering over my Trump-supporting Facebook friends for five years, trying to maintain balance between the affection I feel for a childhood hometown connection from 50 years ago and the disgust I feel for an unethical and amoral standard that I cannot accept now.
Holding a small measure of hope that they will turn around their thinking, actions, and support for the wannabe dictator, I have maintained these social media friendships. But I cannot hold my place here anymore. I am tired of being suspended in mid-air, hovering anxiously in the confusion and discomfort of their support for a man in whom I see no redeeming human qualities and a president who has caused so much pain and suffering.
How does the hummingbird do it? She never stops beating her wings. She can hover in mid-air long enough to sip out all the nectar she needs from a flower. Eating almost constantly from sunrise to sunset, she visits more than a thousand flowers every day. In the process of feeding, Hummingbird also pollinates the individual flowers she visits, helping to produce lush blooms in the garden. She does not waste her time and energy hovering over dead flowers.
With power in both the upward and the downward beats of her wings, Hummingbird has both lift and propulsion. Other birds have power only in the downward stroke of their wings. In addition, Hummingbird’s shoulder joint allows a rotation of 180 degrees, which enables her wings to pivot both forward and backward—like oars on a rowboat. By flapping her wings forward and then backward, the up-and-down forces and the forward-and-back forces cancel each other out, so Hummingbird hovers in one place. No other bird can rise vertically and fly in reverse. http://www.thespruce.com Hummingbird does all of this naturally, frequently changing direction in a split second. It is amazing and wondrous to watch.
Hummingbirds are also very vocal. Besides the humming, buzzing, and popping sounds of their rapidly beating wings, they also make chittering, chirpy sounds. Both females and males can be feisty, aggressive, and territorial, often bickering with each other for hours at a time. They have more fight in them than I do.
Like Hummingbird, many of us in these times have had to perform awesome aerobatics to adjust to the chaos of a Trump administration and the impacts of a pandemic. One shock after another to democracy and decency has left us darting forward, sideways, backward, and upside down, our wings beating furiously to maintain balance, keep us stable and secure, and help us carry on a dialogue to make some sense of everything around us. Also like Hummingbird, we have occasionally darted too aggressively at our opponents, bickering in unproductive and unhelpful ways. An amazing feat, actually, that so many of us have survived.
Suspended in mid-air like Hummingbird, I have fluttered, drifted, hung on, and steadied myself through the ever-expanding chaos, dysfunction, and destruction of the 2016 campaign and this 2016-2020 presidency. Unlike Hummingbird, however, whose natural design keeps a rich supply of blood and oxygen flowing into her muscles as she flies so that she does not tire even with her rapid wing rate and constant vocalizations, I have grown tired of hovering in mid-air. I have collided with immovable objects. There is no benefit in the unyielding collision, nothing good to be gained. The flowers I have hovered over are not open; they are not receptive and have nothing to give.
My efforts to engage with Trump-supporting Facebook friends on matters I care about have not grown our connection. They have left me feeling exasperated, dismayed, and discouraged. If these individuals would take time to engage with me in respectful debate, I would gladly take part. But they do not. Whether they lack the interest, knowledge, ability, or intelligence for meaningful dialogue and active listening is unclear. What is clear is that they would rather spout conspiracy theories and falsehoods—and go unchallenged—than face the truth and the reality of his failed leadership.
So I have to ask myself why I have kept these Trump-supporting Facebook friendships. Here are my answers:
- I have a sense of loyalty to the group, to the class of 1976—my high school graduating class.
- I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I do not want them to dislike me.
- I fear letting them go may affect my friendships with other former classmates.
- I think I have to be a nice, polite, tolerant, forgiving gay person whom they call “friend” in order to increase their tolerance and prevent them from voting against LGBTQ rights.
- I believe my relentless pursuit and promotion of the truth will eventually create positive change.
After asking myself if the above thoughts are true, really true (as I learned from Byron Katie), here is the truth without fear:
- Being clear about what my boundaries are, what friendship is to me, and what I want friendships to be moving forward is not being disloyal to anyone. It is being true to myself.
- My intention in unfriending someone is not to hurt their feelings but rather to take care of my own. I accept that I may hurt someone’s feelings. In letting go, I wish them all well.
- I must let go of the fear of being disliked by childhood classmates with whom I have no connection as an adult. Besides, it is none of my business what other people think of me.
- The dear and authentic friendships that I have reclaimed, renewed, and nurtured inside and outside of Facebook will be just fine. They are built on mutual love and respect.
- It is not my responsibility as a member of the LGBTQ community to placate my oppressors. It is a false belief that they will stop oppressing me simply because I am a good person.
- I will continue to defend the truth and help create a better future, but these relationships are draining me, so I need to shift my energy where I can make a difference.
I have come to understand and accept that there is no hope for authentic friendship here. There is no reaching across the aisle to shake their hand or give them a hug. It is not possible to maintain an authentic friendship without mutual respect. We have irreconcilable differences, so it is time to end the relationships. In letting them go, I do wish them well. I hope they turn around their thinking and actions, for their own sake, for the sake of their children and grandchildren, for the sake of future generations, and for the earth, but I am not holding my breath.
