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When politics trump friendship and family

Have the promoters of discord won?

How’s the old saying go? Oh yeah: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Over the past few years, we’ve learned that politics can actually drive a fellow (or a gal) from your bed. And tear apart families. And destroy friendships.

On the verge of what appears to be the most consequential presidential election in modern American history, the fear across the divide grows — as does the mistrust, as does the acrimony. This goes beyond people defriending one another on Facebook for backing one candidate over another. Lifelong bonds are being broken as MSNBC viewers can no longer stand to be in the company of Fox News viewers and vice versa.

What used to be just arguments at Thanksgiving dinner with your cantankerous uncle, uptight cousin, or dithering grandmother have escalated into insurmountable schisms that might not ever be repaired, no matter who wins the election. 

On the other hand, it’s unlikely that we’ll be having normal Thanksgiving dinners this year, what with the pandemic and all. As good as that tradeoff sounds, I’d prefer peace and harmony abounding. But that’s unlikely. 

We seem to have passed a tipping point, and exacerbated by pervasive modern tech, it feels like we’re going to have to get used to living in a house divided.

A QUESTIONABLE REALITY

It’s more than conceivable that the animosity, particularly on one side, is fueled by the crass, mean-spirited, say-anything bravado of the current denizen of the White House who has turned the bully pulpit of high office into an unchecked bully’s pulpit. Thanks to easy-to-use digital devices and omnipresent social-media outlets, the rancor has flowed freely, finding so many ways to be disseminated with vicious streams and eddies leaking everywhere. And America in 2020 is drowning in it.

Did the coarsening of discourse, the spread of disinformation, and false presumptions of expertise by anyone with a media platform start in the ’90s with right-wing talk radio offering up all manner of vulgar musings and conspiracy theories about the Clintons and other members of the Democratic Party? Perhaps. 

Were those destructive circumstances given legitimacy and heft by the rise of what has long been mislabeled as reality TV? Seems likely in a world where the Kardashians — a clan of self-absorbed, privileged narcissists — get anointed as celebrities worth adoring and even emulating because of their willingness to shamelessly parade in front of video cameras and release footage of their obnoxiously ostentatious nouveau-riche antics to cable TV for an audience desperate to experience vicarious “pleasure.”

The idea that “fame” equates with “greatness” — that what’s seen on reality TV is true and valid just because it’s onscreen — is what can lead to popular political support of, for instance, a pompous, profligate, crass conman who is erroneously presented as an accomplished, sophisticated tycoon on broadcasts watched by millions. 

But this is not about anyone’s lack of fitness, experience, and temperament for the most important job in the world. It’s about the fractures in American society. Whatever the cause, they are real and impactful.

THIS TIME, IT’S (MUCH TOO) PERSONAL

A woman I know is freaked out that her brother-in-law is using an extensive piece of propaganda in the form of a chain email to change her sister’s vote in November, driving a massive wedge between the siblings. 

A longtime colleague in the California music scene has gone around the bend so far when it comes to his perspectives on state and national government that, in the eyes of many mutual associates, he’s beyond salvation. 

Closer to home, I have to keep my dealings with a loyal friend and business partner on the down-low despite decades of camaraderie, because his wife’s politics are in diametric opposition to mine and, as a result, she now hates me. That breaks my heart.

You could say a storm is upon us — an imperfect one — and it’s buffeting an entire country that turns more fragile and combustible as each day passes. Dubious assertions of who’s on higher moral ground are strengthened by righteous certainty on all sides and hardened by the lack of civility that has been embraced by our so-called leaders, seeping through the fabric of the nation and somehow becoming the norm. And the ethical compasses spin wildly, depending on the expediency of a person’s stance — whatever the specific topic might be. 

There has always been a political spectrum with extremes at both ends. Although people have long disagreed on hot-button issues like gun control, abortion, and taxes, it’s the intractable ferocity many of us are experiencing that’s so disturbing and debilitating. Never has the concept of truth been this malleable and up for debate. Never have facts been disregarded or belittled to such an extent. 

And I have no solution. 

I just hope we can weather this blizzard of anger, resentment, and partisan entrenchment and come out the other side of it a whole, intact, and caring society.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube, and The Mark Thompson Show on KGO radio. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster 

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