By every account, there is no question that America is more politically polarized than ever before. Husbands and wives are battling it out over President Trump. Relatives have stopped speaking because their feelings are so strong. Long-term golf partners have stopped playing together. Friends and neighbors speak slowly and carefully, and avoid Trump stuff.
Despite the political bitterness that has seeped into our everyday existence, there are different ways to bridge the political gap between the warring parties. If you really care about your relationship with someone, start out by declaring a truce. Tell the other side that for now, let’s agree on no political discussions until at least the November election. Promise that the truce will be ironclad and agree on a monetary fine for the first one to break the deal.
If it’s you and your spouse or significant other, try an excursion to some interesting place or attraction. It’ll be a good diversion, and you should agree that there will be no partisan discussions. If you decide to go shopping, obviously, don’t suggest a Make America Great Again hat as a gift. During the peaceful times, your spouse has suggested things he or she would love to have, so try hard to remember what item was considered something special.
If the differences of opinion are with your grown children, make it a point to compliment them on some character trait or bring up some funny incident from when they were little kids. Talk about some great trip you took together, and suggest that someday in the future, you’d love to take them there again to renew the memories. If your kids have kids, focus on the wonderful things your grandchildren are doing or something really clever that they recently said.
If the schism is with one of your best friends, talk about sports. The differences between Yankees and Mets fans aren’t (normally) as dramatic as the Trump and anti-Trump camps. And now that the football season is upon us, there’s that much more to talk about.
If you can’t agree on baseball or football teams, change the subject to movies. Almost everybody has a favorite movie, and there’s much less controversy in the world of show business.
Arguments at work are harder to deal with. Fighting with a superior about some Trump tweet could lead to a demotion, a reassignment, a firing or some other ugly result. So if your supervisor starts talking politics, quickly change the subject to the problems with the copy machine, or gush about the photo of his or her cute 3-year-old on display in his or her office. Politics and the workplace are a lethal combination.
One of the characteristics of the current political schism is that at social events, like-minded guests tend to break off into small groups or retreat into corners. Because they all agree on their loyalties or grievances, their discussions will be subdued but passionate. Under no circumstances should you attempt to interrupt those on the other side or try to join their conversation. Keep a safe distance until they break up their little retreat. Then seek out the least uptight member of the group and offer a compliment on a tie or a pair of earrings or ask about the daughter who just won a scholarship.
If you walk into a friend’s house and the television is tuned to Fox and you’re anti-Trump, turn away from the set and ask if they have the Golf Channel, because Tiger Woods is playing well in some tournament somewhere and closing in on the leader. By no means should you make a sour face if Sean Hannity appears on the screen. If you remember any good mother-in-law jokes, now’s the time to share them, to help break the tension.
Holiday meals will be the toughest challenge this year, because there are often simply too many people gathered around the table to avoid political discussions. You can’t stop your crazy Uncle Floyd from tossing a partisan hand grenade just as the turkey is being carved. So Thanksgiving will be the best time to complain about your nonexistent migraine headache in order to change the trajectory of the discussion.
If none of these suggestions help, you’re on your own; just do your best to survive. The 2020 election isn’t that far away.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.