Neither side seems willing to offer the other an opportunity for redemption and forgiveness.
When lifelong Democrat Mayra Gomez told her 21-year-old son five months ago that she was voting for Donald Trump in Tuesday’s presidential election, he cut her out of his life.
“He specifically told me, ‘You are no longer my mother, because you are voting for Trump’,” Gomez, 41, a personal care worker in Milwaukee, told Reuters. Their last conversation was so bitter that she is not sure they can reconcile, even if Trump loses his re-election bid.
“The damage is done. In people’s minds, Trump is a monster. It’s sad. There are people not talking to me anymore, and I’m not sure that will change,” said Gomez, who is a fan of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and handling of the economy.
Gomez is not alone in thinking the bitter splits within families and among friends over Trump’s tumultuous presidency will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair, even after he leaves office.
In interviews with 10 voters – five Trump supporters and five backing Democratic candidate Joe Biden – few could see the wrecked personal relationships caused by Trump’s tenure fully healing, and most believed them destroyed forever.
Throughout his nearly four-year norm-smashing presidency Trump has stirred strong emotions among both supporters and opponents. Many of his backers admire his moves to overhaul immigration, his appointment of conservative judges, his willingness to throw convention to the wind and his harsh rhetoric, which they call straight talk.
Democrats and other critics see the former real estate developer and reality show personality as a threat to American democracy, a serial liar and a racist who mismanaged the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States so far. Trump dismisses those characterizations as “fake news.”
Now, with Trump trailing Biden in opinion polls, people are beginning to ask whether the fractures caused by one of the most polarizing presidencies in U.S. history could be healed if Trump loses the election.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think national healing is as easy as changing the president,” said Jaime Saal, a psychotherapist at the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
“It takes time and it takes effort, and it takes both parties – no pun intended – being willing to let go and move forward,” she said.
Saal said tensions in people’s personal relationships have spiked given the political, health and social dynamics facing the United States. Most often she sees clients who have political rifts with siblings, parents or in-laws, as opposed to spouses.
NEIGHBOR VS NEIGHBOR
Trump’s election in 2016 divided families, tore up friendships and turned neighbor against neighbor. Many have turned to Facebook and Twitter to deliver no-holds-barred posts bashing both Trump and his many critics, while the president’s own freewheeling tweets have also inflamed tensions.
A September report by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that nearly 80% of Trump and Biden supporters said they had few or no friends who supported the other candidate.
A study by the Gallup polling organization in January found that Trump’s third year in office set a new record for party polarization. While 89% of Republicans approved of Trump’s performance in office in 2019, only 7% of Democrats thought he was doing a good job.
Gayle McCormick, 77, who separated from her husband William, 81, after he voted for Trump in 2016, said, “I think the legacy of Trump is going to take a long time to recover from.”
The two still spend time together, although she is now based in Vancouver, he in Alaska. Two of her grandchildren no longer speak to her because of her support for Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago. She has also become estranged from other relatives and friends who are Trump supporters.
She is not sure those rifts with friends and family will ever mend, because each believes the other to have a totally alien value system.
Democratic voter Rosanna Guadagno, 49, said her brother disowned her after she refused to support Trump four years ago. Last year her mother suffered a stroke, but her brother – who lived in the same California city as her mother – did not let her know when their mother died six months later. She was told the news after three days in an email from her sister-in-law.
“I was excluded from everything that had to do with her death, and it was devastating,” said Guadagno, a social psychologist who works at Stanford University, California.
Whoever wins the election, Guadagno is pessimistic that she can reconcile with her brother, although she says she still loves him.
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