Allow me to preface this by saying that I am in no way trying to start controversy, but merely commenting on what I see as a very upsetting and disheartening situation following the election results.
In the past three days, the reaction to Trump’s victory has been strong, particularly among millennials. A big part of that reaction has involved people reevaluating, and often ending, friendships based on their friends’ voting choices.
On Wednesday, a liberal friend of mine who knows I am conservative approached me and reminded me that we’re still friends in spite of our differing views. I was taken aback, and wasn’t sure how to respond other than to quickly defend myself: “I didn’t vote for Trump.” In fact, I did not; I proudly wrote in Evan McMullin in my home state of New York.
I realized after the exchange that I shouldn’t have had to defend myself, and the situation shouldn’t have arisen in the first place. Whom I voted for is no one’s business but my own (unless I so choose to share it, as I just did), and I do not owe my vote to anyone but myself, my country, and my vision for the kind of leadership America needs to have a bright future. My vote, and my political ideologies in general, are not subject to anyone else’s approval. I have strong opinions regarding my political values, and I neither seek nor expect the approval of my peers.
More importantly, a friendship should not be called into question over politics. I know that my friend is very liberal, and that we disagree on nearly every issue of consequence. I know she voted for Hillary Clinton, and — I realize this is a controversial statement but here it goes — to me, and according to my worldview, voting for Clinton was morally wrong. It was something I personally could not bring myself to do. However, the thought never even crossed my mind that because my friend voted for Clinton, our friendship could be in jeopardy. I never thought that, because I’m conservative, it could mean that a person might consider me unworthy or incapable of being friends.
I do not mean to call this particular friend out at all — in fact, this is a trend that I’ve noticed across my campus and on social media in the past three days. I’ve heard of other conservatives at my school who lost numerous friends following the election results or have had other students tell them that they cannot possibly remain their friend if they do not perceive Trump as the major threat that many millennials do. I read a tweet earlier that proudly proclaimed that someone would happily drop a friendship over Trump’s election, because clearly Trump supporters have no concept of human rights.
It doesn’t stop at merely ending friendships, but goes even further to cutting off contact with people who have differing opinions. I’ve seen friends unfollow and unfriend their peers on social media because they have different views and don’t want to be exposed to any pro-Trump expressions. At last night’s Speak Out event here at Penn, a student stated: “I’m done with people telling me that they are my friend and then vote for Donald Trump…Don’t talk to people who would vote for Donald Trump.”
This is a serious problem. When we hide ourselves from differing viewpoints, we lose a lot. We lose the chance to hear the other perspective and to learn from what others’ experiences and views can tell us about them, about the world, and even about ourselves.
I understand completely that it can be frustrating when you can’t see eye-to-eye with someone. When you’re often the only conservative in any given room on campus, you grow quite familiar with this feeling and you often wonder why these people just can’t see things the way you do. But to cut these people out of your life, to say that there is nothing redeeming or positive about them, just because they view things differently, is absurd.
We lose the opportunity to get to know these people for more than just the candidates they voted for, and this is a huge loss. Granted, perhaps a friendship that can be ended over a battle between ostensibly the two worst presidential candidates in American history might not have been such a strong friendship in the first place. However, it is no less saddening when we consider what is lost when we allow our interpersonal relationships to grow polarized.
I deeply value my conservative friends: their views within the scope of the larger ideology are diverse, and they’ve taught me new ways to think about the things I believe in. But at the same time, I also value my liberal friends. They too give me different perspectives on the solutions to problems in our country and help challenge (and sometimes reaffirm) my beliefs.
I think that we learn a lot from one another. I would like to believe that I’ve helped my liberal friends see that being a conservative does not mean you are an old white man, or that you are heartless and callous, but that conservatives can be diverse and compassionate people. I’ve certainly learned from my liberal friends that liberals generally don’t want to radically change American society for the sake of change itself but that they can be well-intentioned and simply have different solutions and ways of thinking about problems than I do. I would hope my peers who have friends with different political leanings from themselves have come to similar conclusions, but in the aftermath of this election, I am unfortunately not so sure this is the case.
It is no wonder that our nation is as deeply divided as it is today, given the fact that we can no longer have conversations about issues without turning immediately to generalizations and ad hominem attacks. We scoff at opposing arguments and shut out those who make them, rendering it utterly impossible to learn anything, and impossible to make any progress on issues that matter. It is not just our government leaders who find themselves in partisan gridlock, but all of us as well in our everyday lives.
I am reminded of what Statesman Editor, Maria Biery, wrote last week after hearing a talk by Arthur Brooks. We are fortunate to live in a nation where opposing viewpoints are not only meant to be tolerated, but to be celebrated as part of what makes America great. Instead of shutting down opposing views and dehumanizing those who disagree with us, we should seek to learn from one another and to appreciate people for who they are, not in spite of what they believe.
Let us remember Thomas Jefferson’s words in his Inaugural Address, when he said, “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” We all want what is best for America, for our communities, for our loved ones, and for our future. But we will never get there if we vilify one another instead of celebrating what we each bring to the great American experiment. That starts with each and every one of us. If we are ever going to heal a broken and hurting nation, regardless of who you blame for those wounds, compassion indeed must be our answer.