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BREAKING NEWS

The only way I can think of to make the country less divided

It’s hard work. It requires determination. It cannot wait until both parties decide to try it. I refer to making an effort to have civil conversation with people who voted the other way.

Since the election, I’ve expressed political opinions here and online at www.geezerblockhead.com. Because feelings are running so high, that has threatened to destroy multiple relationships. I doubt I’m alone in that. It may not be overstatement to say the country as a whole is not on speaking terms.

A week or so ago, I got an email from a man who was my dear friend in college and for some years afterward. But recently, I’ve been reluctant to nurture the relationship. I’ve driven close by his home a number of times, but did not stop. It was too risky.

He’s an oilman, and he lives in a small town, and it’s in East Texas. Those are three unmistakable tribal markers. They announce that one of us is a Blood, the other a Crip; one a Rebel, the other a Yankee; one Likud, the other Hamas.

When I got an email from him a week or so ago, I almost deleted it without reading. It began, “At the outset, I must tell you that I would have voted for omeone we knew and disliked 60 years ago) before I would have voted for Hillary.” But then he turned to reminiscence and some positive comments about nonpolitical aspects of my writing.

I felt a sense of relief like when a high fever breaks or a toothache stops throbbing. It suggested the possibility of reconciliation. And not just ours. If we two could manage that – this is getting out over my skis, I guess – well, maybe the whole country could. Maybe terminal disintegration is not inevitable.

The next day, I phoned him. We talked for an hour and a half.

After some introductory chitchat, I started on questions I’d prepared about the reasons for his politics. For a while, I made a point of listening to his answers and saying little in response. My friend is one of the most articulate people in the world, but he was oddly unclear about why he hated HRC and felt good about Trump. Just the usual stuff. She’s not trustworthy. Nobody has ever seen Obama’s college transcript. Trump is really smart. (We agreed on that, but my friend is happy about it, and it gives me nightmares.) I tried to get him to be more specific but without much success.

Then he asked me some questions. What did I mean by “Progressive?” And wasn’t that just elitist over-regulation and so forth? But he let me have my say.

Yadda yadda yadda for a long time.

Then it happened. We found common ground: immigration. Both of us favor immigration reform, strict limitation of the number of immigrants, and are against mass deportation. Sound the trumpet, bang the drum. Two Americans with radically opposed political views were actually talking to each other. Respectfully.

Of course it helped that we have a history of friendship. But it’s possible to talk politics even with strangers. I did it the other day with a guy I’d hired to plow the driveway. He volunteered that for the first time in his forty or so years, he had voted. The reason? He liked Trump. I asked what he liked, and for a few minutes, we had a civil exchange about politics.

Like I said at the beginning, talking is hard work, and it risks starting a fight, but I can’t think of another way to lessen our divisions.

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