Your stories: Fix Americas divide or were doomed to fail
That’s what so many of our readers wish they could do. To help launch our new series, “Fractured States of America,” CNN Opinion invited readers to share their own experiences of political division.
Some worry that it’s already too late, that we’ve crossed a threshold of polarization from which there is no return. Others look toward a future where more moderate voices are heeded and heard, and Americans can find better ways to relate to each other. Still others look back to history for a guide — perhaps for what not to do, or at the very least for proof that while it’s been bad before, progress is still possible.
“For years we have researched all candidates on both sides and voted for the best candidate even if it went against our party,” said Teresina Adams of Las Vegas of herself and her husband. “Now we feel left out of the conversation and we don’t recognize either party.” Kenja Purkey of Amarillo, Texas, took a different perspective; she shared what it’s been like to try to build bridges ” … between the two divided sides. To that end, I have really tried to work on understanding where we can work together and how to not demonize each other … I still feel like a fish out of water where I live. But I am hopeful that as we try to find common ground that might lessen. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to compromise what I believe and that it’s okay to agree to disagree.”
Hundreds of readers from across the country, espousing views at every point on the spectrum, wrote in to offer their stories. Having read and taken to heart the hundreds and hundreds of responses we received, the underlying message is clear: America has a problem, and it’s time for a wake-up call.
“While discussion is healthy, turning it into a sporting match is not,” said Phil L. of Pennsylvania, echoing many of you who wrote in with stories of how the post-2016 landscape has challenged or painfully altered your long-standing relationships with spouses and friends.
You described leaving church communities, being alienated from your children. Eve, a first generation child of immigrants from Rexford, New York, recounted a dinner party where her closest girlfriend “continued to talk about ‘bad immigrants’ although my husband begged her to change the subject. Another girlfriend of ours was there; she’s a Chinese immigrant.” Eve’s husband ended the conversation and cut off all interaction with her friend. Eve says, “I am still always pleasant and social with my friend, but I don’t feel good about it.”
For a lot of people, this wake-up call needs to take the form of a return to common humanity, a more pragmatic approach to media consumption and greater savvy about social media interaction. For a number, it’s even simpler: Start listening to the voices of the moderate majority and de-emphasize (and perhaps de-platform) those shouting from the extreme left and right.”
Some of you took issue with the premise that a surge in division implied some previous time of unity. “When was America meaningfully united?” asked Jason R. from Ohio. “I keep hearing people talk about how this country is so divided nowadays, yet I am in my 30s and cannot remember America being united in a meaningful way during my lifetime.” Clinton W. of Portland, Oregon, agreed: “There is no point in time that this country has been great for everyone, only great for a few.” Rich G. from Tampa, Florida, offered a different approach: in his bitterly divided workplace, he has established (with signage to match) a “no politics zone.”
With the 2020 presidential election in full swing, impeachment hearings in full swing and the holiday season on the horizon, it’s hardly feasible for most Americans to take Rich’s approach, much as we might like to. And since these days, most of our lives can’t be designated a “no politics zone,” it seems exactly right to start where all of us do: our own common sense and the lived realities of our everyday lives.
A further sampling of your stories follows below. Some have been lightly edited for clarity and flow, and the views belong to the authors.
‘I was starting to hate people that I have loved for years’
I am a black woman in my 40s and also a Christian. I go to a church that is diverse and is comprised of Democrats and Republicans. Since the election of Trump, it seems that everyone on both sides has lost their minds. I have purposely stayed off of social media because I was starting to hate people that I have loved for years. I felt that those who support Trump don’t support my rights or views as a minority woman. I am truly heartbroken over some of the hateful things that they say. I am especially disappointed in my Christian friends who blindly follow Trump saying that he a man of God. Even though everything he says goes against the beliefs of the Bible. Particularly love thy neighbor as thyself.
On the other side I have friends on the left who have an all-liberal-or-nothing policy that I have to agree with and accept everything they stand for no matter what they do or say just as long as it’s liberal. To be honest I am more of a moderate Democrat and my husband is nonpartisan. For years we have researched all candidates on both sides and voted for the best candidate even if it went against our party. Now we feel left out of the conversation and we don’t recognize either party.
It’s sad how how far each side has gone to the left and right. I truly believe that we need to stop and listen to each other. Everyone is so busy trying to get it right all of the time that we are getting it wrong most of the time. The left is too quick to call someone racist, sexist or homophobic and lose their livelihood because of one statement. Those on the right need to be educated and not dismissed completely. Those who are quick to call someone else’s flaws out forget that they are also human and have made mistakes or have said something stupid. The difference is that it’s not online or on TV for the world to see. Most of us would be horrified if our biggest mistakes were on display. I think that we all need to stop and take a breath and remember that we are that song (we’re only human born to make mistakes). We need to treat others the way we want to be treated. Anger gets no one anywhere. We need to fix this national dysfunction quick or we as Americans are doomed to fail.
— Teresina Adams, Las Vegas, Nevada
Voting for Trump cost me my friends
I have lost all my friends because I voted for Trump. I’ve always voted Democrat. I thought Hillary was corrupt and that Trump was obnoxious. But as I read about his policies I began to see that I agreed with most of them and was willing to overlook his personality flaws. I think if more people were exposed to what he has done that is good, that would change their minds. In any case, I do think that the decision should be made at the polling booth and not though the agony of impeachment. The left is full of hatred. and envy and is unbelievably intolerant of opposing views. What has happened to the loyal opposition? What has happened to America?
