I couldn’t resist the headline.
There’s a story on the internet today titled “Donald Trump Is Destroying My Marriage.” http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/donald-trump-is-destroying-my-marriage.html#comments. And I just had to read it because honestly, it hit pretty close to home. Last week during Thanksgiving, there were dozens of “How to keep your family from killing each other fighting about Trump over dinner” articles and apparently, the only advice anyone could come up with was “don’t discuss politics.” It’s easy to joke about. And it’s easy to blame THOSE PEOPLE (you know, the other side, the ones that disagree with you) for causing all the problems. But honestly, who DOESN’T know someone who’s relationships have been affected by Trump?
2016 was one of the most wretched years of my life. It was absolutely miserable for me to try and stay involved in the Republican party when I looked around and thought “I can’t believe these people are supposed to be on MY side.” And yeah, it affected my marriage. No, Donald Trump did not cause my divorce. My husband and I had serious issues long before Trump took that ride down the golden escalator. And they were issues so serious that they would have ended our marriage regardless of who was president. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that it did make things worse. That doesn’t make it Trump’s fault. However our reactions (OK, MY reaction) to his candidacy and election definitely made the tension in my marriage worse.
The irony is that my husband and I didn’t disagree about Trump. Neither one of us liked him, neither one of us voted for him. (I have a sneaking suspicion that he voted for Hillary, but I can’t prove it.) We certainly didn’t fight about it. But after Trump entered the fray, we lost our ability to have pleasant discussions about politics. I took the standard “OMG, can you believe what he did THIS TIME!” reaction and he decided that the whole thing had become too distressing and he just wanted to ignore everything all the time. Neither of these are productive. Of course we should care about what’s happening in our country. Nobody should hide under a rock waiting for all the problems to just go away. We SHOULD be able to have rational discussions on a variety of topics, even with people with whom we disagree.
So, why CAN’T we?
Why have so many relationships been absolutely torn up over politics? Reading the couples profiled here, it’s easy to see that most of them (like me) had issues to begin with. It’s stunning how many of the women mention having been sexually assaulted. And that past experience really influenced the way they reacted to Trump and later to the Kavanaugh hearings. I wrote about this at the time, but it truly shocked me how many men just absolutely DIDN’T GET IT that so many women have had horrible experiences and a genuine fear of sharing them and that they shouldn’t have their feelings dismissed and that we need to quit making excuses for bad behavior just because the guy is in our political party (or sports team, or favorite TV show.) The #MeToo movement has a lot of women processing incidents that they’d kept buried for years and a lot of the anger bubbling up out of that has spewed over even to innocent targets.
Another running theme is that some of these women suddenly became motivated to get involved politically and their husbands didn’t like it. This really isn’t surprising. When one member of a couple takes up a new interest it can often cause conflict.
To me, it all comes down to an appalling lack of empathy in our society. We don’t just disagree on the issues any more. We look at those we disagree with and think “What the hell is wrong with those people?” I know a lot of good and decent people who supported Trump for a variety of reasons. I’ve also seen a shocking amount of racism come out of people I thought I knew. Unfortunately, too many on the left see only the racism and can’t imagine how anyone could align with them. Some have all the compassion in the world for the immigrants attempting to cross our border, but can’t manage any for the workers who’ve lost their jobs, for the people who’ve had their neighborhoods upended, for those victimized by crime and identity theft committed by illegal aliens. Some feel extreme empathy with the families of fallen soldiers and police officers, but feel that anyone shot by the authorities obviously got what was coming to them.
This attitude infects all of our hot button culture issues. I have a friend who lost his partner of many years. It was an extreme comfort to him that they were able to legal marry beforehand. I get that, because I know him. But I also feel compassion for the bakers and florists and others who are losing their businesses because they don’t want to violate their religious beliefs. Why can’t we feel for both? Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t you feel compassion for women faced with unwanted pregnancies AND care for the innocent lives being destroyed by abortion? Why do we side with those who lost loved ones to gun violence but not those who defended their loved ones with a weapon?
Donald Trump did not cause these rift in our society. But he has exploited them for his own personal gain. If Barack Obama was the blank screen so many projected their own beliefs onto, then Donald Trump is the funhouse mirror that reflects back the ugliest tendencies of his supporters and detractors alike. What’s showing has nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.
Trump will exit the public scene one day – one way or the other. But his absence won’t heal all of these divisions. We need an answer other than segregating ourselves with like believers or ignoring the issues altogether. My biggest fear is that we’ve broken something in our society that will be impossible to repair.