Twitter has become a parody of the simplistic approach with which Americans seek to deal with complex political issues.
There is nothing wrong with Twitter, of course. It’s a fun and often useful method of interaction. More than 500 million of people use the service, generating about 400 million tweets per day.
One of the things that sets Twitter apart from other forms of social media is its brevity. While many tweets link to stories or photos, the tweet itself is limited to 140 characters.
What’s sad about the quality of political discourse these days is that 140 characters is usually plenty.
Americans crave simplicity. We want every statement to be either true or false.
Take the increasingly tragic turmoil in Egypt. Those politically inclined to disagree with President Barack Obama are convinced every step he takes is indisputably wrong. His supporters take the opposite stance.
The reality, though, is that no solution is obvious. On the one hand, in the first democratic election in the nation’s history, Egyptians chose Mohammed Morsi. Americans are firm in their belief that democracy is the best form of government. On the other hand, Morsi is a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood and his actions as president undermined the population’s democratic ambitions.
Many Americans were infuriated that Obama declined to call the Egyptian military’s overthrow of Morsi a coup, but labeling it as such would have required an end to U.S. aid to the country.
Some say we should end aid immediately, but once again the issue is not so simple. U.S. aid gives us leverage. We do not just embrace Egypt because it aspires to be a democracy, but also because of its strategic value. Its location gives it control of oil reserves and the Suez Canal, both critical to U.S. interests. It is next to Israel, America’s most important ally in the Middle East.
Experts disagree on how America should respond to the crisis in Egypt. There is no obviously correct solution, but Americans are determined that the answer is so obvious it fits in a 140-character tweet.
As evidence mounts that the government of Syria is using chemical weapons, we again are confronted with complexity. Because opponents of the Syrian government are desperate for U.S. intervention, it is conceivable they are using chemical weapons in an effort to inflame the U.S. public. Even if the Syrian government is using chemical weapons to kill its opponents, is military intervention wise? We have seen too clearly in Afghanistan and Iraq that U.S.-led wars rarely play out as planned. The people we hope to protect often become victims.
The Twittersphere has been on fire over revelations that the National Security Administration has been engaged in the bulk collection of the phone records of U.S. citizens. How could anyone support such a brazen intrusion into our privacy? But again, the issue is not simple. Most Americans love their country, but some are plotting to do it harm. NSA’s efforts to protect the nation may be excessive, but the balance between privacy and safety is complex.
The polarization that infects American politics stems from our efforts at oversimplification. Debate is healthy, but rage should be reserved for political judgments that are unambiguously wrong. Life would be easier if problems fit neatly into 140-character solutions, but they rarely do.