It isn’t polite to talk about politics. Politics aren’t personal. Why are you getting so riled up? It’s just politics.
Politics don’t exist in a bubble, contained and wholly separate from the rest of the world. Politics, the policies born from it and the ideals it exposes are intricately linked with everything in our lives. It is impossible to separate ourselves from.
And yet, we’re taught to keep the political and personal separate. And, in 2012, when we lived in a world where Mitt Romney and then President Barack Obama were campaigning for the presidency, that mostly worked. My best friend and I occupied opposite ends of the political spectrum and yet, we watched the election returns together, both safe in the knowledge that everything would be okay no matter which candidate won.
And then 2016 happened and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fought for the presidency. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, Trump and Clinton were “two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in more than 30 years of polling”. Partly due to the historic unpopularity of the candidates, partly due to the violation of political norms and partly due to factors that scholars will spend the next few centuries trying to figure out, it’s safe to say that the 2016 election cycle was far from normal.
In such a contentious time, it’s naturally difficult to be in relationships of any kind with people who supported one candidate just as vehemently as you condemned them. Because the truth is, politics are personal. Who we support politically reveals what we value and how we think. Do you value individualism or collectivism? Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Should refugees be denied entry to America or welcomed?
We tend to engage in friendships and relationships with people who are similar to us. We become close with people who hold similar values and interests as we do. So what happens when you find out your values aren’t as similar as you thought? What do you do when your friend or loved one votes for a candidate whose leadership may have negative outcomes for you?
In a black-and-white version of this problem, you have two options. You can end the relationship or continue it. Obviously, we don’t live in a black-and-white world. Here are other ways to handle the intersection of personal & political.
1. Agree to disagree.
It’s really hard to change someone’s mind and honestly, your energy would be better spent elsewhere. Make a deal with your friend not to talk politics. Accept that you have different views on the world but that doesn’t make them any less of a friend.
2. Debate — with ground rules.
You know you and your friend probably won’t come to an agreement on political issues but that doesn’t mean you can’t debate them. Set ground rules ahead of time like no name-calling and no low blows. You can even designate certain topics as off-limits. Maybe you can stomach talking about trade but gun control is too much.
3. Change the nature of your relationship.
It’s natural for a friendship to evolve and change forms. If you used to text that person all day every day, but now you feel uncomfortable talking to them about the latest Twitter trending topic because we live in 2017 and it’s obviously about politics, then that’s okay. Take a little bit of space.
4. Explain your side & listen to theirs.
You are conservative or liberal because of your experiences, your values and your beliefs. Tell your friend what informs your opinions. Were your parents refugees? Did you grow up with a family who owned guns safely and lawfully? Tell your friend where you’re coming from. Tell them what your fears are. Listen to theirs. Even if you don’t agree on issues, you can at least try to understand where the other person is coming from.
5. End the relationship.
It’s not ideal. It’s sad and unfortunate and it definitely doesn’t do anything to help the political divide in this country but at the end of the day, you may have found out that your values and ideas about the world are too different from your friend’s to continue the friendship.
Whichever way you decide to move forward with your friendship, let’s all promise to stop pretending that politics aren’t personal. It’s time to acknowledge the elephant (or donkey) in the room.