What hath politics wrought?

Last Saturday was my 40th high school reunion and I once had every intention of going. I loved those old friends of mine and I hadn’t seem them since the 5th reunion, which — rather typical for our class — was held six years after we graduated. We had a commonality of life experiences. It was impossible to grow up in the ’60s and not be politically astute; how could we not be when there was every chance the president was going to send many of us off to Vietnam, if we didn’t incinerate in a nuclear blast first?

Then, years later, Facebook came along and every day was a reunion. I found that my old friends — in many cases — are now much different in every way than we were before. We had also gone off in our own political directions; some of us — some of them — to the far reaches of the spectrum.

It might’ve been — and probably was — a delightful evening. But I couldn’t risk the chance that I might fly halfway across the continent at considerable expense to undergo the talk radio- and cable TV-inspired conversations I loathe.

Increasingly, it seems, our relationships revolve around politics; one reason why I have a “no politics/no religion” rule among my aviations friends, most of whom I’ve lost after defriending them on Facebook. If you talk politics, you’re only going to lose friends.

If you’ve been in the same situation, there’s good news: It’s not just you. Politics is straining the social fabric.

MPR’s Public Insight Network has been collecting stories for a segment later this month on the program, “This American Life.” They’ve populated this map with those stories.

One of my favorites:

I was a late adopter of Facebook — I’ve only been on it for about a year and a half. What has been especially striking to me as a user is the way in which people’s political Facebook status updates reflect the kind of polarizing language I thought was reserved for cable news pundits and congressmen in the midst of a temper tantrum. …

After a particularly long week of angry Facebook posts depicting ludicrous caricatures of Republicans, I posted an (admittedly whiny) update bemoaning the lack of intelligent discourse and lack of attempts to “reach across the aisle.” Within seconds, I had a reply: “Romney bathes in baby’s blood.”

The Public Insight Network is assembling audio stories from people, some of them heartbreaking splits over politics. Tom Cox, for example, hasn’t spoken to his brother in three years.

You can add your story here.

In another month, the presidential campaign of 2016 begins. How do we disconnect this relationship between politics and our relationships?

  • Phillip

    It’s good to hear that relationships still exist through political differences. My grandparents had that – my grampa was a Republican, and my gramma was a daughter of someone who worked and campaigned for the DFL. From what my mom says, they would joke about canceling each others votes and then get on with their lives because there was more to their relationship and life that needed tending.

    Also, thanks for the Weed Dating post – that’s all sorts of awesome.

  • Kassie

    I think people who aren’t super passionate about politics can continue to have genuine friendships if their politics are different. I can’t. When I hear someone spouting lies/hate about unions, government, gay marriage, Obamacare, or welfare they are spouting lies about me. For me, it isn’t that they are talking about “those people.” For me, it is that they are talking about me, my family and my closest friends. It is personal and since I learned long ago you can’t change them, I distance myself from them. I don’t think my life is any worse because of it.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Politics is ultimately about the allocation of resources.

    In this country the debate is basically over whether money should be spent on The War Machine/The Wealthy/Oil companies vs Health/Education/Those in Need/ alternative energy.

    Can somebody who votes war/wealthy/oil be a decent human being to his/her family and friends? Of course.

    Can I have a beer with them and talk about the game? Sure.

    Can I respect them in spite of their personal life vs political leanings conflict as much as I would if their personal/political was consistent?

    Not so easy.

    ( Which is not to say that there aren’t plenty of progressives who vote right but are jerks personally.)

  • Aaron

    I’ve lost friendships from political conversations/debates. I’ve gained friendships and I have some friends who refuse to discuss the topics with me because they are afraid to lose the friendship. I’ve been engaging in political discourse for 10 years; ever since I got involved and interested. It’s easy to get offended when someone speaks against your view points because in order to make their point they have to discredit your point. At the end of they day you just have to remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and just leave it at that. When you try to force your views and beliefs on to others – then you will run into problems. I think it would be complicated to raise children in a house hold that where the parents don’t agree on the big picture issues. Values and beliefs are something you want to pass on to the next generation and when they are competing with the other parent – that will make it difficult.

  • Dan

    I wonder if we talked about politics more often, we wouldn’t get so worked up about it. The general rule is that you shouldn’t talk about politics in public. So when somebody starts shouting “I built this” or “impeach Bush” or whatnot, the normal reaction is to ignore that person. Everyone sort of looks away. No one engages with him or her.

    And, of course, that’s precisely what a political loudmouth is looking for. But if we were used to civil discourse on politics, of talking about it instead of shouting about it, I think we’d be better off. The guy who votes against us wouldn’t be the crass loudmouth at the gym, but our friend who we probably don’t agree with, but at least we can see where he’s coming from.

    If nobody talks about politics with real people, it leaves a vacuum that I think cable news is all to ready to fill in.