An Emotional Divide: Grieving for the relationships that will not survive this Presidency
I’ll never understand it. As long as I live, it will never really make sense to me. Yeah, I’ve read all the research, analyzed all the data, digested a thousand think pieces, and watched countless late night cable TV commentaries over the past four years — and all of them together still don’t add up to this.
They don’t explain once rational, otherwise decent, educated people fully taking leave of their senses: people I’ve grown up with, served on mission trips with, families who’ve had my kids over for sleepovers, older relatives I spent decades aspiring to become, ministers I once respected for their compassion — a rapidly growing army of people who I was sure knew better than this.
Nothing adequately explains their complete rejection of Science. Nothing completely accounts for them instantly embracing the most nonsensical of conspiracies. Nothing truly prepared me for their social media explosions of racism. Nothing fully connects the dots between their past goodness and this present ugliness.
I can microscopically parcel out every conceivable contributing factor: white supremacy, the pro-life lie, Fox News propaganda, toxic masculinity, Evangelical indoctrination, intellectual laziness, manipulated nationalism, unchecked capitalism, hatred for Hillary, political fatigue, disenfranchisement, fear of replacement, and celebrity worship:
They fail to adequately explain how I lost people I loved and respected. They don’t cushion the pain of these separations. They don’t make it easier for me to grieve the loss of living people. They don’t comfort me in these relational funerals.
And as much as I am in mourning, I know that these people are likely similarly grieving me right now; that they too are lamenting their own list of ways they imagine I’ve changed or lost the plot or abandoned my convictions or betrayed my religion — and they’re wondering where they lost me.
I think that’s the smaller, more devastating story we’re not telling right now; the one far below the bold type trending news. It isn’t America’s clear compound fractures of partisan battles, issue differences, loud tribalism, and attention-stealing sideshow press conferences that are doing the greatest damage right now. The real mortal wound to this nation is coming from the relational internal bleeding measured around kitchen tables and in church pews and in neighborhoods. It is the interpersonal separations that we’re all experiencing: hundreds of millions of losses to collectively mourn every day.
We’re not just being pulled apart along political lines, but the fragile, time-woven fabric of our most intimate connections with people are being torn in two right now. Marriages, families, lifelong friendships, faith communities, and social circles that survived every previous assault from within and without — may not survive this presidency.
And the worst part, is that the election results aren’t going to fix this.
They’re going to leave half of us elated and the other half sickened — and that emotional divide is only going to grow and strain to sever the already tenuous ties between us. There will certainly be a massive wave of ghostings and unfriendings, more silent disconnections and explosive middle-finger send-offs, more aborted family gatherings and cold silences with our neighbors. There will be a greater separation in the small and the close spaces where life is truly measured — and I’m not sure how we prevent or repair it.
I imagine some relationships will manage to survive this beyond November — if we invest in them, if we keep listening, if we have willing participants in mutual understanding — but others will not, and that’s probably necessary. Maybe we’ve simply seen too much about the deepest contents of people’s hearts to ever feel safety in their presence again. Maybe we’ll never feel like they are home for us anymore.
Either way, we need to name and reckon with this very specific and metastatic grieving: the accumulating losses of people we love who are still here, the death of our relationships. It is a national tragedy.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com