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Politics Tears at Fabric of Relationships

Bruce Frassinelli

A friend of mine from Fulton was lamenting the fact that she and her uncle barely talk to each other anymore after several clashes over opposing political views that turned into ugly shouting matches.

She labels him as an “election denier’’ and “conspiracy theorist,’’ saying that he “totally is all in’’ on the notion that the 2020 Presidential election was “stolen’’ from former President Donald Trump. She also ticked off a number of annoyances with the number of “crazy, off the wall’’ theories he believes in and which she dismisses as “pure insanity.’’

He, on the other hand, accused her of being a socialist, who, along with her “woke’’ friends, is leading our nation down the path of ruin and destruction.

Before the Trump era, she said, they could discuss some of their political differences rationally and calmly, but no more. Aside from politics, she said, “we had a great relationship.’’ Now, however, she said, their political differences have overshadowed their entire relationship to the point where they don’t even want to be in each other’s company.

Isn’t this sad? Have our political differences transcended the importance of family and friendships? Apparently it has in some cases.

The results of a recent Siena College-New York Times poll showed that 19% of registered voters said that recent disagreements with family or friends over political issues have hurt their relationships.

I can relate to this first-hand. One of my closest boyhood friends and I reconnected about a decade ago. We would go to lunch periodically, chat by phone frequently and stay in touch almost daily through text and email messages.

Then came the 2016 Presidential election, which was won by Trump. Our conversations began to devolve into shouting matches in public places as he tried to persuade me to accept some clearly false and unverifiable information to “prove’’ that Trump was the greatest thing to come down the pike since sliced bread. When I did not buy into his theses, he became enraged.

After several of these unpleasant encounters, I suggested to him that we eliminate politics from our discussion menu when we get together. He agreed, but our relationship has never been the same. When I texted him in May about having lunch, he said he would check his schedule and get back to me. It’s nearly three months later, and I have not heard or seen a word from him.

The recent poll reports that Democrats and Independents were more likely to indicate deteriorated relationships at 21% and 20%, respectively, compared to 14% of Republicans.

The poll also concluded that political disagreements hurt relationships for women and white registered voters with a college degree more than with other groups.

After all of this is said, though, the poll found that a solid majority across all demographics said their relationships had not been affected.

With the Presidential primaries less than a year away and with the violent political rhetoric ramping up in a divisive climate, battleground candidates regularly paint their opponents as “extremists.’’

Threats against lawmakers and their families and against voting officials have intensified as the election draws closer. One of the most brazen incidents involved the break-in at the California home of former Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul. Paul Pelosi was seriously injured in the attack by the suspect who had written extremist views on social media. In Washington, Capitol Police have been investigating thousands of threats against legislators’ safety and security even as trials continue for defendants in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Security has been beefed up at the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices after their Roe v. Wade decision earlier this year.

The poll also revealed that 48% of the registered voters surveyed indicated that a person’s political views reflect on whether or not he or she is a “good person.’’

Some of my friends said that they dread the coming holiday period because of the possibility that the family atmosphere could be shattered by differing political views at the dinner table. I loved Psychology Today’s recommendation if this happens at your Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering: “Request a matriarch or patriarch to enforce a moratorium on politics at family events; the enforcer should immediately shut down raised voices, profanity and personal threats or insults,’’ the magazine author recommends.

Many experts who have studied this problem say that cycles of polarized political disagreement occur during times of large wealth disparities between the wealthy elite and working-class employees.

The thing is that political differences are healthy for a thriving republic such as ours, but these differences need to be channeled in a productive as opposed to a destructive way. Different perspectives help us grow and understand the opposition when it is done constructively. When a friendship is built on trust and respect, it should be able to withstand the stresses of political differences.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a civil conversation with someone who does not share our political beliefs, yet each of us listens attentively and respectfully to the other’s point of view? If we did that, we might learn something.

BRUCE FRASSINELLI is the former publisher of The Palladium-Times. He served as a governor of the Rotary Club District 7150 (Central NY) from July 2001 to June 2002.