“We can’t move forward if all we do is tear each other down.” — Barack Obama
Friends I admire have a strict policy for their dinner parties: no discussion about politics or religion. For years I’ve considered that rule quaint. After all, some of the most interesting — and entertainingly raucous discussions — are precisely about those topics. But during these past nine months of mudslinging and anger-anger-anger, I’ve been rethinking that opinion.
Politics is ruining friendships.
I’ve witnessed too many red-faced, white-knuckled people storm out of a room after an argument, people who seemed to get along just fine before the Clinton-Trump duel took center stage for the summer. We are anxious, and we are worried, and this makes for testy exchanges.
This presidential election cycle has been many things so far. Weird. Shocking. Unpredictable. Short on facts. Mostly, though, it’s been polarizing. And while fervency sure is great — after all, democracy requires an engaged and passionate citizenry — this no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners mentality is scary. Sadly, the private sphere is mirroring the public arena.
Like many people I know, I’m fortunate to have a circle of friends and relatives with a very, very wide array of political allegiances. A cousin who embraced Ben Carson early on. A brother-in-law who wants an expansion of the dysfunctional two-party system. A son who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. A dear friend who supports Donald Trump and another who has campaigned for Hillary Clinton.
This blessing of diversity should oblige us to be tolerant of others’ beliefs (and candidates), and in the past it mostly has. But tolerance holds only when both sides moderate their tone, lower their voices and (try to) stick to the facts. This hasn’t happened much in 2016, and certainly not with Donald Trump, who has elevated nastiness and ignorance to an art form best relegated to reality TV. The 2016 campaign is like a playground fight gone awry, the shrieking and insults so loud that you forget what started the squabble in the first place.
The spitefulness is more than offensive; it’s exhausting and demoralizing. I’m tired of the name-calling, the obfuscation, the negativity, the lack of focus on the issues. A recent Pew Research Center poll reported that more than two-thirds of registered voters believe this campaign has been “too negative.” They’re fatigued by the endless manipulations, the ridiculous machinations. And if there’s a unifying theme in this election, it’s that most of us are voting for the lesser of two evils.
If we’re to survive the next three months without losing our minds and our friends, we must pledge to be more civil. We can start by being respectful of opposing views. By not shouting over each other. By truly listening and not interrupting. By sticking to the facts and not the fear. By choosing the right time and place for a discussion. By refraining from blanket accusations of xenophobia, or racism, or lack of patriotism. By avoiding stubborn stupidity. By working hard to find common ground. By acknowledging that we can do more together than alone.
And by recognizing that sometimes, no matter how often or how loudly we argue, the people we care about may not agree with each other, or with us.