Politics gets personal

Politics+gets+personal

Emma Colacino, Staff Writer

Last spring, Clementine Bondor (10) woke up one morning and immediately came across a news article with an image of cheering people burning American flags. As the daughter of a former law enforcement officer, she was heartbroken by the image. Bondor then texted her friend group, explaining that she did not understand the gesture. “I got almost immediately slammed with text messages about how disrespectful and oblivious I was, caring more about a stupid square of fabric than millions of lives,” she said. “That conversation has gone down in history in our friend group as the first time I was seen as a flag-loving, redneck freak show who couldn’t care less about people’s lives.”

In a time of intense political polarization, the political views of a student often impact their life within the classroom, with family members, or between friends. While some students are able to maintain healthy relationships with those they have vastly different viewpoints from, others find that political views completely dictate their relationships.  

Humanities classes can serve as breeding grounds for political discussion, and teachers often must actively create classroom environments that accommodate all political stances. Aaron Shuchman (12) is an independent, and he has not felt free to express his views to the class in recent years. However, after his history teacher thanked Shuchman for sharing a non-conventional opinion during a discussion, he felt that his ideas were more accepted in the class than he had originally believed. 

“I used to be concerned that faculty would give me a hard grade on a paper because of something that I said in class,” Shuchman said. “But I realized that it is more of an issue socially, where if you say something in class and someone interprets it the wrong way or just doesn’t like it, they could go to Snapchat and post something mean about you.” 

In classroom environments, History Department Chair Dr. Daniel Link attempts to create discussions that are not dominated by one political view by structuring discussions around current events, having students write down their ideas and come up with questions, and picking articles to read that shine light on different perspectives.

During such discussions, Link encourages students to express multiple viewpoints on specific topics, he said. “Sometimes I see from body language that students might be holding back, and if everyone in the class is expressing the same view, I might say something like, ‘Even if you don’t personally share this view, what might be a contrasting view?’” 

Similarly, Computer Science Teacher John Tomczak often includes political discussions in his class, and during these discussions, he tries to bring up multiple viewpoints to consider an issue thoroughly. Specifically, when discussing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Tomczak brought up the counter-argument in favor of Barrett’s nomination, he said. “I tried to see if there was a way for people to understand the potential argument that it is not just reasonable, but actually logically consistent with the [reasoning used to block the] nomination of Merrick Garland.” 

However, Bondor still finds that classroom environments are often not open to all viewpoints. “A class is a perfect laboratory to practice forming an argument and thinking independently, and yet [at Horace Mann] the classroom is the place where people don’t feel like they’re allowed to think independently,” Bondor said.

Bondor, who has conservative political views, has found she often can not express her views to friends and in the classroom because they differ from the majority of students at the school, she said. Specifically, Bondor supports love of the U.S., a belief she said many of her peers do not share. 

Bondor forms her political opinions from research she does outside of class, she said. “I’ll sit quietly, I’ll take notes, I’ll pay attention in class and nod along to the things people are saying, but nothing stops me from going home and doing my own reading and doing my own learning,” she said.

To make the classroom a place open to more ideas, only a couple of changes must be made, Bondor said. “All we have to do is encourage discussion and critical thinking in classes rather than being told what to think.” 

In an attempt to make the school environment a place more inclusive to different political standpoints, teachers from the Upper and Middle Divisions created the Civic Engagement and 2020 Election Document, which is a guideline for approaching political discussions in a way that upholds the school’s values. “[The document] is specifically calling us all in to think about the words we say, despite their intentions, will have impacts,” Associate Director of ICIE Ronald Taylor said. 

Walker McCarthy (11) said that the document promotes fact-based discussion, but he feels that it suggests that all opinions on political matters are of equal value and automatically deserve the same level of respect, he said. “It’s important to not shut someone down before they have a chance to explain what they’re thinking, but I do think we have to resist making one idea equivalent to the other, morally, ethically, and in this case, politically.” 

Political views are heavily intertwined with morality, Sogona Cisse (12) said. “People supporting certain politicians will make me rethink their character, intentions, and if we’re friends, then our friendship.”

On the other hand, Bondor thinks that it is problematic to end friendships over politics. “Often, people say that politics represent morals,” she said. “While there can be overlap when it comes to the prioritization of certain issues over others, I think that they exist in separate worlds.”

