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12/30/2016 11:11 am ET Updated Jan 02, 2017

Here’s What Happened When I Said I Couldn’t Be ‘Friends’ With A Trump Supporter

Many supporters are defensive about the fact that they tolerated bigotry and hate.
Mark Makela via Getty Images

Two weeks ago I published an open letter here to a long-time, long-distance friend after I learned she had voted for Donald Trump. I stated that I realized I never really knew her, that I couldn’t fall back on the thought that she lived in the Rust Belt and experienced “economic anxiety” (she doesn’t, and surely isn’t) and that I’m just being honest when I say we can no longer be friends.

There was a lot of response on social media and elsewhere, most of it positive, much of it from people in far more difficult situations ― people who opposed Trump and were struggling with relationships they’ve had with parents, siblings, children or closer friends who voted for Trump. Many expressed how the letter articulated thoughts similar to their own, no matter how differently (or similarly) they may navigate this in their own lives.

Then there were the Trump supporters who criticized the piece. They almost universally claimed they couldn’t believe anyone was breaking off a friendship over “politics.” This, to me, was both ludicrous and disingenuous ― if very telling ― particularly since I’d addressed it right there in the open letter:

Some have said in the days since the election that they can’t believe people are ending friendships and family relationships over “politics.” They’d say that I’m being silly, petty, or overreacting. But this election was and continues to be about so much more than “politics.” This is about values and respect. It’s about bigotry and hate. It’s about millions of people’s rights being threatened, including my rights as a gay man and yours as a woman. It’s about putting our entire democracy in danger of transforming into an autocracy, and legitimizing and making alliances with our worst adversaries, whose goal is to dominate us.

Many of these Trump supporters ― a lot of them traditional Republicans who went “home,” as political pundits nauseatingly put it ― are defensive about the fact that they voted for the unstable racist, misogynist and self-proclaimed sexual assaulter, and they’re fearful of admitting to themselves and certainly others that they tolerated hate and bigotry. They can’t face that they’re in bed with what appears to be a large swath of other Trump supporters who actually revel in their own racism, pushing white supremacist hate and feeling emboldened by what they view as Trump’s embrace: making Steve Bannon his chief White House strategist. So, they conjure up all kinds of rationalizations or whirl around in a sort of denial.

These are the Trump supporters that went bonkers over my open letter to my friend.

Many of these Trump supporters are fearful of admitting to themselves that they tolerated hate and bigotry.

On several websites and on social media they portrayed me as the “intolerant” liberal. Of course, I’m proudly intolerant of bigotry -– but that’s not what they meant. One writer claimed I went on an “unfriending spree,” which was a complete lie, since I mentioned no other friends in my open letter. I’m happy to report that, in fact, this was the only friend of mine who voted for Trump, including among Republican and conservative friends.

Twice in two weeks, the producers of a well-known conservative TV host have invited me on-air to talk with him about the letter (take my word for it when I say his take on it is quite predictable), and I’ve received invitations from some other interviewers as well. I’ve declined all of them.

On Twitter, some Trump supporters have tried to shame me by criticizing me for not debating the issue with this or that interviewer. But there is actually nothing to debate or discuss, as the letter speaks for itself. These kinds of interviews are solely for the purpose of assuaging the interviewers’ (and followers’) guilt, or justifying their rationalizations or self-righteousness ― in this case for putting a madman in the White House, knowing that even some of their own conservative and Republican friends refused to vote for him.

One critic who described my letter as breaking off a friendship over “politics” ―despite my clearly having stated that wasn’t the case ― is a little-known pundit who is gay and who opined that Trump isn’t interested in taking away gay marriage no matter what he’s said. Now, I’ve pointed out how Mike Pence is running the transition and is already getting the anti-LGBTQ agenda set regarding domestic policy, and that Trump’s cabinet picks who will run the government departments are a who’s who of homophobia

But even if that weren’t true, why would you give a chance (as this critic put it) to someone who pandered to those who hate you? Trump courted evangelicals and promised to appoint judges to overturn the historic Obergefell ruling on marriage equality (and he has publicly opposed marriage equality since 2000). Even if you believe he wouldn’t do that, why would you give even conditional support to a man who has given hope to the people who detest you and wish you harm?

Almost eight weeks after the election things are not going as these Trump supporters had expected.

I’m sure there’s another rationalization for that. The bottom line is that almost eight weeks after the election things are not going as these Trump supporters had expected. They thought ― or hoped ― that most people would come together and get behind Trump simply because he’s the president-elect. 

But as Trump keeps tweeting and saying crazy things, heated opposition to him by  the majority of Americans remains strong. Trump, who won with only 46% of the vote, has done nothing to reach out to those who disagree with him and who fear his racist condemnations and the actions he promised to take. He’s instead vociferously attacked those he perceives as critics –- from protestors and several media outlets, to a TV comedy show and a Broadway musical ― and went on a “thank you” tour of the states he won rather than try to speak with those voters who didn’t support him.

The rationalizers can’t face the fact that there will be no peace because Trump is a bigot who ran a hate-filled campaign and has shown no remorse for doing so, nor is he making any attempt to heal any wounds.

Debating them about my personal choice regarding a friendship ― or even referring to them here by name ― would only be giving them an opportunity to attempt to legitimize the terrible choice they made in the election. And they surely don’t deserve that.

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