Friendship in the Age of Trump

From:,  by Peter Wehner,  on Apr 23, 2016,  see the article HERE.

Not this year.

The candidacy of Donald J. Trump is not only fracturing the Republican Party, it is breaking up friendships as well.

A prominent Republican, describing a Trump-related disagreement with another influential Republican with whom he has been close for decades, sent me a note that stated things in a matter-of-fact way: “We had a friendship-ending email exchange.”

Others have confided that differences over the Trump candidacy have caused such a loss of respect that they feared their friendships would not survive, and that even if they did, they would never be the same.

While I haven’t lost any friendships during this Trumpian moment, at least not yet, I certainly haven’t been immune to the heightened tension. Several friends whose political views have often coincided with mine in the past have voiced their anger to me over my public opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

One close longtime friend told me that my criticism of Mr. Trump stemmed from my desire for attention and notoriety and a longing for the favor of liberals. He was questioning not my reasoning but my motivations. His concern wasn’t about policy; it was about the state of my soul.

Last week, a friend I am in frequent contact with and who is sympathetic to Mr. Trump informed me that my attitude was “unhinged” and utterly close-minded. A woman I attended church with for several years expressed her unhappiness with my anti-Trump “screeds.”

These people aren’t stupid or malicious; they are upset because I see things in a profoundly different way from them and because I have referred to a candidate they like as the avatar of unreason.

Strained relationships resulting from political differences are pretty common. What makes this moment so unusual is that the ruptures are occurring among people who have for years been political allies, whose friendships were forged through common battles, often standing shoulder to shoulder.

This dynamic is playing out in public, too. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, while not lifelong friends, were once close. Mr. Beck described her in 2010 as one of the few people who could “possibly lead us out of where we are”; Ms. Palin referred to him as an “inspiring patriot.” Yet in part because Mr. Beck supports Ted Cruz while Ms. Palin supports Mr. Trump, they now trade insults. Mr. Beck accused Ms. Palin of abandoning her principles, while she has mocked Mr. Beck for having distributed care packages to illegal immigrant children.

Similar stories are happening all over. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, whose opposition to Mr. Trump has also put him at odds with people he has long liked and respected, admitted, “I hate the idea that political disagreements will poison friendships.”

The reason for the envenoming is Mr. Trump, who inspires deep loyalty among his followers and revulsion among his critics. For some, he is a breath of fresh air: perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but a strong person, plain-spoken and able to make America great again. Others, like me, consider him emotionally unstable, unprincipled, cruel and careless, the kind of demagogic figure the ancient Greeks and the American founders feared.

Given the fundamental and intense disagreement over the advent of Mr. Trump, then, we should not be surprised that even longtime friendships are feeling the strain. In his short book “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis writes that while lovers stand face to face, friends stand side by side, absorbed in common interests, seeing some common truths. When these common truths become competing truths, a distancing is inevitable — perhaps especially when political differences arise among people who have devoted their lives to politics, who view it as a means to advance justice and human flourishing and therefore consider it a core part of who they are.

And therein lies the problem: When political differences shatter friendships, when we attribute disagreements to deep character flaws, it usually means politics has become too central to our lives.

I will be the first to admit that for those of us who inhabit the world of politics, political differences aren’t trivial. I am guilty of having sometimes lost sight of the fact that friendships aren’t meant to reinforce every one of my views. But the best friendships are those in which one person elevates the sensibilities of the other, including from time to time helping us see things from a different angle. They are, as Aristotle put it, friendships of virtue rather than of utility or pleasure.

Years ago I wrote my friend and mentor, Steve Hayner, worried that our differences over a political issue we both had strong feelings about might hurt our relationship. Our relationship mattered more to me than politics, I told him, and I didn’t want a breach to occur.

“I want to assure you that I don’t think that our disagreements on most anything could affect our relationship,” he wrote to me. “My love for you has nothing to do with your views.”

My relationship with Steve, who died last year, was among the deepest in my life. I had known him since college — I was a student and he was an associate pastor — and he had accompanied me through times of joy and hardship. This insulated our relationship against mere political differences. But the main point applies even to friendships that may have taken root in the soil of politics: We need to work to stay in relationships with people despite deep differences of opinion, not just across the aisle but on either side of it.

