As the dust settles on a very divisive political season, some Northeast Ohioans are sorting out personal relationships that were damaged by Election 2012. Next door neighbors waged a battle of yard signs, Facebook friends battled on-line, and others gritted their teeth while agreeing to disagree. ideastream’s David C. Barnett explores the impact of politics on our friendships.
On the weekend just prior to election day----politics at a fevered pitch just about everywhere --- I met two longtime neighbors on the west side of Cleveland
FAOUZI BADDOUR: My name is Faouzi Baddour. I’ve been in Cleveland since 1977
Next to the diminutive Lebanese immigrant was… a big guy with a moustache, wearing camo pants.
JIM PIEKNIK: James Pieknik, and I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1992.
For the past 20 years, these two have been friends, neighbors and community crime watch partners, working to keep the drug dealers off their street.
SOUND: Dog barks
Oh yeah, that’s Carter, Fouzi’s dog. Carter’s the one that usually does all the barking around here, but he’s no match for Fouzi and Jim when the two of them start talking politics.
JIM PIEKNIK: It’s not that I don’t like Barack Obama. It’s his job performance. I believe Barack Obama’s a liar.
FAOUZI BADDOUR: (laughs) He can call him whatever he wants. That’s the great thing about this country, he formed his opinion…
JIM PIEKNIK: It’s not an opinion, Faouzi, it’s a documented fact. I have a list of things that he lied about…UNDER
As I listened to these two banter I realized there’s no way they were going to reach common ground. Such disagreements… seem to happen a lot these days.
East side Republican, Jennifer West, recently got into a heated political spat of her own. In her case, it was with a Facebook friend, while watching the Vice-Presidential debate.
JENNIFER WEST: I was trying to be funny. I posted that Biden looks like he should be an extra in the movie “Caddy Shack”. So, out of that, this high school classmate of mine came out of nowhere and just started relentlessly responding. And then I’d respond, and then he’d respond.
Over the course of a few days, it became very personal. And, in the heat of one particular the moment, West made the decision to ban him from her social network --- a serious move known as “unfriending”.
JENNIFER WEST: So then he started instant messaging me, and accusing me of censoring his beliefs, and that he was right and I just couldn’t handle it. And, at this point, my blood pressure is through the roof.
Cleveland State communication professor Paul Skalski does a lot of research about this new world of on-line interactions. He says “unfriending” is a growing trend.
PAUL SKALSKI: In 2009, just over 50% of people reported doing it, now it’s up to two thirds.
For all the benefits of connecting through social media, Skalski also sees a downside --- one that may be enhancing these divisions we see in today’s polarized America.
PAUL SKALSKI: It could be leading to greater mistrust, anger, and the other negative things that come out during a political season, in particular.
Jennifer West admits she hates to lose arguments and suggests that we all may be taking things a little too seriously.
JENNIFER WEST: Ultimately, I think most of us really want the same things, although they’re cast in different ways --- as far as what the economy should be like or how the healthcare issue should be addressed. There is middle ground. And, right now, the discourse is so incredibly polarized it’s hard to see that.
For all their differences, Faouzi Badour and Jim Pieknik say politics will never drive them apart
FAOUZI BADDOUR: No, we are friends.
JIM PIEKNIK: We’ll be friends. I’m just a little disappointed in him, that’s all.
FAOUZI BADDOUR: We live together, before this election. And we’re going to be together after this election and probably the next election, until God takes us.
Standing on his porch, Faouzi Baddour looked up at the flag, flying on a pole in his front yard. The stars and stripes were looking a little frayed, partly because of the whipping it took during the storm, last week. It’s sort of reminded me of the torn fabric of a country that continues to endure, despite a few ragged edges.