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Divided over Trump

Thanks to Mr Donald Trump, the United States presidential election has shredded ties between communities, families and friends

One of the side effects of an imbalanced election cycle, in which one of the candidates vying to be the President of the United States is considered by many, even in his own party, to be unfit to run, is that I now look at people differently if I know they are Donald Trump supporters.

Mr Trump, a polarising figure bar none, has energised me to an extent I did not expect.

In fact, I have never felt so emotionally invested in an election not held in my own country, in which I cannot vote.

It even riles me to hear his name spoken alongside Hillary Clinton's, who I think is the most qualified candidate to run for that office, perhaps ever.

As for his supporters, they seem to me to fall into disparate camps.

There are those, usually poor and poorly educated, who have been left behind by trickle-down economics, and cleave to Mr Trump's promises, even if false, that he will end free trade and bring jobs back.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

There are the "angry white men", who love that he thumbs his nose at the establishment and political correctness and gives them free rein to say what they really think of others.

There are the cynics - like some leaders of the party - who want a Republican in office no matter how much they hate this one, to fulfil their own political agendas.

For instance, they eye the empty seat that waits to be filled in the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, whose justices are nominated by the President.

But what about Trump supporters who do not fall into one of those camps?

I can't help but wonder if they are racist, ignorant or as morally bankrupt as he.

Earlier this year, after one of my tirades about Mr Trump on Facebook, a friend reached out to me, prefacing our conversation by saying, "I want to remain friends".

Uh oh.

Her husband supports Mr Trump.

She is someone I have known since I was 13 or 14, lost touch then reconnected with on Facebook a few years ago. She was one of the smartest girls in my secondary school and is now a doctor living in the United States.

The two of us are Singaporeans caught up in the maelstrom of this year's presidential elections.

What we also had in common was that we had both met and married men born in the Midwest, the heartland of the country. But that is where their paths diverged.

My husband's family moved with his father's job as an academic to North Carolina. From there, he went to a liberal arts college in the north and then to Asia, where he became a journalist.

Her husband spent his formative years in Texas, going to college in the south, becoming an entrepreneur and eventually a commercial pilot.

Both men are steady, loyal, self-reliant, good with their hands and adore their wives. But on the political spectrum, they are as far apart as you can get.

My husband is a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter (and now a pragmatic Hillary one) while hers is solidly behind Mr Trump.

One is a liberal, espousing a strong government to check the excesses of capitalism, the other a libertarian who believes in absolute freedom and individual rights and wants a lean government that does not interfere in people's lives.

She may have started out questioning his choice, but over time, has come around to it. Wherever he goes, she has his back.

Following her entree, we had several arguments by text about whether Mr Trump's ideas had any merit (she offered yes) or were merely repugnant (my opinion). As everyone knows, it's much easier to disagree with someone else online. I was glad we didn't have to clash in person.

But last weekend, she and her husband came to stay with me.

It happened half by accident. They were returning from a getaway in Europe, but were stranded because flights had been cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew.

As they were in town, I invited them to stay. They had all the more reason to say yes, for a mutual friend, someone near and dear to her, was coincidentally visiting from Singapore at the very same time.

I don't know if she was a little nervous, like me. In Singapore, you would not judge anyone based entirely on whether they were People's Action Party or Workers' Party supporters but, in our case, there would be a very large, very present, elephant in the room.

As far as I knew, our views had not changed.

So I resolved to avert any unpleasantness and not broach the subject of politics. She might have done the same because we passed a pleasant day, stuck in the house thanks to Matthew, catching up and watching Gilmore Girls. The elephant was not given a chance.

Our mutual friend, bless his soul, had no such hang up.

Over dinner, even though he too would have been a Bernie supporter, he engaged our friends on their political views, asking questions without judgment or argument, and offering just a listening ear.

Whether or not it was easier for him to be neutral as a visitor, it made him, I reckoned, a better person than me, for I was not prepared to hear them out on that subject.

Yet, for all that between us, we parted as friends. I found I admired the same things about them that I always had, not least of all how loving they were with each other.

And though we stood apart on some questions, we had goodwill for one another.

That is no small thing, for this election has shredded ties between communities, families and friends, and I blame Mr Trump.

Republicans and Democrats have always tended to be suspicious of each other, but his particularly divisive brand of discourse has given validity to the worst of human instincts and exalted in the simmering resentments underneath.

An acquaintance whose views I respect, a big-hearted veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided enough was enough. He purged his Facebook friends list two weeks ago and declared he'd had it putting up with supporters of Mr Trump.

I myself recoiled when an advertisement soliciting donations for the candidate showed up on my Facebook news feed. After the initial indignation I wondered what I had done to deserve such ignominy.

Yes, the divide is that total. And that's a problem.

Events have been moving so fast this past week that, given the unpredictable nature of the process so far, no one can say what will happen between now and Nov 8, the day of reckoning.

But if all goes as planned, one of the two sides is going to have to live with the other's candidate being victorious.

Of course, if Mr Trump wins, you could see some people leaving the country.

Eventually, when the dust has settled, we are all going to have to get along.

For all his shortcomings, Mr Trump gave a voice to the huge swathe of people who feel they have been sidelined by policies.

The new president would ignore them at (her) peril.

It's hard to cede anything to the other side when you can't see common ground, but it takes a better man or woman who tries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline ' Divided over Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe