Voting to impeach Donald Trump was a move that six-term Illinois congressman, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, knew his fellow Republicans wouldn’t take well. But he went with his conscience, party loyalty be hanged.
He expected to be disowned by his party, but he likely wasn’t expecting to receive a scathing letter from his own family, calling him an embarrassment to the family name. But Kinzinger is just one very public example of the family versus politics dynamic that is taking place all across the nation.
Throughout the past year, our political climate has reached new heights of volatility and I’ve heard many unfortunate accounts of people blocking family members and close friends on social media, getting into fights in person and online or, in some cases, cutting off all contact with loved ones over opposing political views.
While I myself have not blocked or unfriended (on social or in real life) any of my close friends or family members for their opposing views, I will admit that I have restricted visibility of some of their posts and my own posts on social media for the sake of my own sanity. Realistically, there is only so much angry rhetoric I can tolerate seeing or responding to on a daily basis.
But is destroying a family relationship because of opposing political ideals be worthwhile? Kinzinger’s cousins certainly think so, but I am less sure.
In an article from The Washington Post this week, headlined “Political divisions are increasingly stronger than family bonds,” writer Eugene Scott notes that, “As people continue to experience very different types of America and consume media with starkly different approaches to politics and issues, finding common ground — even among families — seems much harder than ever.”
And unfortunately, that statement seems increasingly true.
I contacted several individuals to ask whether they felt cutting off contact with family members or close friends — either in real life or online — over political differences was worth it and, while they lamented taking such measures, they all found some level of justification for doing so.
Riley Roos, a resident of Woods Cross, who made the difficult decision last year to unfollow his sister on social media said, “It’s been a Catch-22.”
Neither option felt great, but limiting his contact with his sister, especially on social media, has been more positive than negative.
After watching her attack family members on social media and repeatedly post information that wasn’t factual and potentially damaging, Roos said he decided not seeing her posts felt like the easier and better option.
“I’d hope that in time, the temperature of U.S. politics would decrease and we’d be able to carry on a normal conversation without that elephant in the room but, for now, it’s just better to let her do her thing while I do mine,” he said.
Michelle Crapo from Stanwood, Washington, said that, while she hasn’t lost any family relationships to politics, she does see a benefit in cutting off social media contact with some people.
“I unfollowed individuals so that when I see them in real life, I think of them and the good things I like about them instead of all the idiotic things they post,” she said, noting that preserving relationships with family and close friends is more important to her than their political differences.
She added, “I believe that the best way to help people change their minds is to stay friends with them.”
Blocking or cutting off social media contact with people has been an easy in-between solution for many. By removing the volatile online environment as a place of interaction, many said they were better able to deal with the complexities of their differences through limited in-person interactions that help preserve their relationships.
And for those with primarily in-person relationships, well, they seem to do what they can to work things out.
Heather Horrocks from Chewelah, Washington, said that in order to prevent a wedge being driven through their marriage, she and her husband are careful not to dwell on the political ideologies they disagree on. “Overall we try to focus more on the places we do agree,” she said.
Leading up to the election last year, The Atlantic writer Arthur C. Brooks argued in favor of individuals taking a break from their ravenous political consumption in order to improve their quality of life. Political polarization, he noted, is “interfering directly with the fuel of happiness, which is love.”
The fact that individuals are blocking their loved ones on social media and writing them letters to let them know they are disappointed with their views and will no longer be claiming them as family, demonstrates just how much truth there is in Brooks’ claims.
If we allow our political animosity to exceed our attachments to those we love most, we will fail as a society and America’s families, much like America itself, will be in great need of counseling.
So, perhaps Brooks is right, we could all benefit from taking a break from politics to focus instead on relationships that make us happy — whether those relationships are family, friends, or the neighbors who we just seem to like despite our differences. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want my politics to be my main defining factor. Do you?