I think I’ve lost a friend. It wasn’t death that ended the friendship, it was politics.
We go all the way back to high school, where we were lab partners in advanced biology, and later as freshman roommates at the University of Florida. I was maid of honor at her wedding, and while we’ve lived on opposite sides of the country and the political spectrum all of our adult lives, we’ve stayed close – and visited whenever we could.
Sure, we didn’t agree about most things political, but there was so much else to talk about and share. And when occasionally we did talk about issues and candidates and legislation and hot-button red-blue things, we did so respectfully. She’d say something like “I know you don’t see this my way, but have you ever considered …” and then she’d lay out her point of view. I might concede some truth or perspective to what she was saying, and then I’d offer my own take. Or it might happen in reverse. We just didn’t let it get in the way of friendship. Until this year.
She has a lot of libertarian leanings but is a pretty strong tea party person. I’ve got some of the former but none of the latter. She has a close friend back home who is a kind of extremist tea party person, and I know that influences her. She’s said as much. Disclaimer: There are extremists across the spectrum; I’m just laying out the case at hand. Anyhow, I’d been getting from my friend lots of those group-forwarded emails advocating ultra-right positions. Some were the usual propaganda (relatively harmless) but some were pretty nasty, personal and distorted attacks on politicians and political philosophies that I tend to favor.
A couple of years ago, I asked her to be a little more restrictive with her computer’s “forward all” key. I appreciate hearing other points of view and can laugh at a funny cartoon or bit of satire, even at the expense of my own sacred cows, but I don’t want to receive the spleen-venting missives. And so she backed off on that and life went on just fine.
Then it resumed. There gets to be a final straw moment, and after receiving one of those particularly vitriolic and provably false screeds, I kind of let loose. I shot back an email and told her to stop sending me that stuff (not quite the “s” word I used). I expressed my anger, but I did manage to work my way back to the original request to filter what she sends me and just not automatically forward everything. I concede it was not my finest piece of writing, but c’mon, I’d been polite and patient about it for quite some time. And shouldn’t friendship be able to survive a bit of temper?
And then came the great silence. I’d send an email about some happening in my life or maybe an inquiry about how she was faring after a tropical depression passed her way or something. Nothing came back. But I didn’t give up. I’ve slowly begun getting polite and terse replies. No, the storm didn’t do much damage, just a lot of rain. Period.
She was supposed to come out for a visit this summer. That didn’t happen. Nor did any discussion about the aborted trip.
I don’t know how to fix this. What brings it all to the front of my mind now is that I just returned from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where I saw several great plays, including the world premiere of “All the Way,” a stunningly brilliant presentation about Lyndon Baines Johnson from when he assumed the presidency after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how he won the presidency that year. It was full of duplicity, wheeling and dealing, manipulation, corruption, nobility, foreshadowing – and was quite Shakespearean in how it examined power and morality. Even with the violence of the time (remember the Freedom Summer?), how the Democrats wound up losing the South, possibly forever, and all the intrigue and back-stabbing that went on, there was still the ability to compromise and to go out for drinks in the evening with those you battled fiercest with during the day.
The premise was that what went on was just politics, and that friendships could be maintained just the same. That was understood – at least in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s play, but also from other accounts I’ve read of how things once worked in Washington, D.C.
I don’t see any ability to compromise any more, or really much civility. And I wonder if it’s even possible for friendships to be maintained across the political aisle. For me, it appears the political divide has taken down at least one friendship. That may not be a big loss for the nation, but it sure is for me.