This isn’t always easy. One example: I was friends with a journalist with whom I had some similar instincts, if not complete political agreement. Our relationship was characterized by respect, affection and interests beyond politics. Yet after I joined the Bush White House in 2001, it hit a very rough patch. I sensed that he believed I had gone over to the Dark Side, loyally supporting indefensible policies; I felt that he was unfair and unreasonable in his critiques of our administration. Neither of us was inclined to give ground; each of us was happy to point out the flaws we suddenly saw so clearly in each other.

Thankfully, since then we have reconciled, although it took almost the entire length of the Obama administration. I felt last summer was time to explore the possibility of re-connecting. It turned out it was.

Time and distance helped repair the breach. Passions cool, the gaps between you don’t seem quite as wide. The qualities that once attracted you to others come back into focus. Conversations turn to topics deeper and more personal than politics. But the restoration of fractured friendships doesn’t happen by accident; it is a matter of choice.

Mr. Trump’s candidacy is putting more stress on more friendships than any other political development in my experience. Precisely because of the antipathy I have for Mr. Trump, I need to try doubly hard to resist the temptation to assume the worst of his supporters even as my worries about him mount. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, I need to grant to them the same good faith I hope others would grant to me.

In his first inaugural address, with the Civil War looming, Abraham Lincoln told his fellow citizens that we are not enemies but friends. “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,” he said. During his second inaugural, at the war’s end, he asked us to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” This was an almost superhuman ideal, but it needed to be stated.

None of us is Lincoln, and our divisions today obviously pale in comparison to those he and the country faced. Yet we can still learn from him. Having lived through the previous decade of tumult and political division, he knew the importance an attitude of conciliation can play in the life of a nation. We should strive for a bit of the grace and largeness of spirit he showed.


We, at Pesky Truth, had our own up close and personal exposure to the “friendship” aspect of this election season when we were disparaged by a couple of bloggers who had previously been friends. They responded to an article that I wrote titled, “What happened to those people who USED to be our friends?” I was making basically the same points as Mr. Wehner in the article above.

To be sure, those “friends” I was referring to were not close friends since we’d never met, but we had been cross-posting and commenting on each other’s blogs over a period of years. I know that I and the other contributors here at PT considered them to be friends. I used one particular post as an example, mentioning no names or references to her blog specifically to eliminate readers from going to her site to retaliate – in fact, to my knowledge, only two individuals ever recognized the person/blog to which I was referring – no one else knew, hers was just an anonymous example. 

As luck would have it, we at Pesky Truth had come out for Ted Cruz and the persons/blog I referenced in that post were Trump supporters. And, as noted in Mr. Wehner’s article, that was enough to introduce a war in what was previously an “Internet” friendship. Can those friendships be restored? I don’t know, some harsh characterizations have been leveled by both parties against the other. Regardless of what happens in the presidential race, it appears that some relationships have been damaged irreparably.

It’s just a shame that the cause was as trivial as which candidate was the bigger liar.


Categories: Political

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9 replies

  1. This is a post that really hits home, Garnet. I can certainly relate to Peter Wehner’s sadness for lost friendships, but for me it’s hard to see how it can be any other way. It’s always been a struggle for me to maintain close friendships with democrats, or to stay close with relatives who are democrats, because I resent what their votes are doing to my life and the lives of my children. This is worse than that because it’s the ultimate betrayal. After so many years of waiting for a viable, conservative candidate we FINALLY had one and then…………….Trump happened. But it gets worse still. Not only did self-proclaimed “conservatives” choose Trump over Ted Cruz, but then they proceeded to justify their puzzling choice and assuage their guilt by denigrating Cruz. I know Mr. Wehner warned against judging the character of Trump supporters but to ignore the reality is to be dishonest with myself. Regardless of what happens I don’t see how it can ever be repaired.


    • If that one hit home, I’ve got another in a similar vein that is scheduled for tomorrow. The writer covers the same bases and has much the same opinions as you and I. Check it out (or you can view it in the editor).


    • CW, I fully agree!

      Certainly, I understand if a person supports someone other than my choice. But the politics of personal destruction, especially when done with wholesale fabrication repeated incessantly, is simply beyond the pale. When some “friend” starts that behavior, I tell them that I applaud their support for “X”, but don’t show it by tearing down “Y”. I tell them it is their choice, but we all need to end up on the same team willingly, not grudgingly. If they violate that principle, they are gone.

