The Impact of Politics on Friendship


The Harbinger (Prairie Village, Kansas)

“Oh Bob, it took you long enough.”

After Robbie arrived late (typical) we’re sitting sprawled on top of each other on the blue couch, no one batting an eye. After all, our J-room “bromance” is already commemorated by memes and quotes all over the whiteboard cabinets in room 521. We’ve been like this since we were running around trying to pull the flag off each other’s belt on the Prairie Elementary first grade flag football team. And we will be like this when we share a lengthy embrace at our 25th high school reunion, just like old times.

Our friendship will stand the test of time, even in a time when communities, relationships, and families are divided and fractured by political divisiveness. Our improbable friendship is what America needs to stop the political division and come together.

Alright, for that to make any sense you’ll need some context. We’ll each give you a quick run-down of who the other person is, in our own words.

If someone were to ask me, Robbie Veglahn, who Reser Hall is, I’d say that he’s a 78-year-old man trapped in an 18-year-old’s body. If he’s not complaining about how he tweaked his back, he’s talking about draining swamps and ridin’ the Trump train. As co-president of the Young Republicans Club, he’s as outspoken as they come about conservative values. He has been engulfed by dissenting liberals, including me, countless times when his opinion articles about Confederate monuments or Jane Elliot are published in the Harbinger.

According to me, Reser Hall, my partner-in-crime Robbie Veglahn is a golden retriever who thinks he’s a lap dog, just as I wrote on the j-room quote board. If he is actually focused on the multiple tasks he signs himself up for or is getting ahead on homework and projects, you know something is wrong. As the fearless leader and co-president of the Young Democrats Club, he is constantly at odds with his majority-conservative friends. He knows it’s not worth the grief to get into it with them but still can’t help himself when one of them starts talking about Fox News.

On paper, we’re polar opposites. And in this country, when 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans said they have either “just a few” or “no” close friends of the other party according to a Pew Research study, the data says our friendship is highly improbable. But do you really think we are gonna let some research study tell us what to do?

We may not agree on immigration, or health care reform, or environmental reform, or gun legislation, or foreign policy, or tax reform, or – sorry, we promised we wouldn’t do that here. Point is, we don’t agree on much, but we do agree on this. We as citizens need to talk, not attack one another.

Sure, we have a spat over gun control now and again. Of course one of us (guess who) will send a text or two mocking a particularly eccentric tweet from President Trump, and he’ll immediately get a response with a link to a video of political speaker Ben Shapiro roasting liberal college students. But the key to our bromance and the key to the future of this nation is a simple one – we listen.

We don’t go into arguments about abortion or tax reform with full heads of steam, ready to tear into one another. We have a mutual respect for each other, so even if we don’t agree, we don’t resort to screaming or personal attacks. And because we genuinely listen to each other, not just wait for it to be our turn to talk, we’ve actually changed our mind about things.

After breaking down sensible gun laws on a drive to Potbelly Sandwiches, Reser changed his mind about gun control. After the conclusion of a lengthy and somewhat insane discussion about whether torture is justified with some of our more right-wing friends (we actually both agree that it’s not), Reser’s clear-headed analysis helped Robbie change his mind about defense spending.

But in today’s dog-eat-internet-troll world, it seems like every political interaction goes more or less like this: A conservative or liberal will dismiss something from the other side with a common campaign catchphrase. The other person fires back with a volley of emotion-filled shouts. The original instigator, rather than really listening to this comeback, already knew what he/she was going to retort with before the comeback even came. They pick out three buzzwords from Fox News or MSNBC and fire an emotional barrage right back. Rinse, wash, repeat; until both participants are sure they’re right and more importantly, sure that the other is wrong.

Let us assure you, there is none of that in a debate between us because we know from experience how little that accomplishes. When we were eighth-graders bussing back to Indian Hills from East and arguing about the 2008 election, about as uninformed as two people can be, we learned about the futility that hostility brings. We spent much of our young life parroting CNN and Fox News back and forth, Reser screaming about death panels that never existed and Robbie citing stats that turned out to be untrue.

But as we grew up together and became more informed, we learned that debating amicably not only helps preserve our relationship but helps debates serve their real purpose – to change opinions, not become more entrenched in them.

Most American people may not know how to have a civil political debate, but politicians are even worse. Their failure to work together and apparent disdain for anyone across the aisle trickles down into the attitude and culture of the rest of the country. Man, do they have something to learn from our bromance.

If only Paul Ryan could go out to Potbelly Sandwiches with Nancy Pelosi, like we do, to debate the best way to tackle health care reform rather than screaming across the Senate floor. If only Donald Trump could play FIFA with Elizabeth Warren and try to compromise without impulsively calling her Pocahontas and laughing at his own joke. If only Chuck Schumer could sit down to talk with Mitch McConnell (maybe not sitting on his lap like we do) while they discuss immigration civilly instead of having passive-aggressive back-and-forth soundbite wars. We think if there were some more bromances across the aisle, we would see the return of compromise in D.C.

The country is at a dangerous point in its history, and in the adapted words of Christopher Walken, it needs more bromance. It needs more of us; not because of our knowledge, charm or strikingly good looks, but because people need to talk and listen to real issues and do it peacefully. Everyone could use a j-room bromance in their life.

Featured Photo: Akhil Mekkatt

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