Knowing someone’s political affiliation can easily be the death knell for any friendship and I’ll show you why.
Take these examples.
(And before we digress into the “we are not a monolith” conversation, these are examples, not forged in stone definitions.)
Ryan considers herself to be a Democrat. She’s received unemployment benefits since being laid off from her job at JC Penny’s and she’s a card carrying member of the President Barack Obama fan club. She hates those “racist” Republicans, but she doesn’t believe that gay people should have the right to marry, nor that women should be able to get abortions and she’s tickled pink that Osama bin Laden was murdered without due process, no physical evidence tying him to 9-11, then dumped into the sea with nothing but a select few having seen his body.
Then we have Bob.
Bob grew up in the projects, climbed out by the skin of his teeth, received a scholarship to an Ivy League school and graduated thank you lordy. He began his career on Wall Street, making more money in one year than his single mother made in her entire life, and now he looks down on the “ghetto rats” that refuse to just get up and get a job. He can’t understand why anyone would agree with wealth redistribution – “I earned it, I should keep it all.” – he’s satisfied, honored even, with being the token brotha in any situation and he thinks that Mitt Romney would be the perfect POTUS because of his business skill set.
Personally, I can’t see myself being friends with either one of them.
I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s been my experience that political viewpoints say a great deal about a person’s character and once a person’s political views become common knowledge, it’s impossible to separate the two. Specifically, when they dogmatically defend those viewpoints with the zeal of a Baptist minister on Easter Sunday.
Let’s say you’re a socially liberal Democrat and you meet a really nice young lady who you can totally see yourself being friends with. As time passes, the conversation turns to politics and your new friend says, “It’s so good to be able to come out and enjoy ourselves, right girl? I feel sorry for those lazy bums who just sit at home and do nothing. Get a job already!”
As she waits on the expected chuckle, all you can find yourself thinking is how much she sounds like an elitist ass. You find yourself thinking about the entrenched racism that poisons this country and the fact that it’s more difficult for a Black man with a college degree to get a job than it is for a white man who barely graduated from high school.
The same rules apply in reverse. You’re a fiscally conservative Republican and you’re chatting with a co-worker who says that she really wishes there was something that she could do to pay more taxes to ensure that children living in poverty have access to better healthcare.
As she waits for your answering nod of empathy, all you can find yourself thinking is, “I’m not paying a dime more, the same way I work for it, so can those kids’ parents.”
It doesn’t stop at money, unemployment and healthcare. It colors every aspect of our existence. How we feel about renters vs. homeowners, military engagement vs. diplomacy, civil unions vs. marriage equality, abortion vs. adoption, patriotism vs. global citizenship. Yes, sometimes the lines are blurred along party lines — and for purposes of this discussion, we won’t address the Green or Libertarian parties, or any other that falls out of the parameters of the two-party system — but for the most part, it’s extremely easy to tell where a person stands on a certain issue based on their political party.
So how do you get past a close friend believing in the death penalty when you fight for the innocent men who fade away on death row without representation?
How do you continue to call someone sister who feels that an embryo is nothing but cells and tissues, when you felt an instant connection with your children from the moment of conception?
As young men and women continue to become involved in the political process and it becomes more firmly embedded in pop culture and daily conversations, is there a way to be friends with someone who holds completely different views than you?
Or does the old saying, “Never discuss religion, money or politics in polite company” hold true for friendships as well?