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Globe and Mail reporter Marsha Lederman.
Globe and Mail reporter Marsha Lederman.

Marsha Lederman

Inside your personal echo chamber, no wonder everything sounds the same Add to ...

I’m writing from an awfully comfortable place. It is well insulated, supremely well appointed – sumptuous, even. It’s safe in here, cozy. Feels like home. In here, I have friends. I have followers. In here they like me – and they’re like me. They make me laugh and think and tell me about interesting things.

But I’m starting to realize it’s a little narrow in here – and hey, there are mirrors everywhere, but where are the windows? I am beginning to understand there may be danger in not venturing out of this place.

Welcome to my echo chamber. In here, Hillary Clinton is a brainy and deserved heir to the Oval Office, Donald Trump’s name is mud, and Ms. Clinton kicked Mr. Trump’s braggadocious butt in the U.S. presidential debate this week.

Watching what can only be described as an unprecedented, astonishing performance by Mr. Trump on Monday with his nonsensical run-on sentences, his unhinged attacks, his lunacies of logic, was frankly shocking. He was more buffoonish than even a devoted Trump skeptic could have imagined: his refusal to answer questions, his constant interruptions, his language. Eyebrows hit ceilings at the 400-pound hacker nonsense, the birther baloney, his “that makes me smart” interjection about not paying taxes and, perhaps craziest of all, his wiggy declaration, deep in this manic display, that his temperament was superior to Ms. Clinton’s, who stood calmly by. Sad! The overwhelming feeling for any rational person watching Mr. Trump’s performance had to be joy – or at least relief. There was no way this petulant laughingstock could win an election after this; this man was not even in the proximity of presidential.

With Mr. Trump’s hopes dead, I was sure, the networks launched into their postmortems. The pundits chattered away about who scored where, each candidate’s high points, opining on who had won.

Wait, what? Was it not entirely obvious that Ms. Clinton was the victor? That she had left Mr. Trump in her intellectual dust? She spoke with authority and clarity about actual issues using actual facts while he shrieked empty hyperbole. And she somehow had the strength of character to not succumb to his bait. Mr. Trump’s accusation that she lacked stamina was particularly laughable as she improved through the debate, while he further descended into hysterical territory. Even Ms. Clinton’s admission of error was a high point for her; with dignity she acknowledged her email server mistake.

The strangers sharing my cozy, windowless space were with me.

“We are literally watching Clinton win the election,” tweeted Jamil Smith with MTV News. And the anti-Trump snark was out in full force. “Sorry, [I] missed a couple of tweets. I was busy living in hell and getting shot,” wrote Larry Wilmore, former “Senior Black Correspondent” with The Daily Show.

All week, the U.S. media sources in my feeds confirmed it. The New York Times called Mr. Trump’s display a “hurricane of factual distortion.” Vox.com called it “a baffling, foolish, bizarre performance.” From The New Yorker, “He was unprepared, unconvincing, and off-putting.” USA Today, for the first time in its history, took a side, calling Mr. Trump unfit, citing examples from the past 15 months, including the debate.

Mr. Trump’s postgame analysis didn’t help. His microphone was defective, he claimed. That Miss Universe winner Ms. Clinton brought up? “She gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem,” Mr. Trump said the following morning. His commentary about the woman he once called Miss Piggy degenerated through the week. It was a botched, amateurish attempt at spin – such a fiasco, it’s almost fun. Has the U.S. election really come down to squabbling over a beauty pageant winner? Is this really happening?

But of course, this is not fun or funny. By venturing outside my secure chamber, I was reminded that it is not a slam dunk either. Beyond my echo chamber, I heard a different preacher, a different choir with different debate analysis – and not all out-there, consider-the-source opinions either. Ms. Clinton was robotic, too rehearsed. She failed to score a drop-the-mic moment. Mr. Trump’s repeated concerns about the economy would score points. And his harping on Ms. Clinton’s lack of stamina might be the one take-away of the night.

Well, that trip outside my comfort zone was sobering.

It makes sense that we surround ourselves with people who think like us. This is pleasant for social engagements, workplace chit-chat and dating choices. On Facebook, your friends likely think like you do, come down on the same side of outrage as you on various issues. The odd dissenter is probably a relative or someone you went to high school with.

And with this election – and other contentious issues such as Black Lives Matter, rape culture, Middle East politics, even Canadian politics – there is an epidemic of unfriending going on. I’ve done it myself, but really – even if unpleasant, it’s good to know what people outside your usual circles are saying. (Blocking sexist, racist idiots is another matter; that I’m all for.)

It’s really nice inside our echo chambers, but it can be stifling too. The best way to have a handle on what’s going on is to listen to – or at least listen in on – the other side. It may be ugly out there, but if we don’t venture out, how can we really take the temperature – electoral or otherwise? We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by the comforting, reverberating tune of the familiar.

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Follow on Twitter: @marshalederman

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