Christopher Owens with his take on a recent book that suggests politics is very much personal.
We all know that modern life is a minefield, but throw politics into the mix and you'll soon find normally civil people actively laying out the law on certain issues and openly challenging others to defy them.
While such entrenchment has been commonplace in this country for nearly 60 years, it seems that America has only really started to see the full effects. And it ain't pretty.
A psychoanalyst/therapist since the early 70's, Dr. Safer self identifies as a liberal while her husband (Richard Brookhiser, editor of the National Review Institute) has been quoted as saying that the two of them "... have hated each other's politics for over forty years, but we still love each other, so she must know what she is talking about." So this places her in a suitable position to write about the subject of inter-political dating.
Having written various articles and produced her own podcast, this book brings them together in a way that is sympathetic, coherent, thoughtful and with a positive message.
What is striking from reading the testimonies (which range from 'banal' through to 'enraging' and all the way up to 'heartbreaking') is just how damaged some people are. For a variety of reasons, their problems manifest themselves in how they handle political arguments and the tribal hostility of the recent years has simply exacerbated any outstanding issues but also acting as a kind of 'one fix solution' in the sense that taking a stand on a political viewpoint becomes a placebo.
Take the story of thirty something couple Peter Collins and Jake Johnston as an example.
Dr. Safer informs the reader that they are both conservative leaning, and yet their arguments regarding Trump turn physical (especially when alcohol is thrown in). Yet, a bit of investigation reveals that both came from troubled homes (Peter feels he was often overlooked by his father in favour of his sisters while Jake's parents were often not in the same room for a good chunk of his childhood) and the end result is that:
when they fight, each of then unconsciously becomes the other's unresponsive, rejecting, judgemental, or combative father. Each feels erased by the other and has to make himself known by any means necessary.
This example demonstrates how politics becomes a way for those who feel powerless to become empowered. 'Winning over' your opponent (i.e. shouting them down and constantly tagging them in Facebook memes) radiates the self-esteem and reinforces the belief that you are 'on the right side of history', all while narrowing your perspectives on the world to an echo chamber.
What's interesting is that the aggressors are (generally speaking) ones who can be considered left leaning. Dr. Safer puts this down to the shift in power to the right, and that we would see similar outbursts from conservatives if the left were in power (essentially the horseshoe theory). While I'm sure there's an element of truth in that, I often wonder if there are other factors at work: the 'culture war' being won by the left, the failure of neo-liberalism leading some to explore socialism/ communism as a viable alternative. All of this creating a mindset so single minded in it's outlook that it fails to consider others with a differing political view.
Obviously, that would be something outside the scope of the book but it's an interesting angle to explore for further thinking.
Predictably, the end result sees families and friends torn apart whenever their personal relationships are actually based on what matters, like genuine friendship and personability. Dr. Safer notes various tales of siblings, uncles and parents finding themselves in such a situation.
I Love You ... is a telling insight into a nation that is broken and disillusioned by humanity, but chooses to politicise it's anger rather than confront hard truths.
Jeanne Safer, 2019, I Love You But I Hate Your Politics How to Protect Your Intimate Relationships in a Poisonous Partisan. World 2019 Biteback Publishing ISBN-13: 978-1785905049
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.