Western culture has become so addicted to outrage that every disagreement, no matter how minor, can become a permanently alienating conflagration. How this came to pass is the subject of another discussion; suffice it to say that there are many elements involved, and as much as we’d like to place the blame at the feet of our ideological opponents, this is one problem that we’ve all contributed to. Social media’s influence on communication is a major factor, from email to Facebook to texting to Twitter. When you contrast that with how important body language is in communication between individuals, you can see the inherent problem with our technological society: we’re all outraged, we’re all talking, and we’re all missing a huge component of what we say to each other. Tone, gesture, and expression are lost in words displayed on a screen, and yet we speak to each other in this format all the time. So it’s no wonder that we’ve become so alienated, so stressed, so divided.
This alienation has become so acute that even business owners have become comfortable telling potential customers that they’re not welcome if they don’t adhere to a certain political viewpoint. On the writer’s side of things, Stephen King mocked every Trump voter as an imbecilic buffoon. These men are wealthy. They don’t need your business. But they’re also major contributors to the outrage culture that divides us. Not because it’s good business for them to do so, but because it pleases them to do so. They can afford to alienate you.
The vast majority of writers don’t have that status. We have to write, market, sell, and build fans through hard work. Even those of us who are more traditionally published.
A symptom of this outrage culture is the tribalism that comes with identifying as a member of a certain group. You’re a moderate. You’re a progressive. You’re a conservative. You’re a Berniebro. You’re a NeverTrump conservative. You’re an independent. You have your tribe and the people from other tribes are your enemies. So who you voted for becomes a defining characteristic, even though it shouldn’t be. You know deep down that not only are you larger than your politics, most everyone else is larger than their politics. And yet you have a tribe.
I write about current events often, and because our outrage culture uses politics as its chief bludgeoning tool, current events collide with politics all the time. There’s no point in avoiding it, even if I were so inclined. What I don’t get into are the conflicts over presidential politics. I didn’t do it during the Obama years, and I won’t do it during the Trump years, however long or short they may be. Such discussions are always pointless.
You may be of the opinion that approximately half of the United States knowingly voted for a reprobate. That Trump’s a racist who employs white supremacists and bigots and homophobes. And you’re comfortable saying so, even though you’re tarring the president’s supporters with a horribly ugly brush; after all, if they voted for a racist, they must be racist, too. Or maybe they’re just stupid. As a writer, as a seller of your words, is telling half your audience that they’re idiots and/or racists the best sales pitch?
Believe it or not, there’s nothing on this planet less risky, controversial, original, edgy, or witty than calling Trump a racist or buffoon. The majority of your writer friends will agree; most writers tend to be on the left end of the political spectrum. You’re in good company. You’ll get retweeted, Liked, and lauded by your fellow scribes. Good for you: you’ve signaled your feelings to the tribe. You’ve expressed your just outrage and made your buddies happier for it.
For everyone else, those writers and readers who don’t agree, or who are just plain sick of the intrusion of divisive political rhetoric into what is, for most of us, an escape, you’ve alienated us. Nobody wants to read, let alone work with, someone who implies that he’s a racist and/or an ill-informed bigot.
Presidents should never be above reproach, criticism, or ridicule. Mature adults must be able to handle that and more, particularly when it’s aimed at their favorite politician. But it doesn’t mean they have to like it, and it definitely doesn’t mean that they will gladly pay for the privilege. I read fiction from writers I disagree with all the time. But once those writers descend to the ugliness of tribalistic name-calling based on something so stupid as a political difference, I’m done with them. I’m under no obligation to use my limited time on this planet to help someone who’s implied I’m a bigot sell books.
How many writers have you heard of who were kicked off of a project for having a left of center political viewpoint? My guess is that the number’s vanishingly small. Now flip it: how many writers do you know who were kicked off a project for having right of center politics?
Well, you know one: me. I was kicked off the writing staff of the horror site Ginger Nuts of Horror for expressing, in my own space, a political viewpoint that millions and millions and millions of other people share. I bring this up not as a “woe is me” lament, but to point out the silliness of our outrage culture. That’s where we are: tribes. And if you’re in the wrong tribe, you’re out. You’re an unperson. For similar stories, check out Nick Cole. Or Kevin Strange. Or David A Riley. It happens rather a lot on one side and not on the other.
Even if the tribalism doesn’t bother you and the outrage gives you that dopamine hit you need to get through another paragraph, another page, another day, the smart thing to do as someone who wants to sell more books is to not insult your audience or colleagues. You need them both.