Since when do so many of us take so much pleasure in other people’s anger or suffering?
America has a case of the plague, a viral strain of schadenfreude that infects people from every background and political ideology. It blocks out all discourse, both sides too busy revelling in other people’s frustration to even try to understand. People have become so polarized that they don’t even see each other as fellow countrymen anymore.
We see these so-called trolls everywhere, on the Internet, in person, in public office. All they do is provoke, by racebaiting, creating fake news, and sowing discord in comment sections for kicks. But this sentiment is also present in smaller actions that most people partake in, like making fun of people for having certain viewpoints, talking over each other, and scoffing at all positions that aren’t their own. This schadenfreude is a sin of which almost everyone is guilty.
Trolling came to a peak during the 2016 election, when all sides devolved into a vicious mill of rumours and name-calling. Thanksgiving Dinner became unbearable and the national stage has never looked nastier, with politicians insulting each other and the American people alike. Marco Rubio quipped about his opponent’s penis size. Hillary Clinton referred to Donald Trump’s supporters, her would-be constituents, as “deplorables.” Yet no one topped Trump himself, who spun off nicknames for any political enemy at the drop of the hat, renaming both of the aforementioned people “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary” respectively. Even worse, this trolling has turned into a new form of digital warfare: Putin reportedly played off of these divisions amongst Americans by hiring people to act as Trump supporters to spread pro-Trump propaganda and sow discord.
For that reason, there is no greater threat to American democracy than this contempt we hold for each other. It divides us and weakens us in one swoop. Because of the cracks in the American public, the foundation of our democracy is slowly being chipped away without notice. Presidential power-grabs, fundamental restructuring of our government processes, and concerns over international meddling in our elections are being blown over in favor of sensationalist news about some absurd quote from a politician seeking their moment in the limelight.
We all need to discard the image of a troll that we have in our head. There is no overweight pimply thirty-year-old man living in his mother’s basement with nothing better to do than enjoy other people’s misery because it makes him feel better about his own. There is no malicious troll out to get us; there’s just us. We need to all try to be better, to suppress the little voice inside ourselves that relishes the failure of others. We need to strive to be better than that man in the basement, because that guy? That guy is a loser.