Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Yet Thomas Jefferson never had endure a campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. What would he say about arguing over the Muslim ban? Or building a wall to keep out the “Mexican rapists” and criminals? Or fights about private email servers? Or bragging about sexual assault? Would the America of this election cause him to rethink this idealistic view of friendship?
What is politics, really?
Is it about differences in how to write the tax code, in how to interpret particular amendments to the Constitution, in how to eliminate the debt, in how to protect the environment, in whether or not to sign trade agreements?
Or is politics about something much bigger? About how we treat others who are different than we are? About the culture that we want to create for our children? About whether our country’s best days are behind us or right in front of us?
Is politics at its core really about — as a viral article (“I Didn’t Unfriend You Over ‘Politics'”) — nothing less than morality, decency, and humanity itself?
In that article, Jennifer Sullivan writes:
“I will not be made to remain friends with people who see [Trump’s] continued attempts at oppression and discrimination as an ‘inconvenient consequence’ of ensuring that their party remain in power. Because ultimately, if discriminatory practices aren’t a deal-breaker for you, if they don’t inspire in you a pain and an anger so heartbreaking that it leaves you aching for your less-privileged neighbor, then I don’t want to know you. And I shouldn’t have to simply because we shared the same floor freshman year of college.”
Our Friendship and Election 2016 Survey
During this campaign, I have struggled with these questions, and when we asked about this topic in our Friendship and Election 2016 survey, I was hoping that many of you had good answers. It turns out that most of you are just as confused and pained as I am about friendship and politics, for the first time in your lives.
I’ve been unfriended by relatives, I’ve cried when I’ve read words defending sexual assault from friends that I’ve formerly respected, and I’ve unfriended others who post positions so racist, so vile, and so uncivilized that I have begun to fear that I never knew my country at all. I’m certainly not alone.
About Half Lost a Friend
About 55% of the respondents to our survey told us that they have lost a close friendship because of the election. Nearly three-quarters have unfriended or unfollowed a close friend or family member on Facebook during this election.
- Christy of Educate to Eliminate: A man who is like a father to me, who walked me down the aisle at my wedding, unfriended me and has stopped all communication with me. He’s known me my whole life and just recently didn’t acknowledge my birthday which he does every year.
- Elura N.: I’ve lost serious respect for people I actually know. I’ve had strained relationships and conversations with family members with whom I’ve never seriously disagreed about anything. I’ve unintentionally offended and antagonized people I trusted to have moderate views by being surprised about their willingness to tolerate sexual assault, racism, and authoritarianism.
- Christina L.: I found out a few of my oldest friends from middle/high school had strong opinions about immigrants, and spoke out as firm Trump supporters. I am a first generation Asian American, and was deeply troubled by their positions, some of which were laced with racist overtones. I initially challenged some of their views but have quietly distanced myself from the rest. It’s not a large number, but enough for me to question whether they understand how hurtful it is for someone they consider a friend.
- Joy of Evil Joy Speaks: When women I know who have daughters the same ages as my girls support Donald Trump, it makes me question what they values they hold. I want to empower my girls and teach them to be fierce. In turn, I make sure playdates don’t include political or religious discussions by adults in earshot of children. I also note with whom I will no longer have political or religious discourse.
- Julia: I can’t talk to some friends about the election and I avoid them. It’s too upsetting to me. I’m very careful to know where someone stands before I mention politics because I’ve been sexually assaulted and I don’t think I could remain friends with someone who supports or votes for Donald Trump.
- Erendira of Rejoice Beloved: I am a Christian and am part of the #NeverHillaryorTrump camp. A group of our friends are Trump supporters and because of our biblical convictions, we could not reconcile (as our friends did and still do) standing for Christ while parking our faith at the door in support of a candidate who is double-minded in all his ways.
Should You End Friendships Over Politics?
Respondents were evenly split on whether, even during this election, we should seek to listen, to respect, and to maintain friendships with friends on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
About a third said that they find nothing wrong with severing ties with friends who are supporting Trump. (No one mentioned severing ties over supporting Clinton.)
- Laura: I’m trying to see this as just one part of a person, but in this election, it’s so much more than that. The severity and ugliness of Trump and his supporters has permeated my view of some friends and close family. I respect them less and am less interested in trusting them.
