How To Disagree About Politics
The presidential primary campaign season is in full swing. Although elections occur every year in America, there is something about the presidential cycle that grips the nation’s attention. As we head into next year, you are likely to find politics a topic not easily avoidable. Friends, relatives, and colleagues will at some point be cheered or saddened by the fortunes of one or another candidate. You will find them inspired or angered by statements made and positions taken. Politics will, in other words, become the stuff of everyday life. And it is likely that you will have to confront friends whose politics are opposed to yours.
It is possible to disagree with the politics of your closest friends without damaging your relationships. Tact and a certain generosity of spirit are all that you need to do so. To begin with, you must face the fact that there is no such thing, really, as a non-ideological person. Many people don’t want to be labeled or categorized, so they’ll describe themselves as being for “common sense solutions” and so forth. But when you get down to the policies they favor and the direction they’d like to see the country take, you can discern pretty quickly the nature of their ideological sympathies.
The people who claim to be non-ideological hold their views with less intensity than hardened ideologues. Such persons are probably not active and fervent followers of politics, so you should be gentle and reserved in your approach to them. Encourage them to develop their ideas a bit further by asking them questions that will allow them to demonstrate how they have come to their conclusions. It is best to be light, sociable, and if possible, humorous with someone who is mild about their politics.
The more challenging situation will be with those of your friends who are firebrands. Those who follow politics religiously, and track the votes and positions of the other side fastidiously, will prove harder to deal with. There is always a temptation to consider extreme ideologues stupid and delusional. Again, we should face facts. There are people, on both sides, who base their political opinions on nothing more than emotion. They make arguments that are devoid of facts and filled with error and circumlocution. If a friend of yours displays such ignorance, politely point out where he’s gone wrong. However, you should never assume that he is an idiot or a moral monster for holding political beliefs that differ from yours. Holding political beliefs that are incongruous with yours does not make your friend less intelligent than you or a bad person. It is essential that you recognize this fact if your friendship is to survive.
In addition to the conversational tactics described above, you can take more proactive steps to get through the political season with your friendships intact. Invite those of your friends who are politically-minded over to your house for pizza and beer during one or two of the primary debates. This will infuse an element of levity into your disagreement. It will reinforce solidarity of a kind between you: the fact that you are all interested in politics.
A further measure you can take—and you may have to dig deep with this one—is to occasionally find something kind to say about the person your friend supports. We are all in the habit of making the leading candidates on the other side into devils. You should make the effort to see their humanity, and you should share that with a friend who is in political sympathy with them.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.