While I don’t know anyone who traveled to Washington D.C. after the president tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” it has been sickening, disturbing, heartbreaking, infuriating, and frankly dystopian these last months watching the on-line, social media brainwashing of some of my oldest friends.
Here is the story of one of those friends. I’ll call her Diana.
Diana is in her 50s, big smile, a do-gooder, healthy eater, extremely fit, white, religious, conservative, a grandmother. And until 2020, seemingly apolitical. We have not spoken much this last decade, keeping up with each other’s lives, as many of us do these days, on Facebook.
Last summer, seemingly out of nowhere, Diana started showing up on my Facebook page to debate politics. She wanted to know why people in my comment section, people she did not know, believed the “liberal agenda.” She sometimes became argumentative to the point I would just delete my original post altogether in lieu of letting the arguing continue.
I then noticed she’d started posting political content on her own page, which was unusual, posts about how Covid-19 was nothing more than the flu and how being made to wear masks infringed on her freedom. No, she wrote, she would NOT be taking any vaccine.
Come September, she shared a tweet from the president that read: The Democrats never even mentioned the words LAW & ORDER at their National Convention. That’s where they are coming from. If I don’t’ win, America’s suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, “Friendly Protestors.”
Then came the stream of posts about child sex trafficking with photos of Ivanka Trump, thanking Ms. Trump for “saving the children!” and writing about how it was time she and the “silent majority” made themselves heard.
After the November 3 election, Diana deactivated her Facebook account—a place that, prior to Summer 2020, had consisted entirely of family portraits, vacation montages, pictures of her dogs and her grandchildren—as well as her Twitter and Instagram accounts, and made a big pronouncement about moving to Parler.
I, too, opened a Parler account to keep track not only of Diana, but of other friends and vocal Kentucky Republicans who’d made a big show of ditching Facebook for Parler where they could be “free” and be “heard” and where they could follow President Trump’s biggest megaphones like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Jenna Ellis, Sydney Powell, Linn Wood, etc…. without “MSM censorship” as they tried to “stop the steal.”
I checked Diana’s Parler page almost daily. She didn’t post much of her own content and certainly no photos, but she often echoed (Parler’s version of the Like button) posts about how the election was being stolen, freedom from the liberal agenda, how Joe Biden would retire for phony health reasons by Summer 2021 to make room for that radical socialist/communist Kamala Harris.
Around Christmas, she wrote something like, “Keep fighting! We love you President Trump!” followed by a red heart and an American flag emoji.
A couple of days into 2021, I’d had enough of Parler. I couldn’t watch anymore. In the span of about six months, I no longer recognized the friend I’ve known for half my life. I deleted my Parler account.
Why am I telling this story? Because after the unspeakable, horrifying events of January 6, after the terroristic fruits of radicalization, I’m wondering what’s next.
If you’re a fan of The West Wing, you’ll recognize “what’s next?” as President Bartlet’s signature line. Okay, the fictional president would say when it was time to move on, time to take on the next big problem at hand, what’s next?
In her book “Surviving Autocracy” Masha Gessen writes, “The country that elected Trump was a country … that had already begun to damage itself in the way that Trumpism exacerbated. He preyed on the fear, he weaponized the hatred, and he filled the void left by the lack of vision. To reverse Trump’s autocratic attempt, we will have to abandon the idea of returning to an imaginary pre-Trump normalcy when American institutions functioned as they should. Instead, we have to recall that what undergirds the Congress and the courts, the media and civil society, is the belief that this can be a country of all its people.”
Donald Trump may have lost the election, but 75 million Americans voted for him. Almost half the electorate watched this vile, hateful, ignorant man for 4 years and said yes, more please. Donald Trump is leaving the Oval Office, but his followers remain. Followers like those who stormed the capitol. Followers like my friend Diana.
So what’s next?
What’s next, with a Republican Congress who cowers in fear of him and his followers, afraid for their lives and the lives of their families?
What’s next, to get us through and past Covid-19 and the shambles left by this monster and his arrogantly incompetent administration?
What’s next, after our own president gleefully radicalized Americans to the point they traveled to Washington D.C. at his behest and violently stormed our nation’s capitol, intending to stop the certification of a free and fair election?
What’s next, in an America where a 50-something, normally apolitical, financially stable, privileged grandmother can be rendered unrecognizable, brainwashed on social media in less than a year?
What, in God’s name, is next?