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Politics Have Driven My Family Apart

Before 2016, we rarely talked about politics, except for light joking about my beliefs. Then things changed.

Discussing politics with family — especially family that is on the opposite side of the political spectrum — can be, to put it lightly, difficult. After 2016, as the rift in our country was made clear, it became much more so. Tina Willis understands this. A personal injury and accident lawyer in Florida, she found it nearly impossible to have civil conversations with friends and family who fell onto the other side of the political spectrum — particularly those who regularly watched Fox News. Here, she discusses what happened and how she and her husband have tried to come to terms with it. 

By the time of the 2016 election, my husband was already estranged from most of his family following a business issue, save for one brother. The political differences were significant and didn’t help. So after the election, he also lost his relationship with his one remaining brother. Our political differences had caused heated debates, which definitely didn’t help resolve the other issues.

When I’m spending time with family, particularly those who watch Fox News, I can’t even bring myself to try to debate or explain the many detailed legal reasons why I know they are wrong. Before 2016, we only talked about politics in joking ways, mostly my uncle giving me a hard time about my Facebook posts. But it was all in good fun.

That changed. During our first visit after the election, one of my family members said, just before Thanksgiving dinner, “we don’t discuss politics in our house,” directly to me. That was fine. I wasn’t planning to discuss politics. But then, for the rest of the dinner, we were bombarded by everyone present, all Trump supporters, talking about all of the issues and how “brown people” were getting all of the benefits and stealing jobs, how bad immigrants were, how much they hated the ACA. Basically, we had to sit silently to keep the peace.

I wish, at the very least, that my own family was on my side. We were all raised very poor, so I feel like the last thing they should applaud is a party that’s doing everything possible to give money to the wealthiest people and corporations in the country, at the expense of everyone else.

But they don’t. And I feel alone and isolated in an important battle.

Most of these “disagreements” with family and friends weren’t outright debates. There would be minor comments lobbed back and forth, which built resentment. Facebook comments didn’t help and were more outrageous and offensive.

I lost close friends too. One friend I’d known since about the 4th grade. We never really discussed politics, before or after the election. But she and her entire family were Republicans. And her comments and posts on Facebook told me how she really felt, and mine told her the same.

My husband and I are self-employed, small business owners. We can only purchase insurance on the ACA exchanges. We are older — I’m 49 and he’s 57 — and we’re at an age where health insurance is extremely important.

Before the ACA, despite 20 plus years of Republican lawmakers promising that they would create some sort of great health insurance option, nothing ever happened. The ACA was the first time, as self-employed small business owners, that we could buy insurance, despite my doing a lot of research trying to find options for us to purchase.

And we need it. My husband had hip surgery last year, at a cost of $60,000. The doctor says he needs the surgery on the other hip. He’s probably going to decide to get that surgery before he actually needs it, at the end of this year, just because the ACA might be found unconstitutional. Without the surgery, he would eventually be disabled.

I represent accident victims who get seriously injured during accidents. Sometimes they need some way of purchasing health insurance. The ACA has provided that option for them for many years now. If my clients can’t get treatment, I can’t get them nearly as much money in recovery, because auto insurance companies will not reimburse for treatment never received. The law requires us to prove incurred medical expenses before we can recover money for them. Before the ACA, many who had no health insurance had no way of getting treatment like surgery after an auto accident.

Ultimately, the only solution we have found is to stay silent. This really prevents total emotional connection because we aren’t sharing a huge part of who we really are. But we still struggle internally with the idea that anyone could support what we believe are horrendous policies.

Millions will die if the GOP gets their way with the ACA. Plus, there are countless other very concerning issues, like the environment, taxes, and guns. I can’t believe that in America, I find myself looking for exit doors in almost any crowded room, like restaurants, sporting events, or even the gym. It is very difficult to maintain relationships with people we know either understand these issues, and don’t care or don’t understand.

One good thing is that we have bonded more closely with new friends. It is extremely comforting to sit and talk with people who actually agree with us. Because we lost one really close friend (and her entire large family), we have made a concerted effort to attend new events, and make new friends. As a result of that process, we have met several wonderful people, with whom we feel we have greater true connection. So that has been a positive.