      I simply don’t see the principled sincerity in Trump that I want. He seems to have a very superficial understanding of the complexities of the tasks at hand. He clearly doesn’t understand the distribution of power, checks and balances, treaty obligations, and the burden of being the leader of the free world. Many of the “goals” in his foreign policy speech yesterday were somewhat understandable, even admirable. But those goals ofttimes were in direct opposition to established obligations that can’t be amended unilaterally. The world, and our place in it, isn’t always a clear black and white situation, but endless shades of gray. We have to deal with what is, not with what we think it ought to be. We might wish it was so simple, but it isn’t.

      I’ve always seen Cruz as a national leader eventually. This year may have been premature for the presidency, but he was always my top pick for VP. Then Trump destroyed all the presumed leader Governors by vicious personal attacks, and frankly, thru his celebrity, taking all the air out of the room. It is one thing to be able to win, and another to having a workable plan to execute should you win. The prior is vanity, and the latter is leadership.

      Apparently, the GOP is selecting vanity rather than principled leadership. Cruz could still be the leader I envision, and would certainly be a better candidate a second time around. But in the meantime, God help us! For we will get what we deserve!


  2. Wow, Mr. Wehner really hit the nail on the head with this one and made me realize just how widespread the problem is. It’s sad that one man has had such an impact on friendships nationwide.

    Before Trump showed up and started slandering all his opponents and the people in the media, all our friends were in favor of Ted Cruz. I’ve asked this before and will continue to ask – if he was good enough for you pre-Trump, why isn’t he now? He didn’t change – he’s the same man he was before all the mudslinging started.

    Can the friendships be mended? That’s hard to say, because it seems the Trump supporters have forsaken their conservative values, but time will tell.


    • Rush made the same point today – that Cruz was everyone’s favorite outsider before the Trump Traveling Snake-oil Extravaganza rode into town. Trump has not only blinded the Trumpanzees to Cruz’s positive traits and history, he blinded them to his own lies as well. They are truly brainwashed.

      If (God forbid) Trump does get elected, and the excrement hits the fan in 2-3 years, I wonder if the Trumpanzees will remember (and admit) that they’re the ones who put him there?


      • What surprised me most in that regard, Garnet, was how much support Trump got from evangelicals. The so-called moral majority took to Trump like a duck to water. That was supposed to Cruz’ strongest demographic, and Trump neutralized it. Meanwhile he was parroting the same immigration policies he lifted from Cruz, and his economic/trade policies are highly questionable when compared to Ted’s.

        So how did the evangelicals accept serial public adultery, bragging about immorality, crudeness, vague religiosity, and constant lies?? They certainly did not base their voting on moral values! I’m sure that will be a serious topic of analysis in the Cruz post mortems, regardless how this ends!


      • Me too. Before the primaries started up, I wouldn’t have expected Trump to get more than few percent from evangelicals – like most, I expected Ted to clean up on that group. That really illustrate the unlikely groups that Trump has cobbled together – a group of strange bedfellows. I’ll be anxious to see how historians explain the strange attraction that so many disparate people seem to have for The Donald. It’s strictly a personality thing now, outside of raising the immigration issue to the forefront, his policies and programs are non-entities. These followers have attached themselves to Trump’s persona and ignore that it’s a facade and there’s nothing of substance underneath.


  3. I have repeatedly called for Trumpians to provide me with one actual lie that Cruz has uttered. Not lawyerly word melding, but a bald-faced lie. That request is now months old, and is still unanswered. Meanwhile Trump’s obvious lies are ankle deep at this point, but “THEY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT!”

    Yes, the strain on relationships can be severe, and resolving that strain can be a problem. I was called a “bully” by a Trumpian yesterday, because I wouldn’t let his misstatements stand. (I guess he gets away with them elsewhere?)

    Anyway, I repeat that the only way to really heal the rift is for the ultimate winner of the nomination to publicly ask the 2nd finisher to be his running mate. Yes, it would be a tense situation with Cruz as Trump’s VP. But, realistically, had Cruz been offered a VP slot, with JEB! or Walker to start, wouldn’t he have jumped at it? Likewise, I don’t expect that Trump would accept VP at his age. That’s fine, but a soothing salve will have been applied.

    The Trump rowdies and the #nevertrump folks would still weep, wail, and gnash their teeth. But the gestures would still have been made, to heal the rifts within the Party, and to wage war against the true enemy!


    • I understand Curtis, I’ve had similar experiences. Cruz is generally very honorable and truthful while every other word out of Trump’s mouth is either a lie or an exaggeration. Yet the masses are lapping it up. I forget who said it, but it’s said the “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” No truer words have been spoken.


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