Sometimes, Politics Should End a Friendship

By Sophie Jeffery, Editor

(Photo found here)

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in a letter to William Hamilton, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”  I saw this quote plenty of times over the course of the 2016 election, shared by well-intentioned friends and family on social media.  Here’s the question though: Is there a point when politics SHOULD end a friendship?  Or is Jefferson correct in believing a person’s political beliefs should be excluded as a limiting factor of a friendship?

The 2016 election season was a mess.  I don’t know how else to describe it, and unfortunately, we’re not doing much better as we approach the end of President Trump’s first year in office.    The President’s approval rating is consistently reported as the lowest in history, and every day brings a new bundle of controversies surrounding the Trump administration.  I’m even subscribed to a daily email newsletter called What The F*** Just Happened Today in order to keep up with it all.

I am still feeling the strain on some of my friendships and even familial relationships, and am finding it difficult to forgive and forget.  However, I am reaching the point in my life, as a thirty-something wife and mother, where I am beginning to question if “forgive and forget” is the correct course of action.

Let’s get this out of the way:  I am a Democrat.  I donated to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and I voted for Hilary Clinton in the election.   I’m a feminist.  I’m wearing a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt right now, actually.   I voted for Obama twice, and Kerry before that.

I have a son and a daughter, and I try to raise them to dream and love without limits and to treat others with respect and kindness.  I teach them to put themselves in others’ shoes, to not judge, and to recognize that we have been fortunate enough to have been born with a significant amount of privilege because of the color of our skin and our economic status (in that my husband and I do not have to worry about putting food in their bellies or a roof over their heads).

That being said, is it fair for Jefferson and my well-intentioned Facebook friends to ask me to turn the other cheek when a friend or family member directly contradicts those lessons I try to teach my children?  How can I be expected to maintain a relationship with someone who ridicules the candidate I have chosen to support, mocking them with cruel nicknames and photoshopped representations spreading false information?  In addition, is it fair to ask me to go get coffee with someone who thinks their personal religious beliefs are more important than another citizen’s rights?  Why should I have to overlook your support of policies that discriminate against others and smile over our caramel lattes next Tuesday afternoon?

I’m not saying we can’t be friends if you are a Republican.  But I’m at the point where I can’t overlook some Republican policies rooted in hatred any longer and I refuse to maintain a relationship with those who resort to ridicule and consistently spread falsehoods.  I’ve read a few editorials on the subject, so clearly this is a common issue.  The solution?  Most of these editorials cite experts who suggest maintaining a civil tone is the key to ensuring a friendship’s survival amongst political differences.  Is that fair, though?

If your political opinions mean you believe women, myself included, are unable to make decisions about our own bodies, is it fair to ask me to just not think about it during our weekly phone call?  If you elect candidates that will try to prevent my friend from marrying her girlfriend because of your religious beliefs, why would I even think about inviting you to dinner with us?

Hugo Schwyzer put it better than I could in his editorial for The Washington Post: “What I’ve learned is that civility is less about dismissing the importance of ideological difference, and more about how we engage with our political opposites.  Papering over disagreements suggests that they aren’t substantive; saying ‘Politics is never worth losing a friendship’ implies that abortion rights or gay marriage are trivial issues.”  These are serious issues our country is facing, and simply setting them aside in favor of civility must be a sign of privilege and willful ignorance.

The last thing I want is for us to all feel the same way about each issue.  One of the greatest things about our nation is the freedom we have to express our opinions and support whichever party we happen to choose.  However, there is a difference between something like wanting lower tax rates versus demanding policies that affect the basic human rights of people who don’t fit into your category of an “American”.

I don’t care if we’ve been friends for six months or if I’ve known you since birth, if your “political opinion” causes another harm, infringes upon another’s rights, or is rooted in hate, I do not want to maintain a relationship with you.  Because at that point, it’s not a political opinion; it’s prejudice/racism/homophobia/sexism (pick your flavor) and I refuse to overlook your hatred disguised as political opinion.

“Politics” is not a free pass one can use as an excuse to spread hatred and prejudice, and I don’t think it is fair to ask me to overlook that hatred disguised as policy for the sake of maintaining a friendship.  Sometimes, politics are more important than friendship.