Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

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According to the Bipartisanship Policy Center, our country’s history of working across the aisle can be traced back to as early as 1787. Our founding fathers, struggling with congressional representation regarding the populations of the colonies, reached what later was know as the Great Compromise. It was decided that our new government would exist with a proportional House of Representatives and a Senate with equal representation. Once adopted, both sides felt vindicated.

At their best, and despite their differences, presidents and parties have work together to use compromise for the common good of our country. Lincoln created his “team of rivals” because he believed that he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him. In the last sixty years, the Civil Rights Act (1964); putting man on the moon (1977);  the Endangered Species Act (1973); the American’s with Disabilities Act (1990); welfare reform (1996), and No Child Left Behind (2001) all were put into effect because of compromise.

In the current political climate, compromise appears to be all but impossible. Lines have been drawn in the sand, pitting the Republican majority against the Democratic minority with unprecedented rancor. Nuclear options, closed door sessions, and  a proliferation of  what is regarded as “fake,” exaggerated, and even inflammatory news have torn our country apart in ways that many of us — from gifted historians to concerned citizen—cannot remember.

The battle has spilled over to our personal lives, dividing family and friends. The situation has become so flammable that recommendations on how to get along with family and friends with differing political views have become hot topics on everything from television to newspaper articles to Miss Manners. How do we deal with its aftermath when where one stands—whether to the left, to the right, or in the middle—when politics become personal?

I myself had become caught up in the “us versus them” mentality.  In the months before the election, I had spent hours watching television, listening to podcasts, and reading articles—usually with left leaning perspectives. Sharing all this news became my first priority, either through social media or animated, face to face conversations.

And it hurt me. I had cut off contact with a relative after a  Facebook fight about the election last fall, reconciling only after four months of protracted tension. One of my new neighbors, knowing how I felt about the November 8th outcome, had purposely avoided me with little more than a smile and hello. Friends invited me to their get-togethers  but suggested I leave my politics at the door. As a result, I decided that I could still do what I need to do—stay informed, call my legislators, volunteer to work during the next election cycle. However, as Miss Manners suggested in her June 25, 2017, column, I was no longer going discuss politics in social situations without mutual consent to do so.

While organizing a small dinner party, I realized how difficult the situation had become. One of the guests, whose leanings were unreservedly to the left, called to see if I was inviting a couple known for their strong Republican views. When I asked him the reason for his request, he told me that he recently had had a heated exchange with the couple regarding politics. He and his wife would feel uncomfortable attending if they were going to be there.

Even though the “Republicans” were not on the guest list for that evening, his request troubled me. Since the elections, I had heard similar comments from other friends who had questioned my continued friendship with any of “those people” who didn’t vote the way they had. I also observed many friends drawing lines in the sand. I came to the realization that enough was enough.

I didn’t have a good response for my dinner guests during that phone call, but I do now. When the issue comes up, I tell people, “I will be friends with whom I want. Politics will NOT be a decision in my friendship.”

In his book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” Chris Matthews, the former Chief of Staff for House Speaker Tip O’Neill and MSNBC journalist, reported that the political battles between the House Speaker and President Ronald Reagan  were “legendary,” but they respected and even liked one another. Reagan often had both Republicans and Democrats—including O’Neill—over for cocktails. “After six,” O’Neill would insist, “we are all friends.”

The only difference with me, the avowed liberal Democrat, and Tip O’Neill is that I won’t limit my friendships to after six o’clock.  As Thomas Jefferson so wisely said over two hundred years ago, “I never considered a difference in opinion on politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause enough in withdrawing from a friend.”

So I will continue to have friends for dinner, no matter our political affiliations. We will break bread. We will drink wine. We will laugh and enjoy each other’s company. And maybe, just maybe, once in a while we will “reach across the aisle.” We will discuss politics, learn what divides and unites us, and, if necessary,  agree to disagree. I only wish the same for our president and the members of our United States Senate and House of Representatives.

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