Burning passions over Donald Trump’s presidency are taking a personal toll on both sides of the political divide. For Gayle McCormick, it is particularly wrenching: she has separated from her husband of 22 years.
The retired California prison guard, a self-described “Democrat leaning toward socialist,” was stunned when her husband casually mentioned during a lunch with friends last year that he planned to vote for Trump – a revelation she described as a “deal breaker.”
“It totally undid me that he could vote for Trump,” said McCormick, 73, who had not thought of leaving the conservative Republican before but felt “betrayed” by his support for Trump.
“I felt like I had been fooling myself,” she said. “It opened up areas between us I had not faced before. I realized how far I had gone in my life to accept things I would have never accepted when I was younger.”
Three months after the most divisive election in modern U.S. politics fractured families and upended relationships, a number of Americans say the emotional wounds are as raw as ever and show few signs of healing.
The rancour has not dissipated as it has in the aftermath of other recent contentious U.S. elections. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll shows it has worsened, suggesting a widening of the gulf between Republicans and Democrats and a hardening of ideological positions that sociologists and political scientists say increases distrust in government and will make political compromise more difficult.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 6,426 people, taken from Dec. 27 to Jan. 18, shows the number of respondents who argued with family and friends over politics jumped 6 percentage points from a pre-election poll at the height of the campaign in October, up to 39 percent from 33 percent. (See graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2jLSU36)
Sixteen percent said they have stopped talking to a family member or friend because of the election – up marginally from 15 percent. That edged higher, to 22 percent, among those who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Overall, 13 percent of respondents said they had ended a relationship with a family member or close friend over the election, compared to 12 percent in October.
“It’s been pretty rough for me,” said Rob Brunello, 25, of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, a truck driver who faced a backlash from friends and family for backing Trump.
“People couldn’t believe Trump could beat Hillary. They are having a hard time adjusting to it,” he said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the poll results.
AMID THE RANCOUR, FRIENDSHIPS BLOOM
At the same time, many people reported their relationships have not suffered because of the election. The poll found about 40 percent had not argued with a family member or friend over the race.
The election also enabled a significant number to forge new bonds – 21 percent said they became friends with someone they did not know because of the election, though the poll question did not ask respondents to specify if the friendship was with someone from a different party.
Sandi Corbin, a retiree in East Galesburg, Illinois, said she has visited some of the new friends she made because of their shared support for Clinton. “We talk all the time now,” she said. “I would say that’s a plus from the election.”
The election’s fervour has spilled into the streets since Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in protest on the day after Trump took office, and there have been demonstrations against a travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Arguing over Trump has become a bitter reality for many Americans.
“Once people found out I had voted for Trump the stuff started flying,” said William Lomey, 64, a retired cop in Philadelphia who no longer speaks with a friend he grew up with after they clashed on Facebook over the election. “I questioned him on a few things, he didn’t like it, he blew up and left me a nasty message and we haven’t talked since.”
He said his friend is gay and worries about Trump’s sometimes demeaning campaign rhetoric about minority groups including Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants and the disabled.
“I think people are getting too wound up,” Lomey said.
Sue Koren, 57, a Clinton supporter in Dayton, Ohio, said she can barely speak to her two Trump-backing sons and has unfriended “maybe about 50” people on Facebook who support the president.
“Life is not what it was before the election,” she said. “It’s my anger, my frustration, my disbelief. They think our current president is a hero and I think he’s a nut.”
George Ingmire, 48, a radio documentary producer in New Orleans, said he broke off a close relationship with an uncle who had helped him through his father’s suicide because of his uncle’s fervent support for Trump.
“We had some back and forth and it just got really deep, really ugly,” Ingmire said. “I don’t see this ever being fixed.”
Many personal conflicts erupt on social media. In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 17 percent said they had blocked a family member or close friend on social media because of the election, up 3 percentage points from October.
LeShanda Loatman, 35, a black Republican real estate agent from Delaware, has severed ties on social media with former co-workers and old friends over their support for Trump and their criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement against violence and racism against blacks.
“I haven’t come across anybody who was openly belligerent about the election or Black Lives Matter movement when I was out in public. It’s just on Facebook,” said Loatman, who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Eventually, McCormick’s husband changed his mind about Trump and wrote in former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich in November, but by that time she had decided to strike out on her own.
While the couple plans to vacation together and will not get divorced – “we’re too old for that” – she recently settled in her own place in Bellingham, Washington.
“It really came down to the fact I needed to not be in a position where I had to argue my point of view 24/7. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that,” said McCormick, who ultimately cast a write-in vote for Democratic U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In St. Charles, Missouri, retired tour company operator Dennis Conner, who is a Trump supporter, says he has avoided confrontations with his brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who were Clinton backers.
His advice: “We don’t have to talk about politics.”