Political views also often dictate familial dynamics and relationships; differences in political opinions can originate from the dissimilarities in parents and their childrens’ upbringings. 

Yana Gitelman (12)’s parents, for example, are significantly more conservative than she. Her parents, first-generation immigrants from Russia, had very different experiences with capitalism after coming to America as refugees than she has had. “I see why they believe in [capitalism], but for me, I’ve witnessed a part of the latter half of that American dream for them,” she said. “My reaction has been gratitude that they’ve experienced it, but anger that other people will never get to.”  

Despite the differences in their opinions, Gitelman’s family often discusses politics. Although her mother will grow tired of talking about politics, Gitelman and her father constantly engage in political discussions, which causes a lot of arguments, she said. “We deal with [arguments] by setting boundaries and conversations as best as possible, and I try to cut off conversations where they’re getting to an unproductive point.”

Gitelman knows conversations are becoming unproductive when someone starts raising their voice or making personal statements instead of broad ideological ones, she said. When someone says, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ as opposed to, ‘Why do you think that,’ Gitelman knows that the discussions are no longer productive, she said.  

Sarene Choudhury (10) is a liberal, while her parents are liberal centrists, which causes occasional disagreements, she said. “Since everyone in my family has a fiery personality, if we are at the dinner table, and [politics] does come up, it always leads to a little bit of strife.”

Like Choudhury, Braden Queen’s (10) parents have different political views than his own. Queen’s father holds authoritarian beliefs, while his mother holds libertarian beliefs. Despite these contrasting political affiliations, Queen’s family does not ever argue over political disagreements, he said. “We can all understand each other’s views, and sometimes I think my dad’s views are a little bit misguided, but I still respect my dad and think he’s a smart person.” 

On the other hand, McCarthy shares liberal views with the rest of his family. Growing up in a town with strong conservative views, McCarthy has noticed that the conservative political views of his friends’ families played a major role in shaping their viewpoints. His friends’ families watched sources like Fox News, while McCarthy’s family watched MSNBC and CNN. “So their political views were shaped by that news ecosystem, and mine was shaped by my own family’s political leaning,” he said.

While Bondor feels hesitant to express her views inside of school, she is able to voice her views to her family, with whom she shares the same opinions, without fear of judgment, she said. “It’s refreshing to be in a room where I can speak freely without having to worry about anything I say either being immediately dismissed or being picked apart,” Bondor said. “Everyone in my family appreciates that space and that freedom. It’s as if there’s a weight that’s being lifted off all of our shoulders.”

As political issues become more pertinent to students’ lives, differences in political opinions arise among friend groups and lead to divisive conversations. In political discussions with friends, Bondor is often hesitant to voice her own opinions, as she does not want to be labeled as “extreme,” she said. “I have views that differ drastically from all of my closest friends, so often I stay silent simply to forestall dismissal in any discussion of politics.” 

Within her friend group, Bondor said her friends view the world in fundamentally different ways, which occasionally causes her to feel judged. Despite this feeling, Bondor never feels as though her friends are pressuring her to change her views. “We disagree about almost everything, but we’ve accepted that fact and get along seamlessly regardless,” Bondor said. 

Cisse said most of her friends share liberal views like her own. However, Cisse supports the Settle for Biden Campaign, which endorsed Biden for the purpose of replacing Trump as President, while some of her friends are strong supporters of the Biden-Harris ticket. “I don’t like either of those politicians, and I don’t like seeing people who glorify [Biden and Harris], because I don’t think they deserve to be glorified,” she said.

Cisse thinks that all politicians are flawed, including Biden and Harris. “It’s important to be conscious of the fact that even if they are the best option for office right now, they still need to be held accountable for their harmful words and policies from the past,” Cisse said. 

However, her friend group does not discuss this difference in opinion because the conversations become tense, she said. “It’s hard debating about things that feel personal to you because there’s a layer of humanity to it that the other person may not have,” she said. “Specifically, Kamala Harris’s track record as Attorney General in California really bothers me as a Black woman, but it may not carry the same weight for a non-Black supporter of hers.”

A person’s political views influence McCarthy’s desire to be friends with them. “These days, your political beliefs are oftentimes connected to who you are as a person and the way you interact with other people and the way you feel about things beyond a specific election or political candidate,” he said. 

