Most of the coverage about this year’s presidential election focuses on the deep divide between voters and pitting the candidates against each other.
There’s been vandalism to campaign signs and harsh words exchanged across party lines. More than half of US voters are worried about violence on Election Day, according to a poll.
But two neighbors from Leawood, Kansas aren’t letting the headlines and their votes define them and their friendship.
Joel Goldman, 64, and Gene Fibuch, 71, have been neighbors for 18 years.
When Goldman and his family moved in next door, they were greeted warmly by Fibuch's family. A natural friendship began to develop.
They pick up each other’s mail and know each other’s garage door codes.
But according to the pair, it didn’t take long to find out they were on different sides of the political spectrum.
“We knew right away when this campaign started two and a half years ago that I would be taking the conservative approach and Joel would be on the liberal side,” Fibuch said.
This didn’t hurt their friendship one bit; they actually love to joke around with each other about their political views.
“Joel is a great teaser, he loves to give me a bad time and I give him a bad time back and forth. But it’s in good nature,” Fibuch said.
No matter how much they tease each other, they said they always listen and respect one another.
“It remains fun because we don’t take it personally. We respect the fact we don’t take it personally,” Goldman said.
Their relationship led him to talk about it on his Facebook page. The post, which now has more than 33,000 shares and 71,000 reactions, reads:
“That's my Clinton sign. The Trump sign belongs to my next door neighbor and good friend, Gene. We disagree about everything in this election. But, we pick up each other's mail and newspapers when one of us is out of town. We know each other's garage door and alarm codes. We have keys to each other's house. We disagree about everything in this election - respectfully. And we are good friends. So much has been written by how polarized we are. So much has been written about the hate, fear and malice stirred up during this election. But we don't have to let that be the only narrative. Let's start a narrative about people who disagree without hate, who respect different views and realize that as important as our votes are, we are more than whom we vote for. That's the story of my friend Gene and me. What's your story?“
Goldman said he wrote the post because of the dominant story being told that voters are very polarized in this election.
“I wanted to post this to show that we can change the narrative,” he said. “We don’t have to accept the conventional wisdom that we are hopelessly divided.”
By asking people to share their stories, Goldman hopes it will encourage others to not let one single story become the narrative. He said people shouldn't define themselves or their relationships only by the candidate they vote for.
“I think this has touched a nerve. People have felt a need to connect and to demonstrate that this can work in their own life,” he said.
Goldman didn’t expect his post to reach so many people. Fibuch didn’t even know Goldman was planning to talk about him in his post, but thought he told their story well.
“I think it really reflects 100 percent our relationship,” he said. “There is no question about it.”
There are many reasons Goldman and Fibuch give for the rising polarization between voters, but the main one they talked about is the evolution of the demonization of the other side.
“You have two of the most unpopular candidates in the history of presidential politics. There is a tremendous amount of I’m voting against than I’m voting for,” Goldman said.
This attitude, paired with social media is a danger, according to Goldman.
“Social media has allowed people to take hard and fast positions, dismissing large chunks of their community or the country as being unacceptable to them.”
The ability to have healthy conversations with someone with a different political view is something that Fibuch thinks is missing this year. He says some news outlets are to blame for this.
“They are not allowing for a constructive discourse to occur so that people can actually see what both sides are actually saying,” Fibuch said.
Goldman said he wrote his Facebook post to stimulate more positive conversations people are having when it comes to the election. He said you can’t make peace with people you won’t talk to, and when November 9 comes along everyone will still be here.
“All the problems and challenges that the country has are all going to be here and it won’t matter at all who you voted for, or who you supported," he said. "What will matter is what we are all willing to do to try to come together and help solve our problems. And that’s the focus we need to have.”