Last Thursday, ten heavily coached Democratic candidates battled it out on a debate stage in Houston, filling the ears of the audience with carefully planned one-liners and attacks meant to establish themselves as the rightful heir to the Obama legacy. As insincere as many of the politicians’ and businessmen’s sympathetic anecdotes about their ordinary childhoods may have come across, recent years within the Trump era have left liberal voters willing to accept blatant pandering if it means an end to the current regime.
Though it is true that America’s issues with race, religion and culture certainly did not begin with Trump’s election to office and could probably best be described as fermenting beneath the surface of an Obama bandaid, it is also true that Trump has ripped off said bandaid and thrown it into the trash along with principles established in the constitution. Marked with a shameless embrace of jingoism, xenophobic paranoia and an unwarranted war on journalism, Trump’s America is one that has bred geninue terror in the hearts of many.
And yet, most Americans, including many self-proclaimed liberals balk at the idea of one choosing to disassociate oneself from self-proclaimed Trump supporters. “It’s so immature to end friendships over politics,” a close friend once told me, “Your friendships should transcend something as small as who you vote for.” This sentiment of politics being a dirty word, a set of intimate utterances and beliefs reserved for the privacy of one’s bedroom or mind, is one echoed by people on all parts of the political spectrum. In fact, those who date or keep close friendships across party lines often consider themselves morally superior to those who don’t. And as I told my friend that who we vote for is not, in fact, a “small thing,” I could tell from the pitying look I received that she was convinced that she had freed herself from the shallow constraints that people like me operated within.
As a political science major, I am not unaware of the dangers of echo chambers, a phenomenon that no doubt helped to elect Donald Trump in the first place. However as a black woman born of immigrants, I find myself unable to surround myself with people whose political preferences inherently stand in opposition to my existence and well-being. It is not a sign of maturity to be able to share a bond of mutual affection with someone who believes my life does not matter or that my ability to make choices about my own body should be suppressed. Rather, it is more likely a sign of insanity or more accurately, privilege.
The truth is simple: privilege is a social construct which allows certain people the ability to maintain close friendships across party lines. When the effects of of your friends’ political decisions have little to no direct consequences on your life, it is easy to boil politics down to a “small thing” and to stand from a high horse and encourage others not to abandon friendships over political differences. Which is not to say that liberals and conservatives cannot be family, friends or lovers. There is a radical difference between simply being conservative leaning and being a Trump supporter. Friendships can survive the presence of differences, but some differences are simply too dangerous, too unethical and too destructive to ignore.
And what becomes of those who insist I turn a blind eye on what they do between the walls of their voting booth, who stand firmly behind the stance that our friendship is special enough or strong enough to withstand the winds of political polarization? I say they’re wrong. The problem with such insistence is the same problem with well-worn backhanded compliments like “you’re not like other [insert any marginalized identity]” or “you’re a credit to your [marginalized identity].” It is not admirable that someone who supports a man who espouses daily vitriol against marginalized Americans can find it in their hearts to befriend one of those very same marginalized Americans. When we live in an era where the bodies of many Americans have become politicized, friends cannot “agree to disagree” over each other’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.