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Keeping our politics private

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About two years ago, my friends and I gathered on a Friday afternoon for our weekly tennis game. While playing, my longtime pal Al would invariably launch his latest diatribe against Donald Trump, defying us to disagree.

"Al," I would say, "can we just play some tennis here?"

The same happened recently on the basketball court, too, except my friend Danny proselytized as a Trump supporter. Even in the thick of our half-court competition, he pressured us all to concur.

"Danny," I would ask, "can we just play basketball?"

Neither of my buddies ever took the hint. Before, during and after our outings, they spouted off, the conversation going strictly one-way. I came away feeling as if I’d just gotten mugged, rather than having fun improving my forehand and baseline jumper.

And that’s how it seems to go all across American life nowadays — it’s all politics all the time, especially with the presidential election just two weeks away. At any given moment, someone somewhere — a former high school classmate, the chief executive of a global corporation, a correspondent for a national cable TV station, a professor at a university — is voicing a political opinion. More than ever before, each of us wears our politics loudly on both of our sleeves.

Data from the Pew Research Center bears out my frustration. Some 46% of adult social media users indicate feeling "worn out" from the volume of posts and discussions about politics. Almost half also say they stopped talking about politics with someone because of something they said in person or online. Indeed, half of American adults say talking about politics with those they disagree with politically is "stressful and frustrating."

Whatever happened to the idea that, if we so choose, we can and should keep our politics private, reserved largely for the voting booth, family and friends? That politics is a deeply personal matter, like whether you believe in God and how much money you earned last year? That in so-called polite society, inflicting your political views on unsuspecting and possibly uninterested audiences is just plain presumptuous and rude?

I know, I know. This is a lost cause. I’m preaching into the wind. Tribalism is coded into our DNA. No wonder we choose sides and see the world as an us-versus-them conflict. But is politics really so black and white? Must we all play political pundits around the clock, even during a pandemic, with our mental health — and our sanity — already so fragile?

I hereby call for us to quit being so rabidly and in-your-face partisan with each other. Let’s accord each other the occasional courtesy of saying, in advance of a stump speech, "Hey, would you mind if we talk politics for a minute?" Let’s even commit the unnatural act of inviting second opinions and listening to each other once in a while.

We’re entitled to play our politics close to the vest. We have other matters on our minds, namely our families, our neighbors and our communities, not to mention our finances and, oh yes, surviving COVID-19.

You want to sound off on your soapbox? Go ahead, be my guest. It’s your right as an American. As for me, I reserve the option to keep my own counsel and sidestep political discussion. My vote will say it all. Meantime, I’ll stick to playing basketball and tennis.

Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist in Forest Hills, is the author of the memoir "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age."