A few days ago, I got drinks with two close friends of mine.
The drinks were as strong as the pre-election political tension in the air these days, and soon enough I found myself in their living room waving my hands around in intense debate.
The debate in question? What to do with those pesky Trump-supporting loved ones of ours.
Now you should know that my hands only start waving around wildly when I’m deeply passionate about an argument — I like to think about it as my European roots taking over my body — so I was heavily invested in this debate.
More often than not though, I wasn’t waving my hands around on account of my own beliefs. Actually, I felt like I wasn’t so much a fellow debater as I was a moderator (and an occasional guest star).
My mission was to understand and bridge the ideological gap between my two friends.
They are an inseparable duo — best friends and roommates — who aren’t afraid to challenge each other and call each other out on what they disagree on, which to me is really the ideal friendship.
But on this issue, they really, really disagreed.
While they’re both liberally-minded people deadset on casting their vote for the Biden/Harris ticket this election cycle, they disagreed on the finer points.
One of them, we’ll call her Alex, has close relatives and friends who are planning on casting their vote for Trump in November. She still associates with them.
The other, we’ll call her Avery, also has people close to her that still support Trump. She no longer speaks to these people and she doesn’t see why anyone would.
Their disagreement is a microcosm of what’s happening on the left side of the political spectrum on a national scale right now.
On one end, we’re seeing people who cannot conceptualize a vote for Trump as anything other than a vote against human decency and equality. To this group, a vote for Trump is a ballot cast in favor of racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.
On the other end of the leftist spectrum, we’re seeing people who view Trump, his actions, and the dangerous rhetoric he invokes as equally morally repugnant, but stop just short of convicting all his supporters on those same charges. To this side of the liberal camp, choosing Trump’s name on the ballot may make someone misinformed or indicate that their priorities are out of whack, but it does not necessarily mean that they harbor any of the aforementioned phobias.
In the midst of our intense debate, I saw this divide unfold in front of my eyes, with Alex leaning towards the “not inherently evil” camp and Avery teaming up with the “you support what you are” side.
Like most ideological divides, turns out that theirs was born of different life experiences.
As we kept drinking and talking (and drinking some more), the conversation started to hit an emotional chord.
Alex raised her head to speak and, for the first time, I saw tears in her eyes.
Avery had just proclaimed that she had made a personal decision a while back to not communicate with those of her friends that still supported Trump. To her, their individual character and their decision to cast their ballot for a president that stood against so much of what she stood for could not be separated.
How could she have a relationship with someone who supports a president that is openly putting her healthcare and right to make decisions about her own body at risk? She begged the question, a fire igniting in her eyes.
That’s when I noticed Alex’s eyes welling up in tears — tears for her father.
Although she would love to fully embrace Avery’s point and draw a clear line in the sand, she can’t. To her, it’s too personal. She loves her dad, a vocal Trump supporter, and she doesn’t want to lose him — no matter how his ballot is marked in November.
I could see the frustration in her tears.
As she explained that she’s always trying to convince her family that their vote this year is bigger than the candidate, bigger still than the financial ramifications, that real people will lose very real rights if Trump is re-elected, I could see she that was telling the truth.
In that moment, I could tell how painful this all was for her — for all of us.
We didn’t end the night by tying a neat bow around this issue and coming up with a 5-step plan to bridge the gap between the two camps. If three kids sitting in a living room on a Thursday night drinking hard cider could do that, then I’d take back everything I’ve said about this being a complex issue.
The reality is that the divide we’re seeing on the left side of the political spectrum today is complex; very, very complex. It’s complex because it’s not just political, it’s about how we define what is morally right and morally wrong, what we can and can’t personally stomach, and, most importantly, who we call our loved ones.
In short, the answer to the question of what we’re supposed to do with our Trump-supporting loved ones is complex because it’s personal.
It tugs at our heartstrings. We lament for the groups of people for which even the thought of a Trump re-election is a major catastrophe, just as we lament for each individual person we may lose due to our beliefs.
So no, three kids hanging out on a Thursday afternoon didn’t magically come up with an answer to a question who’s lack of an answer is threatening to rip this country apart (surprise, surprise), but they did realize one thing:
It’s important to have these kinds of conversations, and it’s important we never stop having them.
They can be painful, wildly uncomfortable, and deeply personal — most honest conversations are. But honesty is exactly what we need right now.
Go have an honest conversation with your Trump-supporting loved ones, your friends who have Trump-supporting loved ones, or even your Trump-supporting self. Let yourself show your frustration and let them show theirs. Cry if you feel like it.
The days of sweeping things under the rug and “no shop talk at the dinner table” are over. Politics aren’t just politics anymore; in fact, I don’t think they ever really were.
Politics are personal. Politics have deeply personal consequences. We need to discuss, process, and honor them as such.