Stephen Trimble: Facebook, alas, is not the neighborhood bar

My Facebook thread is our national dilemma, writ tiny.

(Jon Elswick | AP photo) Some of the Facebook and Instagram ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues, released by members of the U.S. House Intelligence committee, are photographed in Washington, on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. A report compiled by private researchers and released by the Senate intelligence committee Monday says that "active and ongoing" Russian interference operations still exist on social media platforms, and that the Russian operation discovered after the 2016 presidential election was much broader than once thought.

I have one Donald Trump supporter in my blue progressive Facebook bubble. He’s a devotee of the full-throated Fox News/Newsmax feed. He wants us all to believe in the endless stream of conspiracies about Hunter Biden, a stolen election and Antifa infiltrators at the Capitol riot.

My Trumpist friend believes that his extremist sources have uncovered secret truths. I believe Carl Bernstein when he tells us that he and his “mainstream media” cohorts are seeking “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I rarely respond to this friend’s comments, which deeply frustrates him. But leaving him in the feed gives me a shred of hope. He reads my posts, and so maybe these pieces I share from journalists at The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, et al., will have an impact. I could be wrong. I’ve noticed that all my Facebook friends are far more enthusiastic about my photos of redrock canyons at sunset than they are about my links to political commentary.

Both my longtime friends in the real world who follow my posts and my Facebook-only friends have asked me to block him. They send me concerned messages.

“His input is not helpful or thoughtful, and he slams into you personally. We don’t need more hate and divisiveness.”

“Wing-nuts like him truly endanger the health of us all. His newsfeed is shocking.”

When I listened to Joe Biden respond after Trump’s mob desecrated the Capitol, he prefaced his introduction of a remarkable team of nominees to lead the Department of Justice with calm and reassuring words. Here’s a decent man, speaking the obvious: The members of the mob weren’t patriots but thugs.

I posted Biden’s speech. My Trumpian friend replied. He ended his heartfelt rant about election fraud and theft with, “I hope you can live with what you’ve unleashed on the rest of us.”

My friend really wants to “debate” me. He sends videos that he believes prove his point. But how can we debate when I’m convinced that his sources are full of lies — and he believes the same about mine? How can we debate when he is sharing posts about the “patriots” who attacked the Capitol, and I believe they are domestic terrorists attacking the bedrock of democracy?

I respond this time. I ask him, naively, to try imagining that Joe Biden is telling him the truth. I ask him “Wouldn’t you rather live in the world Biden is describing than the world Trump is offering? There’s a whole lot less anger and hatred in Biden’s.”

I’m sure he must have taken this as just another misguided rant, parroting those elite sources he ridicules, even with my earnest plea that he drop his guard for a moment.

I could yell back, but he doesn’t want to deliberate. He wants to fight. He gets angrier and angrier. Other friends chime in, and he get’s frustrated.

My Facebook friend accuses me of being too afraid to answer him. He grows sarcastic about replies from other friends who push back. A few days before the inauguration, he gets to “All I can say Stephen is you’re in for a rude awaking in the next couple of weeks.” And, “Oh by the way, Trump will be your president.”

I’ve had enough. I block him.

My Facebook thread is our national dilemma, writ tiny.

My friend made the crucial point, “Joe Biden called for unity … How do you plan on unifying if we can’t even debate?”

But his faith in conspiracy is unshakeable. You can’t debate faith.

I’m sure my friend will accuse me of “canceling” him. But I don’t want my heart rate to go up every time I open Facebook. I’m not looking for puppy videos, but I’m not looking for aggression and argument, either.

If he was sitting next to me at the neighborhood bar, I could buy him a drink and try to find common ground. If that didn’t work, I could move down a few seats. On Facebook, that’s not an option. I block him not as an ideological statement. It’s stress management.

I’m back in my unbreachable blue fortress. More comfortable, sure. But uneasy about the failure of our discourse. I have no snappy answers about how to solve our polarization, but I do know that Facebook isn’t the place.

Stephen Trimble at his home in Torrey, Utah

Stephen Trimble is a Utah writer and photographer. His latest book is “The Capitol Reef Reader.”