Safe zones for politics

Friday, March 17, 2017

We’ve all heard how toxic the climate is for discussing politics and there now are some statistics that prove it, according to this week’s The Week magazine. It reports that a YMCA in Greater Scranton, Pa has banned new coverage on its workout rooms’ televisions in order to reduce the stress level of members. The report says that members kept having heated political quarrels that threatened to turn into fistfights.

Since the elections, nearly 50 percent of workers have seen political discussions between colleagues turn into arguments, according to a survey by Better Works.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 16 percent of Americans had stopped talking to a family member or friend because of the presidential election. A 73-year-old retired prison guard, Gayle McCormick, split from her husband of 22 years when she discovered he backed Trump. Finding that out, she said, was a ‘deal breaker.’

This is not surprising because there’s never been a sharper divide between political parties and proposed solutions to the nation’s problems than there is right now. The people I know that voted for Hillary don’t just dislike Trump, they hate Trump. And the people who voted for Trump don’t just dislike Hillary, they hate Hillary. And because those polar opposites exist, politics has become extremely personal because stereotypes have emerged about the supporters of each candidate. Hillary supporters see people who voted for Trump as bigoted know-nothings who admire an aspiring authoritarian who doesn’t seem to be on good footing with telling the truth. In fact, The Washington Post’s fact checkers determined that the first day since the election that Trump made no factual errors or misleading statements is his public comments was March 1st, when he made no public comments at all.

Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, see his opponents as smug, out of touch liberals who couldn’t care less about the struggles of real Americans. I just heard a person say the other day that educated people have no common sense and un-educated people do. This sweeping generalization and others like it create a black-and-white world where civil discussions can become impossible.

It seems the only way to solve this problem is to not talk about it. I know that’s not a cure but at least it’s a band-aid to stop the bleeding. The two sides literally have no common ground they can work from to solve a problem and it starts at the highest levels of Congress and works its way down to average Americans. And average Americans work, go to church, attend ballgames, and do all the other things that brings people together and political disputes tear apart.

I’ve only found one place where this doesn’t happen and it will surprise you to know where it is because it isn’t any of the places mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s also a place that many of you have negative feelings and perspectives about, often based on what you think rather than what you know. The place I’m talking about is a bar. Four or five days out of the week, I get together with several of my friends to share an adult beverage or two and talk about the day. Talking about the day can include any subject except for politics and religion. We made that pact years ago and, amazingly, it still works, even in today’s fractured political atmosphere. Obviously my politics set me apart from most people in this part of the country and from most of my friends as well so we don’t talk about them. There are a few other Democrats that go to the bar too but they’re not a part of our crew.

Sometimes someone will slip up and make a political comment and invariably, when one does that, someone else in the crowd will quickly interject that there’s no talking politics in the bar.

It works for us. It allows us to keep friendships and relationships intact by not saying anything that offends other people. I have my beliefs that have been nurtured over several decades and they’re not changing. I realize that people on the other side of the aisle have gone through a similar process with a different outcome and they’re not changing their minds either. So a discussion is foolhardy because it doesn’t improve the status quo; it fact it hurts the status quo.

And since it makes no sense to do that, we keep the two most toxic and divisive subjects out of our conversations and have a good time with each other because of it.

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