Late Saturday night, a high-school classmate sent me a Facebook chat message:
So what is your point? Are you with [another high school classmate] and the other [Orange County] fools or do you believe in meaningful and potent American soft power politics in China of three generations of slave descendants in the White House?
My classmate was writing to me in response to my link-share on Facebook. You see, I had read in the New York Times about the First Lady’s spring-break trip to China with her daughters and mother. The headline was this: “Politics Won’t Be on First Lady’s China Itinerary.”
The article also noted that journalists wouldn’t be traveling with the First Lady, and she wouldn’t be granting interviews while on the trip. So, it struck me as odd. The trip sounded more personal than business to me. In fact, the mainstream media has labeled the trip as a spring-break vacation.
Now, I am a registered Independent. I don’t really hew to any party line, and I am liberal on some issues, conservative on others, and in-the-middle on most. And, I am confident about speaking up and exercising free speech.
So, I posted on Facebook that I didn’t think it was good policy or politics for such a taxpayer-funded trip. When the First Family travels, the security detail is supposedly 70-people strong, and so, this China trip struck me as a very expensive family vacation.
Finding apples-to-apples cost data is difficult, but there’s no question that these trips are expensive. A 1999 Presidential trip to China involving 500+ travelers cost $19 million, excluding Secret Service costs. The President’s 2013 Africa trip cost $60 million to $100 million according to The Washington Post (more here). And, this isn’t a partisan issue. In W.’s last term, Laura Bush made numerous trips to Africa.
Now, back to the China trip. The next morning, the Times ran another article. The First Lady gave a substantive speech on the importance of political freedom. So, I then shared a link to that article on Facebook, saying that I thought it was great of her to do that.
Later, I received the above chat message. My classmate (I guess) had read my first post but not the second and wanted to defend the First Lady. That’s his right.
On the flip side, another high-school classmate often shares Tea Party memes on Facebook. Some of the photos and captions are funny, and others are acerbic. Two high-school classmates. Their politics couldn’t be more different. I’m seeing first-hand in the digital world the polarization of America.
As you may know, I really love this country. My fear is that we seem to be turning against ourselves. We seem to be losing the ability to have civil discourse and craft “win-win” solutions. Our elected leaders are accomplishing very little. Moreover, to me, politics today feels too zero-sum. A blood sport. “If you’re not on my side, you’re a fool,” is often the tone.
We’re all free to express our strong opinions. But, when the Facebook chats finish and the politicians conclude their speeches and press conferences, I’m still asking one question.
It’s this: “Now what?”