Over the years, I’ve met some conservatives who are really nice and decent people. And I’ve met some conservatives who are really intolerant and crazy. The same is true with liberals, of course. But since I’m liberal, most of my bad experiences have been with conservatives, especially Christian conservatives. I do have close conservative friends and family members whom I respect and care about. In those relationships, it’s mutually agreed that our friendship is more important than our political differences.
It’s been tough to handle some of the political conflicts at times, I have to admit. As my cartoon indicates, I’ve often left encounters with hostile conservatives feeling very angry and mentally exhausted. Many of my conflicts with more intolerant conservatives have been in a church setting and they have followed a similar pattern. They would express anger if I express a dissenting opinion. They would say “You’re wrong!” and not listen to me when I try to explain why I hold the opinion that I do. Then I would find out that false gossip has been spread behind my back and people who were once friendly to me begin avoiding me or act coldly towards me. After that, when I express an opinion, it gets passed over or doesn’t get taken seriously. I have no way of defending myself against that.
So I’ve learned to be a bit more wary now about getting into political conversations, trying to gauge who would be o.k. to engage in a thoughtful conversation and who it would be better to avoid. During the 1980s and early 1990s, I used to have many more conservative friends whom I was able to engage in thoughtful conversations where both sides tried to sincerely listen to the other side’s arguments. Underlying those friendships was a respect for other person and their right to have their own opinions. If I could persuade the other person with my arguments, that would be great. I’m sure that the other person would’ve loved to convert me to their point of view. But that never happened, and that was o.k. The friendship was the important thing. Political differences were less important than discussing our dreams of our lives, supporting each other when times got tough, sharing our passions for sports and books and movies, and giving each other advice on how to navigate the bumps in the road of life.
Most of my bad experiences over the past fifteen years have been with people who have difficulty dealing with differences of opinions. I’ve had several experiences where I’ve been yelled at my face for daring to disagree. That’s tough to take. They see me, not as a person, but as their enemy whom they have to convert or discredit. It’s a good way of making someone who could be a potential friend into an enemy. So I’ve gotten into several conflicts with individuals whom I barely know. At times, I get so angry that I fall into the trap of stereotyping all conservatives as being as bad as the more hostile conservatives that I’ve encountered. When I reflect on it, I realize that doing so is just as wrong as when partisan conservatives stereotype all liberals as being unpatriotic and immoral.
I once read in a book that a person has to fight to keep our right to think for ourselves, because there are always people who will be glad to do our thinking for us. That’s a life lesson that I took away from my church experiences. It’s important to look at the people we disagree with as human beings, and not just as stereotypes. Over the past decade, I’ve been very interested in reading about friendships of individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams were best friends even though Jefferson was an ardent Republican and the Adams were strong Federalists. Liberal Senator Ted Kennedy’s best friend in the Senate was conservative Republican Orrin Hatch. Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda were best friends even though Stewart was a conservative Republican and Fonda was a New Deal Liberal. Presidential rivals Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford became friends after attending the funeral of Anwar Sadat in 1980. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s best friend in the court is liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Here are some articles about the extreme partisanship
The Thrill of Political Hating by Arthur C. Brooks for the New York Times
Hatred in Politics by Joseph Burgo for After Psychotherapy
Nixon’s Worst Watergate Legacy: The Politics of Hatred by Susan Brooks Thistlewaite
Here are some youtube videos about extreme partisanship.
Bill Tauzin talks about partisanship in today’s political culture. Tauzin makes the point that at one time there was more friendships that crossed the partisan divide. What happens today is that if a person has a good idea, the opposition has learned that the best way to defeat his idea is not to challenge the idea, but to destroy that person’s credibility. By destroying the person’s credibility, person’s ideas and opinions become totally irrelevant
Judy Woodruff discusses the dysfunctional behavior in the nation’s capital and what can be done to fix the polarization problems with Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, authors of the new book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”
Jesse Graham, assistant professor of psychology at USC, discusses how partisan disagreements often mask deep moral divisions that are resistant to political compromise.
David Rohde (Duke University) discusses how, beginning in the 1960s, divisions within parties faded, but divisions between parties increased, leading to the deep partisan divisions in Congress today.