Last weekend, Mrs. Thrill and I had a nice long lunch with a couple of friends. My friend (who we’ll call “James T.”) and I used to work together until I got promoted to a different section. We started off the conversation by catching-up on some of the recent changes at our organization following a recent merger and exchanged some gossip. Inevitably, the conversation found its way into politics from there.
James is one of the very few people I know who both supported Trump’s candidacy from the very beginning and wasn’t a Birther. I don’t know. Those two just seem to be related. He’s not very political, not by my standards anyway. He’s the kind of guy who will see something on cable news and mention it in passing in a sort of “Can you believe what x did over y? That’s really ____” but he doesn’t dwell on it.
He’s about as invested in politics as most Americans are, I think. Aware of the headlines of the day either from television or social media, forms a quick opinion on it, and then gets on with more important things. He’s decidedly center-right, but in no way would you describe him as a partisan to any degree.
The way I might describe him is that he’s a great family man with a huge circle of loyal friends who is highly respected in his field of employment. Additionally, he has many worthwhile hobbies and interests that bring him joy and happiness. So you might say that he doesn’t stress too much over political nonsense or invest much of his own happiness into it, you know?
Well, James did have one complaint. He was just flabbergasted about how “nuts” everyone has become ever since the election and how he had been avoiding talking about anything related to Trump with people he wasn’t very close to. Until, that is, the day after Trump’s Joint Session Speech.
“I went in to the cafeteria and ran into this one manager from upstairs who I chat with every now and then,” explained James. “Nice guy. Most of the time, we just make small talk. While we were standing there in the line, he asked me what I thought of Trump’s speech. Before I could stop myself, I said ‘Oh, I liked it!'”
As James described it, the guy got this pained look on his face. It clearly wasn’t what he wanted to hear. What followed was about five awkward minutes of them both standing there silently, waiting for their food. Something tells me that the friendly small talk James and this guy have been exchanging for many months probably isn’t going to continue in the future. Unfortunately, we call this “normal” in America now.
James didn’t feel good about it and he really couldn’t understand how it got to this point.
“Let me ask you a question,” said James. “Were we this bad after Obama won?”
Oh, I can just imagine the various reactions of those of you reading this right now. Must be progressives screaming “YES! YES, YOU WERE AND YOU KNOW IT!” at their MacBook screens in coffee shops all over the world as young men with complicated mustaches and Harry Potter glasses turn their heads in confusion.
Anyhow, I really did want to say “No, of course not,” from the hip. Instead, I took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds before answering: “They think so.”
James made a face that amounted to “Really?”
“This is something I’ve been thinking about too,” I continued. ” I spoke to a lot of Obama supporters after he was elected. You know, they were so happy and optimistic, while I thought it was the beginning of the end of the world. I kind of shit on them, I guess. Then for the next few years, they were constantly bombarded with ‘Benghazi’ and all this other noise like we are with ‘Russia’ now. Looking back on it, I do think I was pretty annoying and I feel a bit bad about it.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
“But I do think there’s a certain difference in the, I don’t know, intensity? Liberal people seem to take politics more personally than we do. Have you heard about anything about that poll showing how happiness among liberals is down? I mean, like, they seem to be feeling worse about life in general because of who won the election? I can’t say that was true in my case when Obama won.”
James didn’t say anything, but he had a thoughtful look as the fried pickles arrived at our table and we moved on to other topics.
Now, I’m willing to admit that those of us who were (and still are) anti-Obama definitely did do and say things that may have killed your buzz after the 2008 election. Looking at it from your point of view, I see that you were ecstatic to know the Iraq War was finally going to be over after all the polarization that had surrounded it, America was poised to recover its reputation overseas, a new milestone had been reached in race relations with the election of a black president, there was finally an opportunity for real health care reform, and so much more.
Our collective response, more or less? “He’s a socialist Kenyan and a total empty suit. Unfit and ineligible for the presidency and we hope he fails.” Then we stuck to it for the next eight years, attributing every possible evil to the man that we could and seeing a scandal in every event. From our point of view, it’s perfectly okay because we were right and we can claim his presidency was a failure with Trump’s election and the coming repeal of Obamacare (maybe). We have also reversed the outcome of the 2008 election and now the GOP is the dominant party. It’s great. It’s really, really great. Or is it?
Yes, we got our way and we won last year, but what happened to us and how we behave toward each other? The truth is that all of the divisiveness, the hatred, and the vitriol that characterized the Obama era is still here and now most of us on the Right feel that it’s even worse. Some, very few, of us are getting the horrifying sense that we shortsightedly fed the divisiveness monster for 8 years and now the monster is coming for us.
We may feel like the country is on the right track now, but our relationships with friends and family and co-workers have been strained in many instances. Which matters more to you?
I’ve admitted that I was part of the problem during the Obama Administration and that I can certainly see that I was annoying, but was I as annoying as you on the anti-Trump side are now? This is where it gets contentious. What I will tell you is that it never occurred to me to avoid discussing politics completely with family members or to get rid of friends who voted for Obama. There was still some possibility for a rational discussion, and even during the Bush years before that.
