SINGER: The great sundering in personal relations | Opinion

During the divisive Dreyfus Affair era in France of the late 1890s (some believing in his innocence, others upholding the army’s verdict on his putative spying), friends and families were split asunder by this searing, ultimately political division in the country. One famed cartoon of the period showed this well: it depicted a Sunday dinner of extended family in the middle of the day, and the first part said they weren’t supposed to talk about the Dreyfus Affair. The second part shows savory dishes upended by vigorous sparring, and the cartoon then notes dryly: “They talked about it.”

That unfortunately seems the way today when it comes to the actions of President Trump, with some very much in his camp, and others aggressively, even hysterically against. And no Bogie around to tell ‘em to “lay off politics” in his joint!

Of course there’s the old, but maybe still true adage that friends, professional acquaintances, and so forth should avoid two topics of conversation that inevitably lead to problems: politics and religion. Well now these topics – particularly the former – are much in the foreground, and the kindling has become powerful, indeed. It doesn’t take much at all to light it and produce a powerful conflagration.

The eight-year Obama period was so different. People on the solid or “alt” left seemed generally satisfied no matter what he did. Is the debt mounting unconscionably? Who cares? Was the health care law rammed through in a hasty, unilateral manner? So what?

On the other side of the spectrum there was maybe a certain anger, but mostly, just quiet, simmering frustration, or a sense that nothing could be done anyway, so why keep sweating and mentioning it? President Obama had quite the mandate stemming from his first election, and his re-election in 2012 did little to allay that sense of the ineluctable about him.

Now we have Trump, and the atmosphere is a completely opposite one. This time progressives are far and away most vocal and angry, and the result is those same bitter divisions as in the Dreyfus Affair cartoon that are probably making certain family members’ co-existence ever more dicey. Not to mention shattering friendships galore.

Because suddenly there’s a kind of litmus test in the air, no? Are you for Trump or (hugely and palpably) against him? Being neutral or “moderate” – is such a configuration even possible these days? It seems not.

I know, Trump supporter Scott Baio (of “Happy Days,” etc.) said before the election that he was for the Donald, yet could still golf with and enjoy the company of his liberal agent in L.A. I wonder if that’s still the case. I wonder if Baio is now being invited to the same parties in Hollywood as used to occur.

For in addition to making friendships and family relations more difficult, this political litmus test must also be leading to some pure and utter blackballing. Including in Baio’s Hollywood? You’d have to be naive to think such things aren’t happening in that part of the world where who knows who does so much for professional advancement.

Back in the day it wouldn’t have mattered whether one was a Democrat or Republican. Who cared about the views of an Ava Gardner or James Stewart? All that mattered was their box office appeal. Now one’s political stance must be crucial in Tinseltown. If you don’t pass the test, fewer and fewer take your calls? Very likely. If Hollywood somehow had more self-awareness and honesty, there could be a great movie made on the subject! But it probably won’t happen.

For this whole political division has stomped all over humor and subtlety and other such pluses in human nature. You’re either on one side or the other. Sitting on the proverbial fence no longer seems possible.

But then, people have endured marital break ups where suddenly they lost a majority of their friends. As a silver lining in this ultra-divisive time, perhaps all this will actually tell you who your real friends are? Or worthwhile, ecumenical family members and professional associates, too? Maybe that’s the most positive way to see this latest development in the era of President Trump.


B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.