In politics, fence mending means making an effort to repair a political relationship after it has been damaged.
The term was first used in 1879 by John Sherman. Sherman, the younger brother of the Civil War hero William Tecumseh Sherman, was a politician in his own right; he served six years in the House of Representatives and six terms in Congress. Today, when he is remembered at all, it’s for a speech in which he declared, “I have come home to look after my fences.”
Sherman, a farmer, may have literally intended to mend the fences on his own land. However, the phrase quickly came to mean mending relationships with people after a rift.
In 2019, President Donald Trump was on the outs with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The fight started back in 2018 as a disagreement over tariffs and then turned personal, with Trump publicly calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”
In a fence mending effort, the Trump administration lifted tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. Vice president Mike Pence also paid a visit to Ottowa during which he praised Trudeau’s negotiating skills.
Closer to home, President Trump mended fences with Senator Ted Cruz after a bitter rivalry between the two men during the 2016 presidential election. During the primary elections, Donald Trump dubbed the senator “Lyin’ Ted.” He also insulted Cruz’s wife and implied that his father was involved in the plot to assassinate president John F. Kennedy. For his part, Cruz said publicly that Trump was a “pathological liar” and a “coward.”
The two men mended fences in 2018, when Cruz was running for re-election. President Trump stumped for Ted Cruz and attacked Cruz’s rival, Beto O’Rourke. At the same time, Cruz became one of the president’s trusted allies in Congress. During one rally in Houston, Trump referred to the old rivalry between himself and Cruz:
“We had our little difficulties,” Trump said. “It got nasty, and then it ended. And I’ll tell you what — nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulations, all of the things we’ve been doing with your military and your vets, than Sen. Ted Cruz.”
President Trump also had to mend fences with Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski in 2018. The two had a falling-out after Murkowski decided not to support Trump’s plans to end Obamacare. That led to a least one angry phone call; the president also denounced Murkowski on Twitter. Later, in an apparent attempt to mend fences, Trump invited Murkowski to a private lunch. She praised the gesture as “kind” and said that there was “no sourness” between herself and the president.
Mending fences isn’t just for politicians. Psychologists say that after a divisive election, it’s important for ordinary people to mend fences with their own friends and family. Elections, especially presidential elections, can be full of rancor and can rouse strong feelings. That’s why psychologists stress the importance of mending fences — by apologizing if you’ve made hurtful statements, and by trying to understand opposing points of view.