By Leah S. Dunaief
This is the beginning of what many call “The Silly Season.” That term alludes roughly to between Labor Day and Election Day and refers to the many charges, counter charges, assertions, braggadocio and hyperbole that will be uttered by candidates and their parties in an attempt to win public favor. This year of 2020 seems like it will be an extreme example of this historic process.
Why this year? Because more than at any point in the memories of those still alive can there be found such partisanship and acrimony in the political arena. And those strongly held opinions and emotions have spilled over into our daily lives and interfered with our closest relationships.
Just ask divorce lawyers. According to one from New York City quoted in The New York Times, “Presidential years are typically very quiet for divorces because of the uncertainty of the presidency,” said Ken Jewell. “This year has been beyond insane.” What in the past might have been reasonable discussions about politics between couples have now become ranting confrontations. “And while people aren’t citing political differences as the sole reason for divorce, the topic is certainly compounding matters,” he explained.
Couples have been known to fight about Supreme Court rulings, the handling of the pandemic, wearing a mask, immigration and the repeal of DACA — the program that protects young immigrants — and even whether to eat indoors or outdoors at a restaurant.
Dating services have felt a similar impact. For example, according to the article by Nicole Pajer in the NYT Aug. 30 issue, 84% of the singles using Dating.com “won’t even consider dating someone with opposite political views.” And within families, feelings can run as high about marrying outside the chosen political party as they once were against marrying outside the family’s religion and ethnicity.
This is ultimate partisanship. This is also such a waste. Giving up on close relationships that have otherwise withstood the test of time merely because of different political opinions, is a decision that needs to be reconsidered. Unless that partisanship is only the straw that otherwise breaks the camel’s back, as the saying goes, in a relationship with more serious problems, those different perspectives can be made into intellectual exchanges and even result in personal growth.
Knowing how the other side thinks in a disagreement is enlightening. It can also be a bottomless well for thoughtful exchanges throughout a lifetime. What must be present, however, is mutual respect. Some couples have been able to bridge and perhaps even enjoy such a divide. The first that comes to mind is the Republican consultant, Mary Matalin, and the Democratic consultant, James Carville.
Matalin was deeply involved with the GOP as a Republican strategist serving under Ronald Reagan, functioning as a campaign director for George H.W. Bush, for whom she was then assistant, and even working as counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
James Carville was the lead strategist for the successful campaign of then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton for president. Carville went on to elections work abroad, including in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Colombia and Argentina. He was also involved with Hillary’s 2008 campaign as well as media and film efforts and public speaking. He is known for his outspoken style, which includes his comparison of Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama: “If she gave him one of her cojones, they’d both have two.”
Both Matalin and Carville have said they don’t discuss politics at home. Maybe that’s one way for those in a committed relationship to deal with ultra partisan differences. Others have handled the matter differently. Wende Thoman and William Sterns, both 72, of Delray Beach, Florida, sometimes loudly disagree about politics. “But this is the sport we’ve engaged in for a long time,” Ms. Thoman said. Mr. Sterns actually enjoys the banter. “Politics should be fun!” he said.
And yes, differing opinions can add a layer of passion to a relationship. The trick: not demeaning each other. While all’s fair in love and war, I vote for love.