The thing that set me off last week was a report of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents boarding a Concord Coach bus in Bangor and asking passengers to prove their citizenship. I learned of it through social media, via an article by Colin Woodard on the Portland Press Herald website. A later piece appeared in the Lewiston Sun-Journal. Our local Bangor Daily News had nothing.
I ride those buses all the time, and I’ve never been asked for my papers. I do have to show a photo ID when I buy my ticket, but not to a federal agent. That sort of thing is supposed to be illegal in the United States of America, according to the fourth amendment to the constitution. If you are unfamiliar with the fourth amendment, here it is:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
But when I shared Woodard’s piece on the Slower Traffic Facebook page, several readers chimed in to support the policy. “Make America Safe Again,” one wrote, with a surfeit of exclamation points. “Great policy.”
And then there was this, also excessively punctuated: “I have nothing to hide! I’m a legal citizen. Are you?”
Now this is funny, because you can find my great-great grandfather’s bearded face on any presidential calendar in America. We even have the same last name. Though I don’t go around advertising this, my antagonist was all too ready to pronounce me guilty until proven innocent. For all he knows I could have changed it from Gonzalez, or Garibaldi.
I wondered if he would be as sanguine about getting pulled over in his car when he was doing nothing wrong, just because the police were looking for undocumented immigrants. Boarding a bus as a ticketed passenger does not constitute “probable cause” for a search of your possessions, including your wallet, any more than driving a car does.
When I pointed this out, I was called a snowflake and told to go find a safe space. This is what the Twitter Presidency hath wrought. This is the way we communicate now. And it sucks.
The left is just as guilty of this as the right, by the way, and Slower Traffic is not and has never been a political blog. But I suppose that by its very nature, the act of giving up car ownership in early 21st century America is political. If I don’t want to see oil exploration near Penobscot Bay, the less I contribute to the demand, the better. I support spending tax dollars on public transportation and bicycle infrastructure. I’d like to bring passenger trains back to Rockland and Bangor. I advocate for policies that encourage walking neighborhoods and reflect the true cost of cars.
None of this makes me a Marxist.
But neither does support for oil drilling, or conservative policies in general, make one a bigot, racist, misogynist, Nazi, or any of the other epithets some of my friends on the left throw around far too frequently.
It seems so difficult to have a real conversation any more. Nobody thinks before they speak, and it’s all happening electronically. Instead of trying to engage each other on the challenging issues of our times, and maybe learn something in the process, we’re busy choosing up sides, and selecting the best pithy insults to throw at one another This is why I refused to use Twitter long before Trump took office, and refuse to use it still. It’s designed to engender misunderstanding and resentments. It encourages us to attribute the worst possible motives to those with whom we disagree.
Thanks to the Twit-in-Chief, it’s now acceptable for elected officials to post memes on the Internet calling their fellow Americans traitors and scumbags and pigs, and tacitly encouraging violence against journalists. Straw-man arguments abound, as both sides assume the worst about each other. I’m dismayed at how often, and how quickly, this turns into invective.
Twitter has become like the car culture. You don’t have to buy into it, but you still have to be careful not to get run over. And apparently you have to be prepared to waive your constitutional rights the minute you step on board a bus.