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Heavy Meddle: 'Unfriending' Trump Supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gesture as he arrives to a campaign rally, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Sanford, Fla. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gesture as he arrives to a campaign rally, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Sanford, Fla. (Evan Vucci/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.



Dear Steve,

What is the best approach to take when you’re a social situation and a friend or acquaintance starts discussing politics to which you are grossly opposed? I have found out that some of my friends support Donald Trump. I couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to his candidacy. In conversation I have also discovered that these friends have bigoted opinions.

I no longer want to associate with them, but my other friends are mad at me because I am breaking up the group. How can I get them to leave me alone about this decision? And when I do find myself in the company of those I disagree with, what should I do?

I walk away when I can. But what if I am in their direct company? Am I supposed to remain quiet to keep things neutral, and not cause a scene? Or should I stand up for my convictions? I used to feel like I could have civil conversations with people I disagreed with politically. But this election season, not so much.



Dear AT,

There are millions of people struggling with these very questions right now. In fact, on the latest episode of Dear Sugar Radio, me and my partner Cheryl Strayed just answered a similar question from a woman with the same dilemma.

Actually, you’re asking two distinct questions here. The first is whether you should say something if friends or acquaintances start making statements with which you disagree. The second is how to get certain friends to stop criticizing you for rejecting mutual friends over their politics.

I’ll answer the second question first, because it’s a bit more straightforward. Here’s the deal with friendship: it’s a purely voluntary relationship. Unlike the bonds of family and marriage, there is no legal or familial contract. You get to choose, and unchoose, your friends. If mutual friends have a problem with that they can unchoose you as a friend. I don’t mean to sound standoffish. And you shouldn’t, either. But it’s that simple. If your friends think you’re being petty, or a high-minded, or a spoilsport, so be it. But it’s worth explaining, compassionately, that you have certain convictions, and that making bigoted comments in public (for instance) is a deal breaker for you.

The question of when and how to articulate your convictions is much more complex. I do think that bigotry and ignorance thrive in an atmosphere of acquiescence, and that silence is a form of consent. For a lot of people, the rise of Donald Trump, and the way his assorted bigotries have been normalized, represent a form of cultural consent, one to which they don’t want to be complicit.

I think it’s important to make a distinction between Trump and those who support him.

But I think it’s important to make a distinction between Trump and those who support him. There are plenty of Americans who will pull the lever for Trump not because of his misogyny and racism but in spite of it. They might genuinely believe that he represents a change agent, or be voting based on tribal affiliation. This is hardly an endorsement of their moral code. But it’s a reminder that you can’t judge individuals solely based on their voting habits. You can, however, judge them based on what they say. And if some of your Trump supporting friends have used his candidacy as a pretext for venting their inner bigots, you have every right to confront them.

I’m not suggesting that it is your obligation, because that’s not a decision for me to make. In my own life, I don’t always speak up when someone makes hateful comments, in large part because I often sense that this person is angry, or wounded, and that they’re trying to pick a fight. And I don’t want to be party to their provocation, especially knowing that I’m not going to win them over, and am more likely to drive them further into their dogma.

But one thing I can say, with some assurance, is that the charged atmosphere that has gripped the nation will begin to dissipate as soon as the election is over. I’m not suggesting that all will be forgotten and forgiven. But some of the meanness that Trump has inflamed will, with any luck, give way to a more conciliatory climate.

If you’re tired of the partisan drama, you can always steer clear of social scenes where you suspect that’s going to be on tap. If you find a conversation drifting into acrimony, you can tell folks that you respect their right to discuss politics, but that you don’t want to have your night out ruined by rancor. Or you can simply take your leave. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Onward, together,

Author's note: This is such a complex question. I know there are plenty of Trump supporters who feel the same sense of outrage at folks who support Clinton. Negative partisanship has gone wild. I do think the election has been shocking because it reveals that we’re much more deeply divided than we realized. How do we talk to each other? Please offer your take in the comment section below. And please do send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of the novel “All the Secrets of the World.” He’ll be teaching several Workshops for Democracy this fall.



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