I have a tricky relationship with my in-laws. We get along just fine, but we disagree on politics. They are Republicans; I am a Democrat. They voted for Trump; I voted for Hillary.

For much of the past two years, I have found it increasingly difficult to view my in-laws through anything other than the prism of partisanship.

“How could such good, honest people support Trump?” I’ve often wondered. Sometimes it’s even made me angry. No matter that my in-laws are wonderful grandparents and regular volunteers for the less fortunate. Their politics trumped everything (pun intended).

Eventually, I mustered the courage to ask what drove them to vote the way they did.

“Oh, we didn’t support Trump because we like him,” my mother-in-law assured me. “We just can’t stand Hillary.”

Initially stunned by her answer, I later learned that my in-laws were hardly alone. In a poll taken shortly before the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center found that 53% of Donald Trump’s supporters were mainly motivated by their dislike for Hillary Clinton. And 46% of Clinton’s supporters were driven mostly by animus toward Trump.

Political scientists call this “negative partisanship,” and it’s becoming a main feature of the modern political landscape as we head into another presidential campaign. A November 2018 Axios poll revealed that more than 20% of Democrats and Republicans characterize the other party as “evil.” About half of each affiliation saw the other as spiteful and ignorant.

There are even studies showing that more people than before are picking their spouses based on political views. As a result, Americans are increasingly separating into competing political tribes.

The rise of tribalism is not any one party’s (or person’s) fault. Instead, it is the result of our brain’s evolution.

Beginning some 200,000 years ago, early homo sapiens joined small tribes to heighten their own individual chance of survival in a world of scarce resources. Over several centuries, the brain learned to be on high alert against potential opponents who were viewed as competitors for those same resources. Tribalism is literally hot-wired into us.

Meanwhile, the brain has spent less than 500 years operating in an industrial society. Food supply no longer restricts the human population in developed countries, and most live in communities where their safety is not constantly under threat. In fact, people who study such things say the world is actually safer than ever before.

Modern challenges — globalization, drug epidemics, climate change — require collaboration, not competition, across groups of people. But our brains are not inclined to view the world this way.

Recently, I came across a Central Michigan University study into a way to reduce implicit biases against differing racial groups. After completing a baseline assessment, a group of college students were told to practice mindfulness meditation for as little as 10 minutes. Afterward, they retook the implicit biases test.

Those who had completed the mindfulness activity demonstrated less prejudice against people of different races compared with their non-meditative counterparts. Quite simply, participants overcame their negative preconceptions against others through meditation, which included acknowledging and reflecting on implicit biases.

By practicing my own mindfulness meditation, I realized that alleviating the tension with my in-laws started with me. Going through this process reopened the door to a more compassionate relationship with my in-laws.

I still don’t care for Trump, and they still loathe Hillary Clinton, but I’ve managed to get past the anger and focus on the good. My hope is that the rest of America can do the same.

Luke Fuszard is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a member of the City Council in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

(17) comments

Comment deleted.

I am sick and tired of trump supporters and their bumper sticker manner of speech. Name-calling and made up Illnesses that his minions constantly invoke are a sad reflection of trump, his vitriol and ignorance, and the level to which he how lowered our country. Be better.


Good sentiments but difficult to do when you have politicians in both parties and folks in the highest offices that value and promote division. At the risk of being called a Trump hater or Never Trumper, I would welcome reasons why our current president shouldn't be called out for devisive language, tweets, and name calling.




Your response says a lot.


" Why do you take issue with President Trump?" I take exception to the dismantling of environmental protections, giving away public lands, inept cabinet members, no infrastructure work, easing regulations so business has no oversight, the dismantling of health care , the politizing of the SC and other justices, the audacity of the tax bill, the inability to create a working leadership in government departments, the failure to accept CIA, NSA and FBI consultations, governing by tweet and executive directives, failing farmers and buying them via subsidies, bowing to Wall Street, a flawed tax bill and yes, I do not think his demeanor represents the office well. As to "calling out" folks, when they post obvious exaggerations, offer no support, parrot talking points, etc. - yeah, I'll make note of that. To look at the other side of the same coin, when have you "called out" fellow commentators... Hillary called folks names - yup, and that was wrong and stupid. But she is not representing the highest office in the land.


So you are saying he should be called out on his name calling based on all these other reason you don't like him? I'm not calling out anyone. You are the one with the name calling issue, not me. So Hillary gets a pass because she lost. Boy, Ricci may be right, you need a support group to help you with your TDS


I was talking about folks name calling not lying. I tried calling people out but gave up. People want to call me robot, robbie, robert, rabbit, and much worse, guess that's their choice. It's my choice not to engage.


Not at all what I said. I gave you my reasons for not liking this president. The article was about tribalism and I added that the president's words and actions ( along with others in both parties ) encourage and foster that behavior. This president has taken it to another level. No support group needed on this end, blind supporters of any politician or party, yeah...


Hillary got no pass - her comments helped in her defeat. But to give Trump a pass for much worse comments???? How so.


What comment has Trump has made is worse than calling your citizens deplorable?


Here's a few: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_n_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023 or https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/08/14/times-president-trump-comments-called-racist/985438002/ or grabbing women by the *&^%$, calling out gold star parents, calling others stupid, lazy, dumb, ugly, etc. Maybe that is okay with you but to me that kind of stuff is beneath the office of the president.


Rbtdt5, What do you want to be called? Make it something short and easy to pronounce, so we can remember it. Most refer to me as three, 3, 3cents, or $.03, any of which is fine with me.


Lost contact with plenty of friends and family proudly stating they are both terrible and I refuse to vote for a higher profile Blaine or a ruthless mafia boss. Net effect has been my social circle is not tribal at all politically and we have all come to value that in these times when profiteers are out to make everything political and shove us into boxes based on one or two positions.


Good column. If only participants on this forum from either side, R or D, saw themselves in this column and took it to heart.


You're a hopeless romantic! [beam]

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