Political differences can be strong enough to warrant the end of friendships.

Things could get especially tense this holiday season when Uncle Rick brings up the 2020 presidential election over peppermint mochas.

Donald Trump’s presidency has heightened the political divide in a country already plagued by an extremely divisive two-party system. Tensions have peaked during the most recent election period.

On many social media apps, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the constant stream of heated political posts. Many people boast that they’re able to accept others regardless of their political views and that everyone should be this tolerant. In reality, the issue isn’t nearly as simple as these people make it out to be.

Politics are personal

We in the U.S. have conflated political issues with basic human rights.

Political issues should encompass items like taxes, zoning laws and campaign finance reform. Human rights issues should include topics such as gay marriage, racial equality and reproductive rights. Human rights shouldn’t be a controversial political issue that’s open to debate. 

If a person’s beliefs disenfranchise entire groups of people, it’s perfectly valid to not want a relationship with them.

In the 2020 election, we had President-elect Joe Biden running against President Donald Trump, a man who has, on numerous occasions, targeted marginalized groups in damaging ways. Trump mocked a disabled reporter, boasted about his ability to assault women without repercussions because of his social status, invigorated and defended white supremecists and denounced Americans who died at war as “losers” and “suckers.” 

This small list hardly scratches the surface when it comes to all that Trump has done to oppress and degrade. Quite understandably, many people can’t stand Trump, and neither can they tolerate anyone else who’s educated on Trump’s actions and yet continues to support him.

In an effort to bridge the gap in our divided nation, Biden decided to look past the vast differences between Trump’s base and his own, extending a welcoming hand to all the citizens who didn’t vote for him.

“But now, let’s give each other a chance,” Biden said in his president-elect acceptance speech. “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans.” 

This speech was an important move by Biden because it was the first step toward reconciliation after Trump spent the last four years exacerbating grievances between Democrats and Republicans with name-calling and other inflammatory language. With this statement, Biden also set the stage for the rest of us to give each other another chance.

Of course, as president-elect, it’s Biden’s responsibility to appeal to all U.S. citizens and bring the nation together. As for the rest of us, less rests on our shoulders, and the decision is more nuanced.

Personal choice

People are justified in cutting others out of their lives because of political differences, and they’re also justified in deciding to maintain a relationship in spite of these differences. 

There are benefits to maintaining a relationship with someone who has different political views. Open dialogue between people who think differently will ultimately make them stronger in their own beliefs. If a person is able to hear multiple perspectives with an open mind and then decide where they stand, they’ll feel more confident to take a stance on political issues.

It’s important to recognize that we lose the opportunity to influence others and challenge our own beliefs when we close a line of communication.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t judge a person for maintaining a relationship with someone who harbors vastly different beliefs from their own. Judging someone for maintaining relationships with other people who have different political beliefs strengthens the divide in our country and pits us against each other. This makes it difficult to find common ground and come together for positive reform.

The difference between political policy and human rights is lost in America. It’s easy enough to look past political differences so long as they don’t infringe upon human rights. When human rights are on the line, as they so often are in American politics, it’s understandable why tensions rise and relationships suffer.

This holiday season is likely to be especially hostile. For those traveling to visit family and friends, differences of opinion might come to light and cause issues. Of course, there’s always the option to stay safe from inflammatory conversations and the pandemic by choosing to stay home and not visit racist family members.

How one chooses to proceed with their relationships during this tense time is a personal choice. Know that these feelings are valid and everyone is justified to make the decision that best fits them.

Alex Davis is a freshman business management major. Contact Alex at davis8aj@dukes.jmu.edu.