Yesterday I came across a meme on Facebook depicting a Clinton supporter explaining that she could no longer be friends with her Trump-supporting friend, on the basis that clearly they don’t hold the same values.
A very similar meme found great favour in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, in which Pooh is depicted as telling Piglet that Piglet’s vote has shown a side to him which Pooh had not previously seen, and that this would take a while for Pooh to be able to process and decide whether they could still be friends.
Let me make this clear. Disagreements over voting decisions are inevitable, but if you are ending friendships on the basis of the way your friend voted, then you are an aresehole. And I say this regardless of whether you voted Brexit, Remain, Clinton or Trump.
Think about it for a minute. Either you and your friend have never previously discussed politics, leading you to the false impression that as you are friends you must think the same way. Or, more likely, you have previously discussed individual elements of politics and society, such as attitudes to race, religion and wealth, found you are in agreement on those matters, and carried on happily as friends.
Now, in the first case, I would argue neither you nor your friend are actually particularly interested in politics and therefore you both probably voted on one or two key aspects of the particular candidate or campaign that appealed to you, without taking the time to understand all the ins and outs of each individual campaign. Much though it may be painful to admit, maybe you should consider the fact that neither of you really understood all the arguments and nuances of either campaign? Why not take this as a perfect opportunity to further your understanding, by actually talking to your friend and really trying to understand what it was about the other candidate / campaign that caused them to vote the way they did? If it turns out that they really are a white supremacist, or a metropolitan elite who doesn’t give a damn about anybody apart from themselves, then at least you’ll know that you genuinely have found out something about them that you never previously knew, and can end the friendship secure in the knowledge that you should never have been friends in the first place. But more likely you’ll discover you both care about the same issues but you just see the solutions differently.
Going back to the second case above, if you have previously discussed political / societal issues and found you are broadly in agreement, it’s likely that as in the example above, you still actually care about the same issues but just favour different solutions. Or maybe the importance you attach to each issue varies – if you run or work in a business which relies on large numbers of migrants then you are going to care deeply about migrant issues and want migration to continue, whereas if you work in social housing, or for a homeless shelter, and if you have seen increasing numbers of migrants leaving secure homes in southern Europe and ending up homeless in the UK, you will more than likely want curbs on migration. You may be a strong advocate for women’s rights and you may have been really excited about the idea of Hillary Clinton being the first female President of the United States, and utterly appalled at the idea of Donald Trump taking office, whereas your friend may be more concerned with the threat of war under Hillary Clinton and the outgoing administration’s failure to stem the growth of ISIS, and may have voted for Trump in the hopes that Trump’s strong position on ISIS and relatively conciliatory attitude towards Russia may lead to a swifter reduction in global terrorism. Your friend may be equally appalled at Donald Trump’s comments about and behavior towards women, but when weighed up against the threat of global terrorism, may have simply decided that he is the better candidate regardless. Donald Trump will not be the first nor the last President with an appalling track record towards women – just look at John F Kennedy’s record, or that of Bill Clinton.
When I was growing up, I remember being told that the three subjects that should never be discussed among friends are money, religion and politics. There is a reason for that – it’s not that they are taboo subjects, but they are all very complicated subjects which cannot be properly discussed in five minutes, or two hours, or in the course of a debate on Facebook. Personally I find it very difficult not to discuss politics at every opportunity, and am constantly getting into disagreements with my friends, some of which do leave me with the uncomfortable feeling that we disagree on certain core values. But friendships are precious – they are very rarely formed in an instant, but most often are built up over time and through a number of shared experiences. To end a friendship over a disagreement on such a complicated subject as politics, indicates a lack of belief in the friendship itself. In which case maybe you should consider the fact that politics is just an excuse.