Long ago and far away, in the early 1950s, I was a small child on street called Harvey Road, in Silver Spring, Maryland. At that time, Silver Spring was a small town. Now it’s the second biggest city in Maryland. Our street was about half-Jewish and half-Christian. Indeed, it had been developed with lovely mid-century modern houses on treed lots because so many of the other neighborhoods nearby did not allow Jews to live on them.
That was real racism, not “microaggressions” such as we see now. This wasn’t micro. It was macro.
Our next door neighbors on the west side were Alfred and Sylvia Bernstein, and their three children, two lovely girls and a son one year older than I was. He was Carl Bernstein and became a very famous journalist for his attacks on Richard Nixon during the Watergate era. For these he won the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, when we were 9 or 10 years old, none of us had any idea that this was in the offing.
But we did know that Carl’s parents were big time leftists, at the very left end of the Democrat Party. My parents were divided. Mother was a Democrat but a super anti-Communist one, and my Pop, who became a famous economist, was a Republican.
These were days of clear ideological antipathy, the very zenith of the Cold War and of McCarthyism. But my parents and Carl’s parents were close friends. Carl and I were very close friends. We spent many an hour listening to Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Carl Perkins, with Carl brilliantly playing along on his guitar. On at least two occasions, when Carl’s mother was out during the school day, Carl was sent home sick from 5th or 6th grade and my mother put him to bed on our couch.
Up the street from us was a family called the Sculls. They were from the most elegant bloodlines there could be in a democracy. The mother was a descendant of Light Horse Harry Lee, Washington’s cavalry chief, and of Montgomery Blair, a close advisor to Lincoln. They were closely but collaterally related to Robert E. Lee, who was a deity in some households of the era and the area.
They could have lived anywhere. But they chose to live in a neighborhood that was largely Jewish and they were great pals to everyone in the ’hood, letting us all use their swimming pool at designated days and times during the week. The mother was then a Democrat of the old Southern Democrat variety (she later became an extremely progressive Democrat) and the father was a Republican whose ancestors had helped to found Princeton. He became a power in local politics and worked hard to get an open housing ordinance for our beloved Montgomery County (named for his in-laws) before there was a federal law on the subject.
They also all got along. We all got along.
It comes to mind because I used to have as my very best friends a couple whom I will call Mr. and Mrs. B. They were successful people in Hollywood when I met them in 1975 in the TV empire of Norman Lear. They could not have been more kind to me. Saints. Both professionally and personally. I would have sworn they would be my close pals until my dying day or theirs.
But on November 8 of 2016, Mrs. B asked me who I had voted for in the Presidential election. I told her it had been a reluctant choice. But I pulled the lever for Trump.
Mrs. B, who had been my friend since Ford was President, hung up the phone and has never spoken to me since. Her daughter, a middle aged woman of means, emailed me that my vote for Trump had cost me her parents’ friendship for the rest of my life.
I later learned that the daughter had apparently undergone an incident in Carmel in which she felt threatened by a Trump supporter because she was wearing a Hillary T-shirt. It had become a test of loyalty to her family whether anyone she knew could stomach Trump since that incident, of which I was unaware. If you didn’t pass the test, you were out for good.
Now, after the election, I sent flowers to Mrs. B. I sent her two or three very lengthy letters telling her why I had voted for Trump and reminding her of past favors given and received. I begged for our friendship to be renewed. No dice. No forgiveness. Cast into the outer darkness.
Now, I’m still friends with Carl Bernstein even though he played a major role in excoriating my former boss and idol, Richard Nixon. I’m still friends with Norman Lear. With other powerful “progressives.” But the excommunication by the B’s continues. Ex Hillary, non salvatio est. It’s a different world now from what we had sixty years ago. An angrier world. A sadder world. And why? I understand political differences. I’m often furious at Mrs. Pelosi or Mr. Schumer. But if their kids lived nearby and were sent home from school, I would cheerfully take them in until their parents returned from wherever they were. I would not even dream of not speaking to an old friend because he voted differently from me. It would be inconceivable. Yet I hear stories like the story of the B’s and me constantly. Friendships permanently severed over an election. Where did all of this rage come from? It’s upsetting indeed. America is not supposed to have this much anger. That’s what makes it America.
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