So quiet that it’s tempting to think: “Phew! That was a tough few years. Thank goodness it’s all over, so we can get back to normal.”
It is not, and we are not.
This blessed silence on Twitter -- I feel like I can actually hear birds -- is a false peace. It is, as Dr. King described it, that false peace that is the absence of tension rather than the true peace that is the presence of justice.
Set aside the deadly pandemic and the millions of people in financial strife. The thing that is not over is the phenomenon that led him to power in the first place.
See, it was never about him. He’s the natural evolution of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, who in turn was the natural evolution of David Duke mounting a credible challenge for the governorship of Louisiana in 1991.
Duke of course is best known as a former Grand Wizard of the KKK, and he’s the natural evolution of the first Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest led the Confederate forces in the Fort Pillow Massacre, slaughtering 350 Black Union soldiers after they had surrendered.
After the Civil War, Forrest was pardoned by Lincoln, who was trying to lower the temperature. Trying to get people to say, “Phew! That was a tough few years. Thank goodness it’s all over, so we can get back to normal.”
Why am I going all the way back to the Civil War? Because, while we need to be attentive to the way social media is undermining critical thinking and civic discourse, we also need to understand that the challenges we face did not start with our most recent president, and they will not end with the current one.
We laughed at Sarah Palin. She didn’t know what magazines she read, and she could see Russia from her house -- and we laughed and laughed, the same way we laughed at the man who just fled to Florida, with his ridiculous escalator and his ridiculous hair and his mangling of the English language.
Supporters of both felt, not unreasonably, we were laughing at them. And they got angrier and angrier and convinced more and more people that they should be angry, too.
Right now, there is a parade of 74 million people waiting for someone to get out in front of them and lead again. Right now, there are plenty of people vying for that opportunity, including people serving in Congress who actively encouraged the same insurrection that earned the former president his second impeachment.
Some of those people have also been suspended from Twitter and Facebook. But they will find their way: to Parler, and Gab, and Alex Jones’ self-hosted show. If we tell ourselves it’s all over and pretend we are back to normal, the cycle will continue. And when they emerge, once again, as a force, we will laugh, at first, and that is how we will know that we have learned nothing.
It’s quiet on Twitter. But “quiet on Twitter” doesn’t mean “problem disappeared.” “Quiet on Twitter” doesn’t equal resolution, or healing, or justice. Let us not mistake the social media platforms for reality. Let us see reality for what it is, so that we may do what is necessary for true peace.