Why Can’t Democrats Be Friends With Supporters Of The Alleged Hitler Fan?
This weekend, the Washington Post treated us to another story describing how political differences are driving wedges between onetime friends. Take for instance David Huzzard from Virginia, who noticed a friend posting QAnon garbage on Facebook. He originally assumed that “maybe they just got tricked." Democrats are often the Jane Bennets of the political sphere, desperately trying to find the good in the worst people.
The relationship between Huzzard and his friend steadily deteriorated. Just a couple years ago, Huzzard had the option of unfollowing his friend's Facebook feed, but COVID-19 made the political unavoidable. Half the country was suddenly refusing to wear masks or listen to medical experts, and this had a practical impact on daily life and one's actual survival.
He considered inviting this friend and her husband over for dinner. But as the other couple continued sharing online disinformation about the efficacy of masks and the coronavirus vaccines, Huzzard and his wife decided that for the safety of their family and their unvaccinated children, they would no longer socialize with them.
It is tragic when friendships are ruined because someone belongs to a cult. However, the Post article takes a weird turn and suggests that those of us outside the cult are the problem. We're apparently suppressive personalities.
Republicans like Huzzard's former pal tend to have more bipartisan friendships than Democrats do: Just over half of Republicans, 53 percent, said they have at least some friends who are Democrats, AEI found, while about a third of Democrats (32 percent) said they have at least some Republican friends.
The math here seems weird, but my college statistics course was admittedly almost 30 years ago. How can Republicans have more “bipartisan friendship than Democrats" when Democrats are half of those bipartisan friendships? I took an Advil and thought about this further, and I think the issue is that Republicans are more inclined to consider a superficial relationship with a Democrat a “friendship" while Democrats are just avoiding a scene at work. (Rebecca wonders if there's some slutty Democrat out there being friends with all the Republicans, like the bad old days when all the men had premarital sex with apparently the same one woman. In this case, every Republican is friends with Chris Coons.)
Republicans also probably don't consider the power imbalance between themselves and (usually Black) Democrats. We pick our battles. It's like the Chris Rock routine about how white people will think they're buddies with the old Black guy at their job: “Oh, Willie he's so nice." Not so fast: “Willie hates your guts."
I worked for a while at an advertising agency in the late 1990s, and one of the managers would rant about how he didn't want his daughters dating Black guys. He wasn't racist of course. He just wasn't big on race mixing. After one of his tirades, he'd wink at me, as if we were sharing a private joke. I wasn't about to protest. It was a job. Besides, I'd seen photos of his daughters.
The Post treats all this as a straightforward political disagreement, as if cookouts are devolving into screaming matches over the nuances of economic policy. However, the reality is more insidious. According to Daniel A. Cox, AEI's resident scholar in polling and public opinion, who oversaw the think tank's study:
[Donald] Trump had a way of making things that were previously not defined as political, such as belief in facts or the efficacy of vaccines, into partisan issues.
Oh, so, like a cult leader? We're talking about a cult here.
Trump inspired such intense devotion in his followers, and when that happens, Cox says, "it becomes a lot more difficult to bear and take criticism of that person."
It's like these people are hooked on meth. No one would question someone who cuts ties with a drug addict who won't seek help. Junkies are open minded about hanging out with people who aren't on drugs, especially if you don't mind if they steal from you to buy more drugs.
A Hispanic woman told AEI: "If they were a fan of DJT, I wanted nothing to do with them." Trump supporters were also willing to walk away from friends, AEI notes, quoting a study participant who said they unfriended people online and stopped talking to people "who didn't respect our great President Trump."
These aren't morally similar positions. A minority woman doesn't want to socialize with people who slavishly follow a racist cretin, who regularly raises lynch mobs at his hate rallies against everyone who's different from him. Trump supporters, meanwhile, sound like brainwashed members of an authoritarian regime.
Cox adds that race plays a role, too. Black Democrats, for example, have very few Republican friends, so they don't often have the opportunity to engage across the political aisle. "People who are strong partisans tend to be more segregated socially," Cox adds.
Neither Cox nor the Post notes that Republicans are overwhelmingly white. America is still a racially segregated society in many ways. Black people aren't refusing to move into white neighborhoods or work in the tech sector. This has nothing to do with our political beliefs. There are also a lot of conservative Black people, even among those who identify as Democrats, but aside from the odd Candace Owens, conservative Black people don't sound like Tucker Carlson.
Elizabeth Pipko, a 26-year-old Republican-leaning White woman who worked on the 2016 Trump campaign, estimates that most of her friends lean to the left. While she's lost longtime friends over a mismatch in politics, she's maintained those relationships where she and her pals can understand where the other person is coming from. When discussing the Black Lives Matter movement with a Black male friend last year, Pipko remembers her friend telling her: "The only thing I want from you is just to listen." They sat and talked for hours, Pipko says, and he looked at her as a friend, not as a Republican. "It was nice when he spoke to me as Elizabeth, not as whoever might happen to lean right and disagree with me."
Lady, Willie hates your guts.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."