I can't help thinking that everything seems more Political these days. Sometimes it feels like there's no escape from contentious arguments at every turn.
I used to be able to tune out divisive rhetoric for a few hours every once in a while. I could gather with family members or friends around a TV on Sundays to watch a football game.
Now that experience is likely to include a conversation about whether any NFL players took a knee during the national anthem.
Movies used to be a surefire respite from political antagonism. But awards season is right around the corner. I guarantee some celebrities will make Political Statements during acceptance speeches. That's bound to please some fans and inspire spite from others.
I feel like you can't even talk about the weather without straying into political conversation about climate change.
Perhaps shopping is your remedy. Browsing stores, buying gifts or treating yourself to a small luxury might be your way of lifting your spirits.
But wait, didn't the host of that cable news show say I shouldn't buy that coffee maker because of some advertiser boycott? You might have do some research first about whether an item is made by American union laborers before making a purchase.
You could read political meaning into everyday exchanges with store clerks and baristas at coffee shops. Whether an employee says "Merry Christmas" or "happy holidays" could determine whether you continue to patronize a business in the future.
You could drive yourself crazy thinking about politics all day, every day. Thank goodness there's still one place to spend an hour every week free from any political intrusion whatsoever. That would be your church, mosque, temple or other house of worship.
Ah, but in case you missed it, the tax bill quickly working its way through Congress might repeal the Johnson Amendment that prohibits churches and religious groups from making political statements at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.
Soon preachers, ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and other clergy might be free to sermonize during services about how to vote on issues, which candidates to support and other politicking.
"It's always been like this," some people tell me. Politics is and always has been an integral part of every aspect of American life, they say. It just seems more ubiquitous lately, probably because of social media.
I'll admit I constantly check my smartphone for Facebook and Twitter notifications and to scan headlines on several news sites in an effort to keep pace with rapidly changing developments.
I'm not alone. An online casino company in the United Kingdom recently reported results of a survey that shows people typically check their smartphones more than 28 times a day, or 10,000 times per year.
"The instances of compulsive checking are much higher than we would have imagined, showing our phones are as much a habit as they are an aide to our busy lifestyles and an immediate source of entertainment," said Casumo spokesman Greg Tatton-Brown, several U.K. media outlets reported.
The research suggests checking devices is as addictive as gambling behavior. If that's the case, it's no wonder everything seems more political.
I like to unplug every so often to cope with the seemingly nonstop barrage of political messaging. I find it's good to put down the phone for a while. I don't think I could completely disengage from Facebook, but it feels good to take a break from it every now and then.
With the holidays coming up, I'll do my best to stick to neutral topics of discussion at gatherings of family and friends. Like how the Chicago Bears are practically unwatchable, how the Bulls might be having the worst season in NBA history, and what happened to the Blackhawks?
Rather than dissect the latest developments in the Alabama Senate race, I'll ask about favorite recipes and restaurants. I've learned it's better to hold my tongue instead of argue or offend others with strong political beliefs.
I learned this the hard way. A year ago, right after the presidential election, I took a week off work and drove down to Florida. There's a state park in the panhandle I like to visit, with white sand beaches and trails through forests.
At night I enjoy sitting by a campfire and playing guitar. One night, I heard the sound of a banjo. I followed the sound to a nearby campsite and met a guy from Alabama.
We were both amateur musicians and talked about songs we might both know. We were trying to find common ground, you might say. It was late, and we made plans to get together with our instruments the next night to see if we could play some tunes together.
This was right after the election, mind you, and I while making conversation I told him I wrote newspaper columns for a living and how I was surprised at the outcome of the presidential contest. I told him I believed Donald Trump wouldn't be a very good president.
I could tell from his reaction that he felt very differently, but it was too late. Whatever friendliness that was forming between us fellow musicians evaporated before my eyes. I said goodnight and headed back to my campsite, thinking we would still get together the next day.
But in the morning, his campsite was empty. I was left to believe he changed his vacation plans and got up early to pack up and leave rather than have to risk spending any more time with someone who didn't share his political views.
That's when I learned that these days, sometimes it's best to avoid discussing politics if you can help it.
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- Donald Trump