Should anyone recommend that I simply “Unfollow” the Trump supporters on Facebook rather than “Unfriend” them, I did that already a few years ago. Should anyone encourage me to continue trying to have a meaningful dialogue with them, I would say that for five years now, I have tried to engage respectfully.
On topics ranging from conservatism to corporate greed, from gun control to mail-in voting, from foreign relations to FEMA, from the Me Too movement to Black Lives Matter, from immigration to LGBTQ rights, from racist mascot names to verbal bullying, and from the COVID-19 pandemic to one of the most powerful speeches about feminism in our lifetime given by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—I have tried to engage. I have listened, shared fact checks, provided links to good articles, shared firsthand accounts of what is happening here in Portland, and appealed to science, history, reason, compassion, human decency, and common sense.
In recent years, I have also grown in my understanding of the issues, concerns, and conditions that resulted in a Trump presidency. My road trip across the country last year helped to deepen my awareness, understanding, compassion, and empathy. But the lies, attacks against democracy, failure to lead, and lack of decency in the current administration have not served anyone except the wealthiest in America.
A particularly telling exchange was when I used a personal appeal about this administration’s threats to me as a gay woman. One of my Trump-supporting Facebook friends dismissed my concerns, using the argument that Trump said he would not reverse the gay marriage ruling. The individual presented his argument as though marriage equality were the only human rights concern important to the LGBTQ community, as though threats to housing, employment, health care, and safety for LGBTQ people were not real. Not only was this person’s argument ignorant and unreasonable, it was also harmful. It was a page out of Trump’s playbook.
In both public and private platforms, I have stood up to the lies and the disrespectful rhetoric. All to no avail. Wasted words and energy. Trump’s supporters just regurgitate the same falsehoods and launch the same old attacks against liberals, Democrats, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and now Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They attack because they have no legitimate platform on which to stand and converse. They have no plan to help get us through anything.
Trump says that liberals, anti-fascists, anarchists, and the so-called deep state are creating chaos and destruction in our cities, including my beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, where peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue throughout the city. On any given night, the vast majority of our city streets and neighborhoods are unaffected by conflicts between police and protesters. While there have been small fires and vandalism, looting has been extremely limited, and violence involving protesters and the public is rare. It was Trump’s political stunt of sending federal immigration and border enforcement officers to our city that escalated violence. And he continues to incite violence, encouraging his supporters to go out and aggressively confront protesters, as they did this week in Portland.
The chaos, destruction, violence, economic collapse, staggering loss of human life across the nation—it has all happened under his watch, but he takes no responsibility. He told us so.
Remember what Nancy Pelosi so wisely observed: everything Trump says is a projection. Whatever disparaging thing he says about another reflects the person he is. Whatever proclamation he makes about a subject reveals his own vulnerability on the subject. Therefore, he is the chaos and the destruction.
Agreeing to disagree is not the solution to this conflict. Agree to disagree is what I do to pacify an argument about whether local coffee brewers are better than Starbucks. I will not agree to disagree on matters of racial equality and justice, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, gun control, immigration, health care, environmental protection, response to a pandemic, and other important matters of life and death to which I see no conciliatory end with this administration.
After giving all of this much thought, I have decided to unfriend Trump supporters from my Facebook account. This is not a political decision; nor is it an act of hate or unkindness. The divide between us is not political; it is personal. It is a moral divide. The words and actions of Trump and his supporters bring no joy or peace to my life. In fact, they adversely affect my immune system.
Life is too short and the stakes too high on what really matters. I want to use my time and energy wisely in ways that are purposeful, fulfilling, joyful, and healthy. The loss of a few childhood acquaintances through the removal of social media connections does not amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things. I am not a collector of Facebook friends and “likes.” What matters to me is respectful sharing of our lives, our creative projects, and the things we care about.
The bottom line is that Trump and his supporters are risking the lives of people I deeply care about, the health of a planet I deeply care about, and the democracy of a country I deeply care about. That is the truth. What I think, say, and do about all of that matters. Am I angry? Yes. Do not confuse anger with hate. Anger is a legitimate response to the harm that Trump and his administration have done and will do if re-elected.
Being silent to avoid conflict is being complicit, but watering, fertilizing, and poking at a dead plant is a waste of resources. Hovering over dead flowers garners no nectar for the hummingbird and reduces the good work of pollination that she can do elsewhere. So, I will follow the social marketing model for changing behavior, and that is to feed the green sprouts—to engage in political and moral debate where there is an opportunity to make a difference and create positive change. And I will feed and pollinate where there is joy to be shared. That is the lesson from Hummingbird.
Composed August 29-30, 2020—after the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention were held for the 2020 presidential election in the United States of America, and after weeks of watching hummingbirds hovering over the potted plants of bee balm, hibiscus, salvia, and phlox in my balcony garden.