There was a time in my life when I thought, “Hey, maybe when this whole journalism thing is all done, I’ll take a stab at politics, and run for local office.”
I studied political science in college, and I had a sincere interest in it. I thought — with all humility aside — that I could serve the public well, and honestly, and if I worked hard at it I might be able to help make my community a better place.
That was before social media and the politics of personal destruction came home to roost. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that, even if public service is motivated by the right reasons, it’s not worth the personal hell one must go through.
Take, for example, the race to fill the 25th Congressional District seat. Vying for the seat are Republican Mike Garcia and Democrat Christy Smith. Garcia won the special election on Tuesday to fill the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill’s term, and the two will hit “reset” and do it all over again for the November election to win a two-year term.
I believe both Smith and Garcia are decent people — and, good for us, homegrown Santa Clarita Valley residents — who each think they can represent our community well in Washington. They have different views on how best to do that, and that should be OK. There’s nothing wrong with vigorous debate and a difference of opinion. That’s quintessentially American.
However, tolerance of opposing views seems to be an ever more endangered species.
The candidates’ supporters — on both sides — have provided us a case study in blind loyalty and the politics of personal destruction. No longer is it sufficient to just have an honest discussion of the issues and to highlight those areas in which we agree or disagree. The “true believers” and the campaign hacks on both sides feel a compelling need to tear the other side down, often unfairly.
I guess the thinking is, that sort of thing works. Machiavelli would be proud.
There have been campaign ads, Facebook posts, letters to the editor and more, in which a supporter of one candidate or the other — sometimes with the candidate’s involvement, and often not — spews vitriol, distorts the opponent’s record or past statements, and even mocks the opposing candidate.
To those “true believers,” truth is what they want it to be, rendering it a casualty of political war. Their comments on any social media thread are entirely predictable, because they are derived from the true believer’s preconceived notions and, often, pure hatred. The snark is relentless, from the left and the right alike.
Thanks, but no thanks. To anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to subject themselves to that, you have my respect and sympathy.
Might I change my mind someday? Sure. Always possible. But if I do, I’ll have to do it with my eyes open that people — especially those who shoot from the hip on social media without regard for details like truth and human decency — will twist, distort, de-contextualize and more in the interest of assassinating my character. And they’ve got more than 20 years’ worth of my writings to distort and strip of context.
Having a thick skin has always been necessary in politics. But now, with so many fearless partisans having an easy platform to spew their venom to large audiences, you’d better be planning on swimming in a pool of the stuff.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears on Sundays unless there’s a global pandemic.