Politics and friendship
I've written many times before about conflict with old friends and relatives over post-9/11 politics. I know I'm not alone; many here and elsewhere have similar stories to tell, and some have shared them with me, both on this blog and in private emails.
In my experience, the phenomenon most often occurs in the context of a social event, small or large. Almost invariably one ends up listening to someone go on and on with fierce anti-Bush invective, usually laced with more than a sprinkling of obscenities. And this is done without any thought that there might be someone within earshot who could find this offensive or even the least bit controversial.
If I voice even a mild objection, such as "I think Bush actually has done some decent things," the invective has sometimes been turned on me. And this can happen with good and old friends, as well as close relatives.
I virtually never raise the issue of politics anymore (this blog takes care of that need), but it's raised for me, over and over again. Therefore I can't avoid it. And, strangely enough, at times after I've voiced my mild rejoinder, people who had been silent in the surrounding crowd have come up to me and whispered that they agree with me, but are undercover for fear of losing friends and/or jobs. Astounding.
By now, for the most part, my close friends and family have settled down, only occasionally raising the issue when I'm around. I encounter the phenomenon far more commonly when I'm in a group who don't know me well. And I've only lost one close friend because of it, although there's been a noticeable cooling on the part of a few others. I do get some teasing at times, but I'll take that over the other.
So it drew my interest when, in a link from Dean Esmay to my post "Anger: still in style" (Dean's observation, "Neo's experiences mostly match mine"), commenter DBrooks offered the following story from his personal experience:
I find the level of discourse depressing and disheartening. What I have been struck by in my own experience with friends on the Left is they seem to think it is acceptable, even righteous, that they can be offensive, yet one is not allowed to be offended. To disagree or offer contrary evidence is viewed with scorn and intolerance.
An example--my wife and I have very dear friends whom we love like family. We have known them for 12 years, and have traveled in the Keys, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Colorado with them. They came for dinner last month, and the woman went up to my 10-year-old son's room with him to look at some drawings he had done. He has a poster of GWB, and one of Ronald Reagan on his wall. These were given to him by his aunt. My good friend commented, "Why do you have that asshole on your wall?" referring to GWB.
My son was upset, and told me that she had used "bad language" talking about President Bush. He told me what she said, and, over dinner, I told her that I thought it was inappropriate for her to say something like that to a 10-year-old. Instead of apologizing, she became more and more angry, and told me I was "brainwashing the kid." I said I would never think of commenting on some child's choice of wall posters, at least not in a negative manner--unless it was someone like Stalin, Che, or Hitler. Her response? She said, "My point exactly."
We haven't spoken to them since by their choice, and my wife, who is very upset about the whole thing, really thinks they may never speak to us again. That we could lose such close friends over this incident is incomprehensible to me. Her anger seems more important to her than reality, or the people in her life. Just another casualty of our current political environment.
At one time it would have seemed incomprehensible to me; no longer. I highlight this story because it includes a point that actually makes the reaction comprehensible, even though I think the reasoning behind that reaction is flat-out wrong. The point is that this woman believes that Bush actually is someone like Stalin or Hitler (although I doubt she'd include Che; in fact he may be a hero of hers). So her statement, "My point exactly," is--well, her point, exactly.
If one takes the absurd Bush=Hitler equation seriously, then of course speaking up about a child's wall poster would be a righteous thing to do. Apparently, at least some on the left in this country--or whatever appellation one gives to the point of view this woman is espousing--have come to believe their own rhetoric about Bush.
So, Bush isn't just a President with whom they disagree; he's Hitler, he's Stalin. Once that equation is accepted, anyone who supports his policies is a Nazi or a Stalinist: the enemy. The lack of actual concordance with Hitler or Stalin is irrelevant. Once the belief system is in place and that first premise is accepted, all the rest follows.