Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore.
This past Easter was the third major holiday in a row since the election where my wife, daughter and I spent it alone in our apartment having a quiet family dinner instead of venturing out to larger family gatherings. Most of my extended family voted for Donald Trump, and because of that I see them less and less.
There’s this idea that blood is thicker than water, and that to reduce or end familial relationships based on mere “politics” is somehow childish. Before November I probably would have agreed. Certainly I never had more than a passing annoyance at my family who voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain or George W. Bush, even though the latter went on to start a war based on information he knew was complete bullshit. I thought anyone who would prefer Romney over Barack Obama was politically ridiculous, but I wasn’t going to skip Christmas over it.
Donald Trump is different, though. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that his election was a litmus test for a nation. A lot of people I love failed that litmus test, and to be honest, they failed it on purpose.
There is this tendency to talk about Trump as if he was this anomaly out of nowhere. As if he drew lines in the sand that no one was expecting, and that many people in fear or anger jumped into his camp like it was a quick-time event in a video game.
That’s not accurate. The election didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was the culmination of a large-scale shift in the national identity. Myself and others call it the Whitelash, referring back to Susan Faludi’s book Backlash about the counterattack to feminism in the 1980s. What happened after the election of Barack Obama was very similar and also very different.
Under Obama we saw an unprecedented intersectional movement forward on the rights of marginalized people. His own ascendency as the country’s first black president alone was a shattering achievement, but the establishment of marriage equality and other LGBT rights factors in as well. I’m not saying Obama was this perfect champion of progressivism. God knows he was the Deporter in Chief of many of our undocumented immigrants as well as the man who made Middle Eastern children fear the bloody sky with his murder plane campaign, but when you look at his impact as a whole here in America, what you see is a dramatic shift from patriarchy and white supremacy to something more egalitarian. Not an end to those paradigms, mind you. Just a significant shift.
That shift unnerved a lot of people. Think pieces talk about the economic anxiety that plagued Trump voters and boosted him to the White House, but scratch the surface on any of those think piece subjects and what you inevitably come to is a paralyzing fear and anger that someone “underserving” was receiving more than the due the subject felt was rightfully theirs. Keep on scratching, and the source of the itch is clearly bigoted in nature, focused on welfare queens or coastal elites or the rights of Others with a capital O. It was this environment that prompted Hillary Clinton to make diversity and the protection of children against bigotry’s reach a capstone of her campaign.
Into this vague miasma of soft bigotries comes Donald Trump, who is the dark mirror of modern hate with a lowercase H. He is ignorant to a fault, a perfect avatar for the unqualified reaching higher than the Dilbert Effect should allow, openly misogynistic and racist, and gleefully violent in rhetoric. He is the walking id of a lot of people being dragged forward kicking and screaming against their will.
But because he is that, he was also our One Ring moment, our time to have the devil take us up to the hill and show us the kingdoms of the world if we would just bow down and worship him. He was an obvious, almost cartoonishly evil choice. He was so unabashedly awful that a lot of people I knew thought it was a performance piece meant to get him to actually lose.
He didn’t lose, though. He won, and tens of millions of people were perfectly happy to cast a vote for him. Some of them are related to me, people who think of themselves as good. When it came time decide if they were going to face the future or cower in the darkness hoping one last terrible roll of the dice would keep the unfair power structure in place and benefitting them, they chose to roll.
It was a game of chicken. It was a fundamental question of how far was someone willing to fight progress out of sheer bloody-mindedness and irritation that a liberal somewhere pointed out that FEMA camps weren’t actually a thing. It was the ultimate retreat into a safe space and the burning of bridges to keep it that way. Donald Trump was the political equivalent of a completely unwarranted mic drop.
And… you don’t get to be that way and see my kid. Sorry. I can’t trust that sort of person with her sponge-like mind. It’s hard enough keeping the more annoying aspects of Nickelodeon teen dramas out of her head, let alone some weird hang-up on trans people or Muslims. You can’t say you voted for Trump and that you’re a good person. You’re not. You’re just someone that has warped their view like a fish in a bowl until you have forgotten what goodness actually looks like. Here’s a hint; it ain’t dropping the Mother of All Bombs because it makes Brian Williams suck your dick on the air for five minutes.
Politics is life. It is the institutional expression of our values. Voting for some bullshit bathroom bill or to have the Corporation for Public Broadcasting defunded is not an opinion akin to Paul McGann is a better Doctor Who than David Tennant. It’s an indicator of who you are and what you value. Also, of what you know.
Many of the people that we love are… astray. They’re not rotten per se, but they are in error. That’s fine. We all make errors. But an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.
Trump might as well have stood in an 8-bit house saying, “I am Error.” To side with him in any way is the sort of flaw in character that you would assign to a cousin with a criminal record that you don’t invite to Thanksgiving. I’m not going to pretend that voting is not an action worthy of deciding a person’s morality, or whether that morality is something I need to expose my family to. Part of growing up is learning what parts of your education in the first 20 years of life were garbage. And, which people in your life never learn that. Family is awesome, but it is no excuse to condone what is wrong.