Updated: Jun 11, 2019
November 8th, 2016 changed a lot of things. Like every other election, it changed the occupant of the White House. Unlike every other election, this new occupant brought chaos, fear and hate along with him, and it therefore changed the current American political climate. It also changed my relationship with my best friend.
When Connor and I first met, the world was simpler; Obama was being elected to his second term, and the two of us didn’t really discuss politics because we didn’t know anything about them. I knew that my parents voted for Obama and his parents voted for Romney. We mostly talked about school and whatever our passions were at eleven years old instead.
The most political our conversations at the time got was this:
“You know, Mitt Romney can’t sit on a stool,” I said, twirling in my stool in our old art room. “He said it himself: he can’t sit on a stool because he’s a Mormon and apparently that means that he has little experience sitting on them because they don’t drink alcohol.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Connor mumbled as he finished his painting of a mouse riding a skateboard.
“Your parents voted for him, not mine.”
Civil. Lighthearted. Political discourse. Well, for middle schoolers anyway. Some things have changed since then. I know a little more than just who my parents voted for. I would argue that Connor does not, especially when I scroll through his Twitter and see his Alex Jones retweets.
When I used to see Connor, I saw a friend. I used to see the boy thinner and shorter than me with a mop of red hair and an awkward smile who I spent hours and hours with. He and I would bond over Blink-182 songs, laugh about countless inside jokes, and roughhouse whenever we were together. He would copy my Latin homework before class (while listening to my lecture about the benefits of doing your own homework) and would always be there to hear whatever it is I needed to talk about. We even had a crush on each other at some point, in a timid and simple middle school way.
Once I decided to attend an all-girls boarding school, and Connor enrolled in the all-boys school down the road, I was sure that we would date for real, but not until junior year - I wanted to play the field first.
But, three months into my junior year came November 8th, 2016. When I was making this plan, I didn’t account for all of the changes that would emerge during the first two years of my politics and social justice filled high school career. As I learned about these things, I became more and more politically aware (and more and more passionate). By my junior year, I was politically charged, and I was informed; I was a Bernie supporter.
Connor, who was no longer the straggly haired middle school boy in his Mooreland Hill School sweatshirt, was now the rich white man across the aisle, not understanding that he should care about others. This was hard for me because while I simultaneously knew all of the good things about Connor, I could not help but see the bad too - and I could not avoid the worst thing of all - that he was a Trump supporter.
At first, it was fine. I knew that people would have different political opinions than me, and I knew that was okay. I had respect for Connor and his ideas just as he would have respect for mine. However, this election quickly started to not be about ideas, it became personal. I struggled thinking that he was okay with Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment, or his anti-black people sentiment, or his anti-women sentiment, or his anti-gay sentiment, or his anti-Muslim sentiment, but I still maintained that his political preferences were to be respected, and that they wouldn’t change our friendship. Politics aren’t the only thing that make up who a person is, after all. We could talk about other things. Blink-182 was releasing new music at the time.
We went to junior prom together (as friends), and it was clear that there was already some distance between us. His father kept pressuring me to wear Connor’s jacket because it was “really cold out,” (it wasn’t cold) in an odd and forced attempt to be chivalrous. I tried to make it through a slow song (Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years”), but by the second time Perri sang “I have died everyday waiting for you,” I squirmed off the dance floor and made my way over to the chocolate fountain, alone.
Then the election happened, and I took a break from communication with Connor for a little while (I took a break from everything for a little while, to mourn, anyway). He did not have anything to say the first time I saw him after the fact; he did not rub the win in my face, because he was mature and this was just an election. There was going to be another one in four years and another one after that. This is how the system works, right?
So why, then, did my best friend look different to me? Why did he feel less trustworthy and caring? Less lovable? I felt like an immature sore loser (as Trump would put it). I felt a little crazy for being this impacted by an election.
Hanging out with Connor after the election was hard because our political debates were no longer hypothetical. The thoughts and opinions that I used to be able to dismiss as crazy were now validated, and they were governing our country. Everything felt heavy because the irrational things Connor said about Muslims could end up being real policies, while my reasonable hopes for the environment were now being ignored by the ones in power. The unassuming and sweet middle school boy I once knew was now mansplaining the economy to me, and I was losing my liberal intellectual authority. Nonetheless, I could deal with being (according to the electoral college) wrong. This is not what changed our friendship.
What changed our friendship was Charlottesville.
Though Trump had given me plenty of opportunities before to fully dismiss him as the worst person alive, Charlottesville was the moment that I officially began to feel this way about our unfortunate commander in chief. I laid in bed watching the news the entire day, stunned by the Charlottesville protests. I remember my mother’s immediate response was: “what is Donald Trump possibly going to say about this?” No one could have predicted that he was going to defend Nazis. You would think he had better sense than that, or that someone in the White House would have had better sense than to let him say that. Regardless, Donald Trump decided to defend both sides which reveals quite a bit about where he stands. To defend Nazis or white supremacists, to defend the violent death of people, is an unforgivable act. This is not politics. This is basic human decency. Donald Trump is a bad person definitively (I decided).
I thought of Connor. Connor who stayed up late to text me when I was alone at a summer camp for the first time. Connor who paid for my food every time I forgot (or ran out of) money when we went to the mall. Connor who would hold onto my tampons because girls’ pants don’t have big enough pockets. Connor. Is he a bad person too?
I still cannot comprehend how he supports Trump, and my heart still breaks to think that he doesn’t care about me, his Puerto Rican, female best friend enough to realize that the things Trump stands for are not good, but there is still love in there for him.
I don’t know exactly how this story ends. I know that I have not responded to his text from two months ago and that we never talk to or see each other. However, I do not feel that our relationship is over. We never had a definitive end. I do not know that it is possible to end a relationship with someone you imagined would be there for your whole life. But it is not possible to just not talk about politics when we are together. They are too omnipresent to avoid. And, when I’m around Connor, all I want to do is talk about politics. I feel an urge to start talking about the wall or ICE or Brett Kavanaugh. I feel an urge to start screaming. I think it’s because I want to hear him say something just as bad as Trump so that he can be a bad person (definitively) too. Or maybe it’s because I think that he just needs to talk to me one more time and then he’ll understand my point of view, and that I was right all along, and then he’ll start waving a rainbow flag and advocating for gun control.
With every passing day that I don’t talk to Connor, it is clear that it is less likely the latter will occur. He’s away at college, surrounded in his own bubble of like-minded individuals, plotting the downfall of our democracy (at least, I think that’s what Republicans do). And I, in my own political bubble, have a decision to make: is my history with Connor enough for me to keep reaching out to him? At what point does a person’s politics become their personality? And, at what point have you lost your best friend?
Olivia Luppino, Fall 2018
Artwork by Lilah Hixson