— Ronda, Delaware County, New York
I feel like I’m living in hostile territory
Six months ago, my wife and I moved from cosmopolitan New Orleans to conservative Pensacola, Florida, to be near family and because we could afford a much better house here. One of the first things we did was to invite the neighbors for drinks. And within half an hour of arriving, one of those neighbors loudly proclaimed: “I hate liberals.” I was too taken aback to tell him that we were liberals. He’s a perfectly decent guy, but those three thoughtless words have totally colored my view of my new home. I can’t get them out of my mind, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, I feel I’m living in hostile territory.
— Phil Goddard, Pensacola, Florida
Our children are watching this bloodsport
Watching the news is America’s new bloodsport. My husband is a staunch Trump supporter. I left the party before Trump was even nominated. We’ve had some bitter fights over politics since the election, but our marriage and our children are the best parts of our lives. We’ve ceased attempts to convince each other and resolved to stop trying. I’m a high school teacher. He’s a pilot. We’re both veterans. We’ve both lived outside this country and traveled the world enough to have a deep understanding of how truly fortunate we are to call this place home. All Americans need to consider the long-term consequences of this political poison. Our children are watching. They’ll inherit the America we’re debating today. I hope it’s not a divided nation on the brink of civil war.
— Susie D., Virginia Beach, Virginia
A student’s Nazi-style salute reflects the hate
While substitute teaching, I was monitoring students working on an essay for Veterans’ Day, entitled, “What Makes America Great.” (The essays were intended for a competition sponsored by a veterans’ organization.) One student in particular was struggling to get beyond their initial statement that America’s greatness was based upon, “veterans, not-illegal immigrants …” When I questioned the student about what was meant by “not-illegal immigrants?” The student replied, “the ones that come here with the right paperwork and stuff. They don’t come here and take our taxes and get on welfare, so we have to support them. The legal ones come through that place in New York.”
A classmate prompted the student with the suggestion of Ellis Island. The student went on to state that the veterans were what made America great. “They fought and died for us.” This student went on to express their disdain for the immigrants who were entering the country illegally, regardless of the circumstances behind those decisions. Following a brief break in classes, the student returned to the classroom with their hand held high in a Nazi-style salute. I asked that they put their hand down and the student replied that they were just waving hello.
The student walked back out into the hall, briefly, and returned once again with the salute. I approached the student and directly stated, “You claim to believe that our veterans are what make America great, because they risked their lives for us. My father, the son of immigrants, was a US veteran who risked his life to stop the flow of Nazism in the world. That salute is in support of what my father served to stop. I will not tolerate that symbol in my presence.” Following that exchange the student finally stopped offering hate-filled challenges. It hurts my heart to see so many young people that are filled with hate for others, simply because they have no understanding beyond the hate-filled rhetoric they are hearing at home and in the media to which they are exposed.
— Carol, South Dakota
Our leaders reflect the worst of us
I feel isolated from my upbringing and my personal history. The state of my childhood has gone solid red and classmates’ social media reflect views that in no way reflect mine. I’ve been peripatetic over the last 30 years and feel like I have more understanding, more empathy and more tolerance. There is no middle ground, except that of good manners and self-censorship. Partisanship infantilizes voters and is a destructive force in America. Our leaders reflect the worst of our natures right now.
— Beth A., North Carolina
The lesson of Trump’s election
I’m a veteran of the Navy. President Trump is unlike any other president in recent years. He’s not a typical status quo politician. He is a shrewd learned businessman. Yes he can be an ass at times but as a whole he has done good for our country. He’s delivered or put in play most of what he campaigned on. All the Democrats have done since he was elected is b**** and try to overthrow a duly elected president instead of working to better our country with him. The idiocy of the Democrats is so prevalent they don’t realize if they want to win elections they need to connect with Trump’s supporters not alienate them also not have 20-plus people running for president.
I am a lifelong Democrat, my husband is a lifelong Republican, we have always been able to openly discuss our opinions and respect our differences inside our home or with friends in all political parties.Today we don’t even breathe which party we belong to outside our home because it invariably leads to shouting and name calling, with us being on the receiving end. The civil discourse in this country is as heartbreaking as it is scary. I fear putting a bumper sticking on my car because I live in a Republican stronghold and I fear retaliation. I truly believe I will be assaulted or perhaps even shot because of a bumper sticker on my car. That is where we are today in America, it’s a shame. It starts at the top, if everyone would tone down the hate, we all would be better off. We all have good ideas but we are spending too much time on name calling and not enough time listening to each other.
I live in Adam Schiff’s L.A. congressional district but hail from conservative rural Michigan where I travel back frequently to be with family. It’s disturbing and scary to see the polarization worsen over the past few years. People live in two different realities. One side’s heroes are the other side’s enemies. I can feel the anger growing on both sides. Will California and Texas go to war someday? It already feels like a cold war.
I have an identical twin. We both had our DNA tested on 23andMe. It came out we are identical down to every item. My daughter now has 2 mothers listed on her profile on 23andMe. That is how close we are physically. Politically we are totally opposite. She went from being a Democrat supporting Hillary Clinton to one of the “base” for Donald Trump. I am and always have been an extreme lefty. Total Bernie supporter. I am at a loss as to how this happened to her.
What is it that changed for her? She blames Obama for all her problems. If it wasn’t for Obamacare she wouldn’t have insurance. Of course she doesn’t see it that way. I try to ask her how she can think like a Trumper. All I get are digs and putdowns about my “socialist” beliefs. We can argue about this for hours. My mother just hates it when we argue about Trump. We had to agree not to talk politics around her. I have also decided not talk to her about it. It is like talking to a brick wall. She believes what she believes and I believe what I believe.
How to fix this? I have no idea. What works for us is to ignore the problem. We get along fine as long as there is no talk about politics. Get rid of Trump and maybe it would help. We need to start building up our country and get the corruption out of our government. Maybe we need to hit rock bottom and then we can start to rebuild. We are there.