Karen Celestino-Horseman: Our nation is just too divided

Celestino-HorsemanThey say all politics is local—and it’s true. Count yourself lucky if partisan politics has not hurt your relationships with family and friends.

I was recently visiting a like-minded Democratic friend in Kentucky (the land of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul). While we waited in line at a local crafts fair, we discussed the national political scene and Democrat-versus-Republican politics of Kentucky and Indiana.

When we were finally able to score seats at a communal table, my friend looked meaningfully at me and softly said, “We can finish our discussion later.” Neither one of us wanted to share our political opinions within earshot of people we didn’t know in case they might react unfavorably. I have since wondered: When did I become afraid to share my thoughts?

The partisanship of politics is not only dividing our Congress and state Legislature, but it is now driving a wedge between friends and families. Following the 2016 presidential election, studies found that people who spent Thanksgiving Day in the home of a member of the opposing political party—be it Democratic or Republican—spent less time in that home than those who spent the holiday with members of the same political party. And we don’t need a study to know friendships have eroded due to politics.

I recently spent my vacation with family in Colorado where most of the family does not support Trump but a handful do. For the sake of family harmony, everyone agreed we would not discuss politics. But my tongue still bears the scars of the bites I gave it when someone would throw out a political comment, hoping someone else would fire one back.

My family is lucky because we worked at maintaining a positive family dynamic. I have heard tales of family events completely dissolved once the group began discussing politics. I have friends whose family members have threatened to unfriend them for liking a Facebook post that contained opposite political values.

When I was a child, our family dinner table was where I learned to cut my teeth on oral argument. My father would sometimes take an opposing viewpoint just to see how far I could go. In the 1960s age of the Vietnam War, civil rights and equal rights, my father never belittled my opinion because I was only 10 or 11 years old. I still love a rousing discussion.

But today, it feels different. There is something unsettling about discussing politics with those whose beliefs you don’t know. Like sitting at that community table. I didn’t really believe anyone would try to physically hurt us for having opposite political beliefs, but I was wary that someone stirred to anger can sometimes do ugly things.

We could ask when it was that everything changed, but we all know it began with the last election of a president whose rallies still begin with chants of “Lock her up!”—even though the “her” is no longer a political candidate.

I can’t help but think that, if the president would tone down his rhetoric, maybe it would lead to constructive rather than destructive discussion. A great leader inspires his followers to work together.

President Ronald Reagan observed: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” And that is what we need now more than anything—someone to show us how we can do great things together.•

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Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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