Nowadays though, I am afraid to talk about politics in person with people who I know or even think might oppose Trump and I don’t even characterize myself as a “Trump supporter”. Whenever his very name comes up, the anger is just scorching.
You know what’s different? I get the sense from a lot of anti-Trumpers that if you voted for Trump, you must somehow be a bad person. You’re a closet misogynist, you’re a homophobe, or you just secretly dislike people who are different from you. It’s more personal than political. I honestly don’t know if progressives mean to communicate that, but I have to tell you guys that every conservative on your social media news feeds who reads things you post and share that send that message wonder if you’re talking about them specifically. It hurts.
I never thought those of you who voted for Obama were bad people, in any way. I thought you were naive, yes, but the earnest idealism that my progressive friends have and their desire to make the world a better place is what I find most endearing and do respect. I mean, I think the results of your policies would be awful, but I like your level of engagement, compassion, and thoughtfulness as personal qualities, okay?
It’s with much regret I say that I do think that I have lost friends over this election and not because of any desire of mine. There were the blunt postings on Facebook from people I’ve known for years that said, “If you voted for Trump, unfriend me now because you obviously care nothing about me since I’m a woman/gay/black/Latino/etc.” You know, as if that person had not already been a woman/gay/black/Latino/etc for the many years we had been friends. I hadn’t cared that they voted for a president who wasn’t, shall we say, widely perceived as having an agenda that was especially favorable to heterosexual white Christian males of the middle class. Hell, we thought he hated us and we said so often when we were being our most annoying.
There are old friends I have not heard from in months and I’m starting to wonder if I ever will again. Worse, I wonder if I want to. I can still talk politics casually with my conservative friends, but I don’t know if I can have any conversation whatsoever with my liberal friends without turning the whole luncheon into an awkward game of Minesweeper where instead of mines, you try to avoid any mention of political hot buttons. It’s a concern if I don’t want them to stop being my friends. I hate that.
For all of that, I am going to start the discussion off by saying that yes, we conservatives were very annoying and unfair when Obama was president, but that you who on the other side are making it even worse over Trump. This isn’t to condemn or insult you. I just want you to look at what’s going on. I think you guys do make politics more personal, you internalize it hard, and it is affecting the way you feel about life to a degree that is not only hurting your relationships with other people, but it’s hurting you. It’s not good for anyone to be pissed off that much or for this long. Why would you give Donald Trump that kind of power over you?
What do you think about this? Are liberals just giving us back what we gave them for eight years or is this something new and much worse?
Before we start, I should explain that this is a Discourses post. Whenever you see “Discourses” above the title, it means that the rules are a bit different than they are for other posts here at RVS. The purpose of a Discourses post and discussion is never to “score points on the other side”, to prove right or wrong, or to have a flame war. It’s an opportunity to have what, I think, almost all of us feels isn’t possible anymore. That is, a meaningful and productive conversation with people who disagree with us so we can broaden our own understanding of a topic.
To get an idea of what I mean, if you want to discuss what Susan Rice said on the Sunday morning talk shows after Benghazi, this is the wrong thread for doing that. This is the thread for talking about how your uncle wouldn’t shut up about Benghazi during the last Independence Day barbecue and was so obnoxious that you haven’t attended one with the family ever since. You use that to explain how this political climate affects you.
I will work to keep us on track and I will provide moderation if the conversation starts to get nasty, but I don’t think it’ll come to that. If you’re willing to participate in this discussion, I’d like to believe it’s because you want to start fixing some of those relationships.
Here are some good discussion points to get started. You don’t have to answer any of these questions to participate, but feel free to use them if they can give you a jumping-off point.
- How has the election outcome affected you personally?
- Are both sides equally guilty or is one definitely worse? Why do you think the way you do?
- If you can agree that your side is behaving as asinine or worse than the other side did at another time, do you feel like you are justified in being that way too since trying to be fair and reasonable won’t matter anyway? For example, if you think conservatives are hypocrites for being willing to believe any conspiracy theories about Obama but have suddenly become the most sober of skeptics with regard to any questionable dealings of Trump’s or his associates, does it tell you that it’s perfectly fair for you to argue in the same way even though you were more a more skeptical personal when Obama was president? Fair is fair, right? Or is it?
- For those of you from outside the US, has there been anything in recent memory in your country’s politics that you can compare with what Americans are going through now to help us out? If you’re from the UK, have there been any similar issues with Brexit, for example?
- How many people have you unfriended or unfollowed on social media because of the current political climate? How about in real life?
The things people on the other side tell you here are, more likely than not, the same things your friends and family and acquaintances are feeling too and wish they could tell you. You might be able to take something you learn here and mend some fences.
UPDATE: A reader shared this article, just published today, that hits all the same notes we’re discussing. Whatever you’re feeling these days, you’re far from alone.