McCarthy once confronted one of his friends about their political beliefs. “I remember just when I was younger, there was this one kid who was older than me on a sports team who is a super strong Trump supporter, and he was really loud about it,” he said. “After a while, I stood up and challenged his super Trump-y views.”

Queen holds political views that differ from the majority of his friend group: Queen is a centrist, while the majority of his friends are far left on the political spectrum. Despite these differences, Queen said he enjoys debating with them and thinks that it is important.

He has had many conversations with his friends about politics, and he has found that his friends have greatly influenced his political perspective. “I used to not necessarily agree with government involvement in health care,” Queen said. “But now I really see the idea that you cannot receive treatment because of your socioeconomic status, and I’m much more open towards more expansion in Medicaid and Medicare.” 

Despite enjoying debates with his friends, Queen has still found that he must be cautious of how he explains his views to his friends. “Sometimes other people will not understand where you’re coming from, and they’ll assume that you have the worst intentions at heart,” he said.

An example of this occurred when he said that violent protests have not worked in history, and he then started hearing rumors that he was not a supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. “I remember getting a Snapchat notification saying ‘BLM,’ and I replied ‘Yes.’ Afterwards, I was told that people thought I did not support BLM,” he said. 

 

Eli Scher (12) is a moderate who identifies most strongly with the Libertarian Party, and he is also cautious of who he shares specific opinions to. “I know there are some people who are going to take issue with specific opinions either if they are misunderstood or if they’re without proper sensitivity,” he said.

Specifically, Scher was cautious about sharing his views on the case of Breonna Taylor because the case was so controversial and involved a death that should not have happened in the first place, he said. “I felt like if I tried to correct something that someone else said, it might seem as though I was trying to minimize the case or argue against its severity.” 

Bondor feels that it is a challenge to freely express her views to her friends and peers, as she does not want to be immediately misjudged and misunderstood. “I’m afraid of being immediately dismissed,” she said. “Mostly I’m just afraid of not being taken seriously, especially because most people actually don’t know where I stand politically. People hear any trace of conservatism and kick into defense mode, yelling all sorts of nasty things about my family and me.”  

Jordan Wasserberger (11) identifies as a pragmatic progressive, meaning he aligns himself with progressive goals but approaches them from a practical rather than a theoretical standpoint, he said. His views do not align with either conservative or liberal ideologies strictly and often differ from those of his friends. 

In political discussions, Wasserberger will attempt to explain his viewpoint to those in the discussion. “I’ve never tried to outright say ‘Your views are wrong, listen to this,’ but I think the nature of political discourse is saying, ‘Hey, have you ever tried looking at it through this lens or thinking about it like this?’” he said. 

Wasserberger was once discussing the idea of packing the court with one of his peers, he said. “They were saying that they were very supportive of that idea, and I explained how in my opinion, packing the court is the biggest threat to our democracy.” 

Within this conversation, Wasserberger thought it was unproductive altogether because the other person was unwilling to thoughtfully consider his opinion, he said. “They did not change their mind in the slightest,” he said. “I think in general at Horace Mann, trying to change someone’s mind is impossible—it just doesn’t happen.”

Choudhury said her friends mostly share similar political views; however, she does occasionally use social media to influence the views of those who she knows have different political opinions than her own. “I’ve used Snapchat, mainly posting political things to my private story, like TikToks or just my response to current world events,” Choudhury said. “My main purpose with that isn’t to influence my peers, but if I ended up providing them with more information on a topic, then I believe that would be productive.”

In terms of her forming friendships, Cisse said that while some people would not consider unfriending someone based on politics, she would. “Donald Trump has very violent policies and supports a lot of things that are very harmful for many demographics,” she said. “So I don’t see myself being friends with Trump supporters just because of the fact that this man has created so much damage and affected so many minorities in this country.”

Similarly, McCarthy also takes political views into account when considering his friendship with someone, he said. “If someone were a hardcore Trump supporter, I probably wouldn’t be friends with them, not because they would want to vote for Trump, but rather because of who they are,” he said. “I’m not particularly attracted to a personality that finds Trump appealing.”

While McCarthy can not draw a line for every person he meets, he said that to determine if he would be friends with them, he would ask them if they understand what supporting a candidate really means and reflects about themself. “These days, people often try to disconnect certain policies from a candidate or party to pick and choose what parts of a platform they support,” he said. “But with someone like Trump and the larger Republican Party, you can’t do that.”