We were at a dinner recently where we knew no one. Seating was random so we ended up across from a couple who lived in Chicago. After the usual niceties about jobs and how beautiful each other’s cities were, I ventured into the topic of politics. “Most people in Chicago are Democrats,” I said, “are you?” “We’re Republicans,” replied the wife.
I should have known from her chilly tone that I had made a horrendous mistake, as if I called them idiots or worse. Foolishly, I carried on, asking,”How do you think your man in Washington is doing?” “He’s trying his best,” she said. By this time, my partner was gently poking my leg under the table. I still didn’t shut up, even though I should have.
“What do you mean?” I asked blithely. The husband cleared his throat. Until then, he had been charming, talking about his profession, and generally being cheerful. Now, his face was dark and angry as he launched into a diatribe about how Barack Obama oversaw some kind of conspiracy in the last election to suppress Republican votes, if I understood him correctly. Still unable to fall silent, I said, “I don’t think I’ve read about that.”
As you might imagine, there followed an awkward silence as we all inspected our food closely. Luckily, we were joined by someone who proceeded to commandeer the small talk. Thank goodness. But through that outburst I got some small sense of the divisiveness in America today. It’s gone far beyond partisan politics. With Robert Mueller’s report now concluded, everyone has dug in deeper. I fear for them all.