Relationship Roots Run Deeper Than Politics

A friend and I met to shop at Costco together Tuesday afternoon, and since we were both starving, and we weren’t done talking, we decided to get a hot dog and soda. We headed for that little area that Costco’s carved out on the way to the exit that has small white plastic tables and red attached benches, all crammed close together. This was a new experience for me. Usually I just get the hot dog and split.

The place was packed, with a line of full shopping carts patiently parked nearby, as shoppers sat elbow to elbow eating and drinking and hanging out. The place was noisy with multiple conversations. I was struck by how it felt like a family-style restaurant, since strangers were compelled to share tables with strangers.

My friend and I asked two women if we could please share their table, so they moved their purses from the empty side of the table and said sure, we could join them. My friend and I had barely sat down before the oldest of the two (she just turned 80) asked right out of the blue whether my friend and I were Republicans or Democrats.

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We both laughed, and I asked the woman why she wanted to know. The woman talked about how much she loves politics and adores Fox news in particular, but how divided our country is and how bothered she is when people behave badly and get mean when they disagree. She’s worried about our children’s future. She’s not happy with the state of our country.

With the exception of the woman’s love of Fox news, I could relate to much of what the woman talked about.

My friend talked about how important it is to not let politics ruin relationships, and how what matters most is being respectful and loving with each other and trying to find common ground.

The lady nodded and listened, but asked again for our political affiliation, to which I finally gave in and broke the news that she was looking at one of each: one Republican and one Democrat. I told her that despite our political differences, my friend and I make it a point to not let that get in the way of our friendship, because we care about each other, and we have a lot of history together as dear friends. My friend chuckled and admitted that when we vote, we cancel each other out.

It’s been that way for years. We’ve known each other through decades’ worth of marriages and divorces and child-rearing and moving and job losses and job gains and dating disasters and potluck ladies’ nights and camping trips and the loss of three friends to breast cancer and two who moved away to Montana and Arizona, respectively.

Our friendship roots run just that deep, far deeper than politics can reach.

Allow me to clarify. Could I be friends with a bigot? No. Could I be friends with someone who hated gays? No. Could I be friends with a person who’s a Republican; a truly good, compassionate woman who happens to have a different political belief system than mine? Yes.

Our 80-year-old table mate was tenacious, and she pushed for a final question: OK, so you’re one of each. Which of you is a Republican, and which is a Democrat?

I invited her to guess.

She paused, looked hard at us both for a few seconds, and finally pointed at my friend.

“She’s the Democrat.”

My friend and I burst out laughing. We were still laughing about it as we left Costco and walked to our cars. It cracked us up so much that we both said we couldn’t wait to tell our friends who’d moved away what had happened. Then we hugged each other and went our separate ways.

I was laughing then, but when it comes to the general state of politics in our country, I’m not laughing now. In fact, I’m not very pleased with either major party these days. But more than that, I’m disgusted by how polarized our country has become, and how so many people have relied – like that woman in Costco – upon lazy political labels to identify who’s who: who we should like and who we should hate. Who’s in, who’s out? Who’s bad, who’s good?

Sweet Jesus, we may as well wear six-pointed stars of different colors on our shoulders so we can differentiate between our enemies and us.

I’m a journalist, but I don’t enjoy discussing politics, even with people with whom I share common beliefs. That’s because I believe what I believe, and I don’t want anyone to try to change my mind, any more than I think it’s my place to change someone else’s mind. The exception I’ll make when discussing politics is if there are solutions offered. Otherwise, if it’s just for each side to cite examples of how stupid and wrong the other side is, save your breath. I don’t want to hear it.

Of course, privately, I may never understand what makes someone believe something that I find completely wacky, just as I’m sure there are people who can’t understand why, for the love of Pete, I voted for Bernie Sanders.

And that’s what makes the world go ’round.

Even so, I am increasingly disgusted and disheartened by the vitriol, hatred and abuse I’ve seen in our country toward one another over the last few years in the name of politics. How much lower can we go? I’m not sure, but I sure don’t want to be around to watch it. The way I see it, crazed money-driven monkeys are at the top of the big political machine, pulling strings and making puppets out of their followers, and meanwhile, the damage and deterioration here on the ground is getting worse by the day. It’s destroying communities and relationships and turning us into our very worst selves.

It breaks my heart to hear name-calling by both sides, and I find myself hoping my grandkids don’t hear it, because we teach kids it’s unkind to call people names, but what are children to think if they see leaders making sport of verbally ripping fellow human beings apart?

It hurts when someone decides that because I voted for Obama I’ve been summarily dismissed and regarded as a lib, or a libtard. I’ve had people who I thought were friends write the most hateful messages to me in Facebook posts that have made it clear to me that no, we are not friends at all. Sometimes they’ll private message me after their rants and ridicules and say they didn’t know what came over them, that they just got mad, and then they say they’re sorry.

I say I’d be more inclined to forgive them if they wrote that message publicly – just like the rant – not in secret.

Here’s something I’ll say publicly: Some of my best friends are Republicans, just like my Costco-shopping friend. But in this politically polarized landscape, Republican/Democrat connections are increasingly rare.

I’ve seen Facebook posts where families openly humiliate each other over politics: father-in-law against daughter-in-law, sibling against sibling, cousin against cousin, aunts and uncles against nieces and nephews; even grandparents against grandchildren.

How does anyone sit down together at Thanksgiving dinner after something like that?

What the hell happened to us? How could we have become so distracted with fighting in the mud and screaming at each other that we have forgotten that life is damn short and uncertain, that we are family, friends and neighbors who have more in common than we know, and that we need each other desperately? How could we have so sorely missed the fact that as long as we’re divided, we accomplish nothing?

Locally, one silver lining to our reign of terror by the north state fires this summer was the absence of political talk. Oh. My. God. It was so refreshing. For those long weeks, we weren’t Democrats or Republicans or Independents or anything else. We were a united community running for our lives from flames and firenados. It wasn’t just family and friends who pulled together, but strangers and mere acquaintances and co-workers and even ex-spouses and friends of friends.

It was the Carr Fire call and response:

Do need a place to stay?


Come stay with us. 

Thank you!  

But eventually, even before the smoke had actually cleared, the political crap started seeping back onto Facebook, stinking up the place. Political signs sprouted up around town, replacing the “Thank you first responder” signs.

So here we are, less than two weeks from Election Day.

I’ve mailed off my ballot. Maybe my friend has mailed hers. Either way, we are each pretty sure we know how the other voted. What would be the point in talking about it?

And although I have no clue how this election will turn out, I do know that come Nov. 7, no matter who won and who lost, one thing’s for sure: My friend and I will still be friends.


Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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