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.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes, Politics Should End a Friendship

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  1. Sophie,

    Interesting article. You hit the nail on the head regarding our country’s two-party system. It’s a beautiful thing. A few questions/comments though. Stop apologizing for your race. You mentioned that you constantly remind your children for their race privilege. Personally, it sounds like you are robbing any notable quality from your race.

    Additionally, since you disagree with several republican policies, do you think all republicans are bad people? You mentioned how you try to provide a proper upbringing for your children and then went on to discuss how people who differ from you politically contradict the values you are trying to instill. It leads me to believe that the message you are aiming for is that Republican = Bad Person. Not only that, but that every person who identifies as a republican has no qualities of which you want your children to emulate.

    I think a big problem we face is that people are constantly creating this false narrative that political affiliation and general politeness go hand in hand. Would you help someone who was in need? Would it matter if they were a republican or a democrat? As you mentioned in your article, “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.” Do you think this statement in itself is somewhat hateful? Each party platform is what it is. I think if you agree with every minute detail of a given platform, you’re not thinking for yourself. That being said, if someone votes republican because of lower tax rates and because they want to uphold the second amendment in order to keep their family safe, you would automatically oust this person on the premise that the political party they voted for has policies that you consider hateful? I realize abortion and gay marriage are two very sensitive issues, but who are you to decide what is right and wrong for everyone? You look at abortion as a woman’s right to choose, but someone else may see it as that child’s right to live. You want basic human rights for everyone, right? Is it truly more hateful to deny the extortion of a child than to extort the child?

    I believe there are many republicans that have no qualms with gay marriage/gay rights. Sure, there are people who do, but those people come from a multitude of political affiliations. My point is that I think your reasoning is both biased and stereotypical. People are people, and one democrat can think differently than another democrat and vice versa. Just off the top of my head I can think of a Hillary Clinton voter who is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and I can think of several Donald Trump voters who are indifferent about gay marriage. I think the propaganda and false narratives, that are based on a non-existent premises, that are spread, such as articles like this, are the reason for so much separation and division among the people in this country.

    Just my two cents.

  2. The problem occurs when people make assumptions and when they attribute characteristics to a person based on stereotyping (whether that is politics or religion) and they attack the person and not the ideology. How can we have true discourse and how can we truly understand when we generalize and close the door? How can civilization progress when we withdrawal to our camp left and right and ignore proper conversation?

  3. I’m in complete agreement with your views, even more so nearly two years after you wrote this piece. Trump is immoral. His policies are an assault on our planet, on our democracy, and on the values all decent and compassionate people share. I, too, cannot be friends with anyone who supports Trump and his racist agenda, regardless of their excuses for continuing to support him. To those who say “I support him because he’s good for the economy, good for Israel” or whatever, I say, “”Have you lost your moral compass? Have you lost your soul?”

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