- Kristin: I normally have no problem with maintaining diverse friendships, but this year I knew I personally could not look my Muslim or gay friends or my Mexican-American sister in law in the eye again if I didn’t clearly state how very against Trump I am. I believe any friendships lost this time around weren’t real friendships if I could not keep my integrity around them and speak my mind. I think a lot of people who hid racist tendencies under coded language and silence before have been exposed, and I refuse to just sweep that under the rug for politeness’ sake anymore .
- Julia: Bring it up as rarely as possible. Don’t let it affect your friendship unless it means looking the other way about something that is one of the tenets of your life or is critical to human rights and of moral obligation (racism, sexism, gay rights). I decided about a month ago I’d give up a friendship if someone strongly supports Trump. He’s a dangerous man worth ending a friendship.
Dialogue or Avoidance?
Another third of respondents were divided between those who welcomed dialogue and discussion and those who said that the best strategy was to avoid talking about politics altogether:
- Laurel: I find it best to be an active listener, have an open mind and see someone else’s perspective. But I keep most of my political views to myself until I know where the other person stands on a candidate. This election in my opinion, has been polarizing on a gender basis, not a political party basis. I find myself feeling safe to talk with other women about the election, no matter their affiliation. I do not find it safe to talk to men, even family members about it. I get very upset when I have to explain how hurtful the misogyny practiced by the candidate and his backers against women feels.
- Stacy M. of The Novel Life: Don’t talk politics. period. With several extended family members voting for Trump we have a very, very strict line in the sand about discussing politics. I don’t think we could ever come back to our good relationships if we got into a discussion. I’m not willing to lose family members over Trump or Clinton.
- Gretchen of Drifting Through My Open Mind: I’ve been trying to remember that they have fears that are probably compelling them to vote a certain way. Or issues that they are just as passionate about as I am about mine. At some point you have to agree to disagree.
- Mandi C.: Walk away slowly.
- Sarah C. of Housewife Plus: I still maintain friendships with several folks who are following Trump, but they have never said aloud or demonstrated the gross sexist attitudes that Trump has. While I vehemently disagree with these friends’ political views, they have been respectful in the way they express their political leanings and I can respect that.
- Morgan H.: Don’t get personal and see things through life experiences.
- If you’ve seen evidence your “friend” is a decent human being in non-election years, get over *yourself*. There is more to life than electing a new POTUS. Be compassionate and magnanimous. If you are ugly to others, will it reflect well on your chosen candidate? Additionally, consider you may have become a crushing bore with incessant political talk/preening. Are *you* loveable? Extend the same grace to others you’d appreciate.
- MyLove Barnett: My super close friends and I have made a deal to not discuss it at all. We talked about it earlier in the election cycle, around the time of the primaries. But we don’t agree and we know we don’t agree and we love each other too much to even talk about it right now, because we are all so passionate in our views. We’ve decided that since we can’t change each other’s minds, it’s a moot topic of conversation. As far as online relationships, if the same comes up with close online friends, I simply unfollow their feed so that I don’t see it. And if I do see it, I don’t engage.
We’re All Clueless
Some just aren’t sure. The last third of respondents said they had no idea at all what advice they would give about navigating friendships during this election.
- Stephanie: I have no idea. I’ve literally never experienced this before. The fact that this election really transcends political values is probably the reason — the human rights issues, sexism, racism, general character flaws of a candidate, have gone so far beyond Republican/Democrat political differences that I have no idea how to navigate it. I’ve never had this kind of a problem with my own reactions to Republican friends or family members. I guess I’m more surprised by my own vitriol toward Trump supporters and I just don’t know how to handle it.
I’m uncomfortable with these divisions. They aren’t good for our country or for our relationships. I don’t want to live in a bubble, only interacting with people who think like I do. However, more and more it seems that are political differences are no longer about genuine philosophical splits. They’re tribal. They’re about human rights. They’re about how we see the world and our fellow citizens. They’re perceived by many as a fight between good and evil — and the frightening thing to me is that I’m not sure that they’re wrong.
They are about so much more than politics.
Do you think that these divisions — within our country and in your own life — will get better after Election Day?