VARNVILLE, S.C. — It is not nearly seven o’clock in the morning yet, but already the Main Street of this Hampton County town, from West Carolina Street through Elm Street one town over, has families of all shapes, sizes, and colors planting their chairs or blankets along the parade route for the annual Watermelon Day Parade.
Young children were still yawning in their mother’s arms as their older siblings chased each other around playing the age-old game of tag.
Grandparents unloaded treats, to the scolding of parents. Then came the hugs and greetings as everyone anticipated the lively parade followed by a day that would be filled with melon judging, a 5k walk, and an evening of live music including the Praise Band at the Varnville First Baptist Church Life Center.
For 69 years, it has been part of a festival that brings the community together, no different than any other small, medium, or large town annual event does in any other part of the country — the town is quaint, colorful, has a Main Street, just like most other Main Streets across the country that needs a little more prosperity, but for the most part it appears to be doing OK.
The racial mix of Hampton and Varnville outlined in the census matches the picture that lined the parade route: little less than half were black, the rest white. Like the rest of the country, the idea on social media and on the cable news networks that we’ve lost our ability to coexist either racially or politically is much more prevalent there than here.
Varnville and Hampton and the hundreds of other small towns and cities I passed along the way on old U.S. routes and state routes in my drive from Savannah, Ga., to Pittsburgh showed a country very different than the one I encountered once I arrived home Saturday evening and logged on to Twitter.
There the world had gone sour: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had been refused service in Lexington, Va., and per usual people whom hate the Trump administration crowed like roosters with glee and the people who supported Trump were appalled.
Then it descended from sour to dark as it was reported two more female conservative public officials were jeered, one at dinner, another trying of all things to see a “won’t you be my neighbor” Fred Rogers documentary, all followed by this plea to action by Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters at a rally that same day:
“If you see anybody from that Cabinet — in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station — you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” she pleaded.
If you engage in politics on Twitter it is sometimes hard to reconcile the vicious vitriol you see, feel, and experience with what you see in your world outside of the social media platform.
It has been the rare case when I’ve ever encountered anyone who has denied interaction with someone just because of who they voted for anytime I am outside the Beltway either for or against former President Barack Obama or for or against Trump.
While both men engaged in divisional politics, Obama was much more subtle, while Trump would be the first to admit he is much crasser.
Most people in this country don’t view politics as life. Most people don’t view Twitter as life either. And most people are much more civil to each other in their day-to-day lives not just because they have to (not everyone you work with or socialize with or are related to share your opinions) they are also civil because they don’t view what they do in their lives as a blood sport.
The culture in our lives driven by politics, news, and entertainment has lost its way, on that trip to something dark and dangerous in their quest to either win an election or win the ratings or sell movie tickets.
They instigate it on their platforms and it spills over into social media, and someone you never met before can unleash the most hateful, vile, untruthful bile on your feed and think it is perfectly fine.