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Don’t let The Donald come between you and your friend

The question

I'm writing you from America – from one of what some people derogatorily call "the flyover states." I am so shocked, disturbed, and I would say even frightened that Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States. I feel like I'm living in an apocalyptic movie, and for the first time have a dread for my and my children's future. I can't sleep for worrying about it. I can't understand how any thinking, rational person could have voted for Donald Trump – and all (I thought) my friends and Facebook friends agree. But then I was at lunch with a friend of mine, and she was thrilled at the outcome of the election. She thinks Trump is going to be a great president. I couldn't believe my ears. We had an emotional argument and haven't spoken since. I don't know if I can be friends with her, going forward. What should I do?

The answer

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First of all, don't succumb to "confirmation bias."

Confirmation bias is the tendency to hang out exclusively with (and, I suppose it follows, sleep with and marry) people who agree with you, and to read things and absorb only the information that confirms your prejudices and beliefs.

And I think it's really boring. So everyone on your Facebook page agrees with you. Almost half of your fellow Americans, it turns out, don't.

Why must we all agree? Vis-à-vis Trump I say: True, he's not my type of guy. Obama was my type of guy – smart, funny, thoughtful, soulful, Fugees on his iPod, Entourage his favourite TV show – though not my favourite politician ever.

Trump is sexist, retrograde, boorish, a "short-fingered vulgarian"– well, enough ink has been spilled and hot air expelled to describe him. He's Trump: need we say more?

But give the man a chance. He might just surprise/shock everyone by doing well.

I've been around long enough to remember when Ronald Reagan threw his hat in the ring, way back in the 1980s.

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The media were aghast, despondent, horrified and full of eye-rolling mockery: He's an actor! He was in a movie with a chimp! How's he going to be president of the United States (now glorified with the acronym POTUS)?

(Overlooking the fact he had been governor of California for eight years.)

But Reagan famously went "over the head of the media" and appealed directly to the common folk. And at least as far as conservatives are concerned, Reagan worked out well – left the U.S. and A (as Borat might say) and the world a more peaceful and prosperous place than when he entered the fray as POTUS.

Anyway, the point is not what you think of Donald Trump, or even Ronald Reagan.

The point, I believe, is: it's important to hold on to and passionately argue for your beliefs, but not to go all ad hominem with them – i.e. not make it personal.

I'm always amazed at friendships, or any other kinds of relationships, that go pear-shaped over the fact the two parties don't see eye to eye on some particular issue.

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I, as an American with American relatives, know of more than one marriage south of the border experiencing "Trump tension," i.e. one spouse likes him and the other doesn't, and one or the other doesn't want to admit it.

But why should it be so personal? Why should it not rather be a fun and energizing topic of debate?

I understand Trump is a polarizing figure. I understand his rise to power (first-ever president without any political or military experience, just for starters) is odd, unusual, shocking, etc.

But that's precisely why the ramifications need to be discussed among citizens in a cool, calm, compassionate manner. Take a cue from the concession speeches of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – I particularly liked Obama's comment (I'm going to miss that guy) to the effect of "this was an intramural scrimmage … We are Americans first."

You and your friend are Americans first. It can be hard, I think, particularly for Canadians to understand, but America is, at heart, I believe, a rebellious country, a country that began in rebellion – a punk country, if you will, and Donald Trump was a punk choice for president.

So it's definitely difficult to process, but shouldn't cause a rift between you and your friend. When one Oscar Wilde character says accusatorily to another "You always want to argue about things," the other character says "That is exactly what things are made for."

I've often felt the truth of that. And never more so than with Trump. Go ahead and argue about him until you're blue in the face and the bottle of chardonnay is empty.

Just respect the fact not everyone will always have the same opinion as you. And never, ever let it get personal.

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