A review of Divided We Stand: Family & Politics in a Sometimes Swing State
By Brad Bethel
November 16, 2016
At around midnight on election night, when the inevitability of a Trump presidency became apparent, I saw a family member post to Facebook “I will sleep well tonight! God bless the USA!” Her post included a string of American flags and heart emojis.
Accepting Trump’s election has been difficult. Whereas Obama appealed to America as a hopeful nation, Trump appealed to America as a fearful one. Among Trump’s supporters, the fear of economic and demographic changes is so great that they were willing to overlook his bigotry, misogyny, and all-around bad behavior. Accepting that many of my family members are among his supporters has made his election as president all the more painful.
A recent documentary demonstrates that I’m not the only one struggling to reconcile a progressive political outlook with love for a conservative family. Just before election day, Durham-based filmmaker Cynthia Hill (Private Violence) released Divided We Stand: Family & Politics in a Sometimes Swing State. In it, Hill confronts the feeling that she is “pulled between these two worlds” of her current urban community and the rural community of her childhood.
Although ambitious for a 12-minute film, Divided may be a useful tool to initiate dialogue between people of different political persuasions, especially within the same family.
In one scene of the film, Hill meets with her more politically active friend who says, “We’re told not to talk about religion and politics, but those are probably the two most important things.” The scene leaves the viewer wondering why we are indeed so reluctant to talk about these topics. Have we lost the ability to discuss controversial topics with civility? Did we lose that ability before we became reluctant or because of it? Divided doesn’t offer an answer, but it does urge us to have those discussions regardless.
Hill decides to have such a discussion with the man she says is the root of her political fears and frustrations: her father. At his rural home in eastern North Carolina, she listens to him explain his political beliefs. He cites moral issues as a primary reason he’s conservative, but he also defines conservatism to mean “You don’t try to give away everything you’ve got.” Although Hill remains unconvinced, the two establish common ground — their commitment to their children — and the film thus ends on a hopeful note.
With the election over, I wonder how the film would have been different if Hill had waited to complete it. Before Trump became the president-elect, I dismissed my family members’ support of him as a misguided fad that would fade away after Clinton won. But she lost… And Trump won. My family and Hill’s family helped elect a bully, the kind of person we warn our children not to become. How do we cope with that?
Perhaps a shared commitment to our children’s well-being is still enough to help us cope and to bridge the divide within families. With Thanksgiving coming up, I hope so.
Cynthia Hill’s Divided We Stand provides a compelling opportunity for shared reflection on what the country’s political divide means for us all and how we might manage it. In Trump’s America, we’re going to need all the help we can get just to remain standing.