How The 2016 Election Affected My Relationships

by Caitlin Flynn
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Before the 2016 election, I'd never lost a friend over political differences — but, then again, a lot of things that had never happened before happened over the course of the last election season. During a visit to my hometown this past October, I met up with a good friend from high school. The Access Hollywood tapes had just been released, and I was reeling — I told her that I was struggling emotionally due to a recent sexual assault, and I was incredibly pained that so many Americans were still eager to cast their ballots for Trump, despite his graphic comments on the tapes about grabbing women "by the pussy." Her response was what I expected — empathy and concern. Though she's a registered Republican who voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, it didn't occur to me to ask her who she supported in 2016.

Flash forward to November 10: I was one of millions of people who had fallen into deep despair due to the election results. I'd gotten a solid 30 minutes of sleep over the two previous nights, and, to put it mildly, I felt personally attacked by all those votes for a man who had not only bragged about groping women without their consent, but had been the subject of a number of sexual assault allegations. When I logged onto Facebook, I saw a post from my high school friend — the one who had been so concerned for me during that October visit — that railed against anti-Trump protesters. Without hesitation, I ended our friendship, telling her that her words showed that she clearly believed I had no worth as a human being.

Initially, I was furious that my old friend had sympathetically listened to me recount my assault and my distress over the Access Hollywood tapes without mentioning that she planned on voting for Trump. But the poor communication went both ways. All the other Republicans in my life either voted for a third-party candidate or Hillary Clinton, and I assumed she'd do the same — and we all know what they say about assumptions.

I have no regrets about ending that friendship. But I certainly learned from the experience — I will never again assume that, just because I know someone well, I can predict what they do or don't consider as dealbreakers when it comes to politics.

A brief look at news and social media (like the post below) showed me that I wasn't the only person to cut someone out of my life due to Trump — according to a CBS News report, seven percent of voters polled in a Monmouth University survey said that they had had a friendship end due to the 2016 election.

B‌ut while there's been a decent amount of media coverage about how the election has ruined relationships, there's been less talk of the way that, for many of us, it brought new people into our lives, too.

Although I lost one friend over the election, politics didn't cause my social circle to contract this year — in fact, many existing friendships were strengthened and new ones were formed. During the primary, most of my friends supported Clinton and those who voted for Sanders didn't refuse to vote for Clinton in the general. But, unlike many other Clinton voters, I was incredibly passionate about Clinton's candidacy — I never viewed her as "the lesser of two evils" and I spent a great deal of time volunteering for her campaign. Not only was Clinton the candidate whose policies aligned most closely with my own, but I genuinely admire her as a person. Her incredible strength, work ethic, and ability to stand up every time she gets knocked down inspire me. ‌ ‌

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I'd lost touch with two high school friends due to distance — but we began talking daily during primary season because they, too, were ecstatic about the prospect of a Clinton presidency and disappointed that so many others didn't share their enthusiasm. Our exchanges about the election quickly turned into conversations about our personal lives and careers. After I was sexually assaulted in July, the first person I told was one of these women — I knew she'd had a similar experience because she had bravely published articles about her own sexual assault. Although we now live on opposite coasts and haven't actually seen each other in years, the election had reconnected us on a powerful level, and she was a tremendous source of support as I navigated the painful aftermath of my assault.

The election also strengthened my relationship with my dad. Though we're now in a great place, he and I went through a rough patch during my teens. Part of the reason we've clashed in the past is because we're both quite stubborn — and, to put it mildly, he'd always made clear that he absolutely couldn't stand either of the Clintons. Although he's a conservative, my dad never planned to vote for Trump — throughout most of the campaign, he told me he'd skip checking off the "president" box and simply vote down-ticket, because we're from a blue state and it wouldn't matter anyway. I wasn't thrilled, but I was convinced that I'd never be able to change his mind.

But, as I began to spend an increasing number of hours volunteering for Clinton, my dad began to ask me questions about it, simply because he's genuinely interested in everything I'm doing with my life. The more I told him about Clinton's long history of public service (which dates back to far before she was in the public eye), the more he warmed up to the idea of voting for her.

As he and I watched the third and final debate from opposite ends of the country, my dad texted me that he was officially "with her." I jokingly told my family members that I made sure he provided me with written and verbal confirmation that he would cast his ballot for Clinton, but I was incredibly moved to see that he put aside his prior disdain after spending time truly listening to me and doing his own research — largely because he knew how important this election was to me. On November 8, my dad texted me at 7 a.m. to tell me that he was already in line at the polls and he couldn't wait to cast his ballot for the first woman president. He concluded by telling me how proud he was that I'd devoted so much of my free time to fighting for what I believed in. I'll save that text message for the rest of my life.

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The days following the election were some of the most painful of my life. As an assault survivor, I felt re-traumatized and disillusioned that so many voters had been willing to look past the Access Hollywood tapes. I was (and still am) frightened for my own rights as a woman, and for the rights of my Muslim, immigrant, and LGBT+ friends. And, despite my anger at my high school friend, I was devastated over the loss of our friendship. On the morning of November 10, I called my mom, sobbing and shouting as I vacillated between fear, anger, and sadness. I had recently moved into a new apartment building, and my next door neighbor happened to overhear my tears as she walked by.

A few hours later, I noticed that she'd slipped a note under my door: "I heard you crying today. Whatever you're going through, I'm sorry it's so upsetting. If you ever need anyone to talk to, my door is always open to you." She included her apartment number and cell phone number. During a week when I'd lost faith in humanity, this seemingly small gesture of kindness meant more than words can express. I knocked on her door to thank her, and we ended up having a long talk. We realized we have quite a bit in common and we've become friends — something that never would have happened if it hadn't been for the election.

The 2016 election changed me — it opened my eyes to the deep divisions that exist not just in our country, but in my own social circle. Today, I've joined the resistance to fight back against Trump's horrifying policies and rhetoric — I've participated in the Women's March, made phone calls to Congress, protested at SeaTac airport when refugees were detained, and become a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood. I'm encouraged to see so many people galvanized and ready to take back the country, but things will undoubtedly get worse before they get better.

I'm frightened for the future of our country, but I'm equally inspired and encouraged by the people in my life who have stepped up and proven that, in the end, love truly does trump hate. Activism is more important now than ever, but so is holding our loved ones close and taking care of one another — we have a long road ahead of us, and these supportive relationships will provide me with the strength to keep fighting for what's right, no matter how bleak things get.