Losing a Friend to Fringe Political Views
My two best friends and I were in Chicago for a shopping trip when the Supreme Court heard the 2000 Bush-Gore election case. ’Twas the heady days of hanging chads and such. Every time we walked into the hotel room, my oldest friend in the world snapped on the TV. She was eager for Bush to win.
Other than that weekend, we probably discussed politics for less than an hour over 40+ years of friendship. We went about our politics privately and compatibly.
Just 16 years later, I jettisoned my moderate Republican affiliation the minute Trump gained support in the GOP. His narcissistic, corrupt ignorance cinched the deal for me. I was sickened by the party’s embrace of an unabashed scoundrel. And, in the process, I questioned all of my political assumptions and dove deeply into issues. For the first time, I sought and evaluated information, then filtered it with my own values. And forged ahead, leaving the GOP and Trumpism behind.
I assumed every thinking Republican did.
One evening in late summer 2016, a group of us met for dinner. When the election came up, she teasingly started to bang the table with both fists and chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” It was enough of a spectacle that people all around the restaurant stopped and stared.
I was stunned. She wasn’t really joking. She was voting for Trump. How could this intelligent, caring, kind, and decent woman support such an unqualified, flawed candidate?
Four years of dancing
Throughout the Trump presidency, I was active and vocal. I campaigned for Democrats in the midterms and the 2020 presidential election. I posted information about issues on social media. I encouraged others to contact their legislators about hot issues. Everyone close to me knew exactly where I stood.
But I avoided conversations with my best friend about politics. Even though, for me, the issues revealed character and affected our very democratic values. I felt sure she would have a change of heart.
At another group dinner a year later, a polite conversation ensued about the need for immigration reform. A comment was made about Trump’s policies being disgraceful and the deplorable conditions at the border. My friend joked, “Oh, well. My 401(k) is doing great!”
My stomach lurched. I couldn’t eat another bite. I needed to leave — from sudden nausea and the high probability of starting a fight. I excused myself and drove home in despair and disbelief.
It was another “joke.” And it wasn’t funny.
I’d known her to be a kind, loving, and caring person. Consistently. Over 40+ years. What was happening?
A direct appeal
As the 2020 presidential election approached, I decided to try a different approach. I know she has strong opinions about abortion. She’d once told me the thought she’d “have to answer to God” if she voted for anyone who supported abortion. I disagreed heartily but respected her opinion.
Three weeks before the election, I sent her a long email, asking her not to vote for Trump and outlining the reasons that aligned to our shared religious, ethical, and moral values. I didn’t ask her to vote for Biden; I asked her to not vote for any presidential candidate. That way, she wouldn’t violate her principles AND she wouldn’t support an incompetent leader with fascist leanings. (I said it nicer than that. Promise.) And I told her I didn’t need to know what she decided.
In my heart, I hoped reason and values would prevail. And I felt that I’d done what I could to persuade her.
She didn’t respond to the email, and neither of us mentioned it again.
On January 6, as the world watched a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in horror, I talked with friends near and far. Processing the incident with others while isolated in our homes helped.
She was included in a group text. And she said nothing. Not one word condemning the violence, the incursion, or the wrongheaded notion that a free and fair election could be overturned by the Senate.
Her silence spoke volumes to me.
Yet, her father had recently passed, so I also knew she was dealing with her own grief.
The cause of death was COVID-19. Her dad been exposed by her brother during a visit and passed two weeks later. She insisted on having a funeral rather than deferring a celebration of life to later in the year. People hugged and sat close. I needed to be there for her and a family that I grew up close to, but I sat at the back of the room and kept my distance. A few days later, several of the family members tested positive.
Yet, in spite of these incidents, a week ago, she mentioned that she didn’t plan to get the vaccine.
Train going off the tracks
Two days ago, she nonchalantly texted that she is attending a conference in Oklahoma next week. “Health and Freedom.” She sent an image of a flyer. Speakers include Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, the My Pillow guy, and a bunch of anti-vaxxers.
I shot back, “You’re kidding, right?” She had to be. Some of those nutters have proven themselves to be traitors.
She responded, “Nope.” Followed by: “I get that it wouldn’t be your thing.”
I’m worried about her health. My guess is that thousands of attendees will be crammed into a convention center, and that few will wear masks or observe social distancing. That, in fact, many will flout reasonable, recommended public health practices to prove their point — whatever that is. That the virus is a hoax…that public health policy is being used to usurp personal freedom…that the number of deaths around the world has been inflated. Hell, maybe even that Q wants them to hug and slather on each other.
I respect her right to believe what she wants, to vote as she wishes, to align herself with whomever she likes. One of the best things about living in a free society is that each person can possess independent thought and take action, as long as it hurts no one else.
I don’t want to control her or impose my beliefs on her.
I just want my friend back. The intelligent one who excelled at every subject in college. The logical one who could figure things out when the rest of us gave up. The discerning one who could distinguish reasonable differences of public policy from hoaxes and flim-flam seditionists.
Maybe she thinks the same of me. It’s possible. But, if so, she hasn’t reached out to me to express her concerns about my liberal views. I quipped to a mutual friend, “Hey, how come she’s not worried about ME?”
Do I care more, because I’m willing to speak up and risk the friendship, or am I foolish and meddlesome to try?
I feel I’m watching a tragedy unfold in slow motion, and it’s painful. The more I try to stop it, the more sure the crash seems. So I will try just one more time, as I’d want her to do for me. I’ll ask her to listen critically to the speakers and seek alternate views before accepting their views. I’ll ask her to wear a mask and social distance.
Then, I’ll step back, give her space, and pray with all my might that she doesn’t fall over the edge.
These are perilous times.
But, hey, at least my 401(k) is doing great.
© Tina L. Smith, 2021
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About the author: Several years ago, the author undertook a process to examine her core beliefs and made significant changes to her world view. You’re invited to learn more about that process: