Instead Of Losing Family And Friends Over Politics, Experts Say Communicate During a bruising political season, many Americans are dropping friends and family members who have different political views. Experts say we should be talking more, not less.
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'Dude, I'm Done': When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart

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'Dude, I'm Done': When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart

'Dude, I'm Done': When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, you have likely seen it or felt it yourself. Now a recent survey shows how the nation's bitter political divide is taking a toll on friendships. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, with political polarization hitting a fever pitch, even decades-long relationships are caving under the pressure.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's been happening everywhere on social media and in real life.

SHAMA DAVIS: I did straight up say, dude, I'm done. Lose my number.

SMITH: That Shama Davis from LA.

JONI JENSON: I just hung up on my end, and I proceeded to just block him in every possible way.

SMITH: Joni Jenson from New York.

RICARDO DEFOREST: I hate to say it because family is everything, but I disowned them.

SMITH: And Ricardo Deforest from Florida. They're among the many Americans dumping friends over politics. It's one thing to disagree about tax policy, says Davis, but this is deeper. It's about morality and justice. As a Black man, he says he simply could not abide his friend of 25 years downplaying police brutality.

DAVIS: It's like, if this is your attitude, like, I don't respect you now - I don't - because people are really dying.

SMITH: It's also that kind of moral absolute to Jenson, a retired professor and sexual assault survivor who cut off a friend of 40 years who was being cavalier about the allegations against Trump's then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

JENSON: He was going off like, oh, you drank the Kool-Aid. Kavanaugh - boy, he didn't do anything. I said, if this is his core ethics, I don't want that kind of person in my life.

SMITH: Conservatives, of course, can be just as quick to spurn the liberals in their lives who clash with their core values, like life or - the biggie for Ricardo Deforest - liberty.

DEFOREST: They sold our country out. This election is about the soul of what America is. You can't be a free country and be a socialist state.

SMITH: Deforest, a 61-year-old steelworker, cut off several cousins who he calls hardcore Trump haters.

DEFOREST: All they can do is say, Trump's a racist; orange man bad; orange man racist, you know, blowing spittle and veins popping out of their heads. Yo soy Latino, but I guess I'm some sort of horrible racist because I like Trump - ridiculous.

JOCELYN KILEY: We are seeing more political polarization today than at any point in modern history.

SMITH: Jocelyn Kiley with the Pew Research Center says about 80% of Americans now have few or no friends across the aisle, and the animosity goes both ways.

KILEY: Democrats are a little bit more likely to say they'd end a friendship, but Republicans may be a little bit less likely to say they have friends on the other side. So it may not be all that differential.

TANIA ISRAEL: Everybody is doing this.

SMITH: Tania Israel, a University of California psychology professor, runs workshops on cross-the-aisle conversations. She says both sides have big blind spots when it comes to the morality of their own side. And they all view themselves as eminently fair and right...

DEFOREST: When I say all these things, I think I sound fairly reasonable.

SMITH: ...And see the other side as irrational...

DEFOREST: There's something wrong with these people.

SMITH: ...Whether conservatives like Deforest or lefties like Joni Jenson.

JENSON: I said, oh, my God. He really is brainwashed.

SMITH: Everyone, Tania Israel says, could use a little more intellectual humility.

ISRAEL: We're flattening people out, you know, in terms of our view of them and not really seeing the full complexity of people on the other side.

SMITH: It's exactly what Georgia truck driver Jon Langford says his brother, who's gay, did to him.

JON LANGFORD: He went off on me, saying essentially I'm a racist and a homophobe just because I'm a Trump supporter - no ifs, ands or buts. And he completely cut me out of his life.

SMITH: Langford says he's trying to not do the same and to hang onto his friends on the other side.

LANGFORD: I could assume that anybody that supports Biden is a firm believer that it's OK to murder a baby, but I don't.

SMITH: From the other end of the political spectrum, Connecticut business consultant Jeff Marinstein is also straining to stay friends with some Trump supporters despite all the invective and insults.

JEFF MARINSTEIN: You know, you [expletive] are all the same or these ad hominem attacks.

SMITH: Marinstein no longer talks to some of them. With others, he just doesn't talk politics.

MARINSTEIN: It just feels like the healthiest thing for me to do at the moment. But, you know, I suppose the risk is that I'm just retreating into my own information bubble with people who think just like me.

SMITH: Indeed, experts say more conversation not less is what's needed to heal the nation's blistering divide.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND SUBLAB'S "ISOLATED")

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