If you add my first cousins and siblings together, you get a total of nearly 40 people. Add in spouses, cousins’ kids, aunts and uncles and I think you can see how big my Italian-American family is. More than 90 percent are in New Jersey. About the same percentage are Republican.
I am a proud political black sheep. For a long time, I felt like the quirky sideshow. “Meet Nan, can you believe she’s a liberal?”
Then something started changing over the last decade-plus. Our political conversations became people talking at each other instead of to each other. That wasn’t just about us not listening to each other. It was about the formation of bubbles courtesy of our media. We had to come to an understanding that political discussion was off the table. It became too frustrating. I had one family elder come gunning for me at a graduation party five or six years ago and I had to steel myself to walk away and hit the dance floor.
Fast forward to now. Next week is Thanksgiving. As I write this, I am clearly in the doghouse for publishing some thoughts in a piece called “The Ugly Reflection in the Trump Mirror” the day after the election. In that essay I used specific examples of comments some of my family members have made in discussions about race. They weren’t pretty, but I wrote them in response to the vociferous denial that race played any part in casting their votes for Trump.
Frankly, I don’t think they’re even aware it had an impact. And this isn’t me being an apologist. (More on that below).
I love my family, but when I get a phone call accusing me of “outing” them it only makes me scratch my head. The use of the verb is telling. If you out someone who is gay, it means they’re gay. If you out a spy, it means they’re a spy. If you out someone’s racist comment, well, it’s probably a racist comment.
But here’s the really interesting part. I didn’t “out” anyone really. There are no names in that piece. If you recognize yourself, doesn’t that mean you said it? And if you think what you said is OK, then why are you (ostensibly) embarrassed by it? Own it already.
What is most disconcerting to me, though, is being told I think I’m superior and smarter than everyone because I’m college educated. First of all, putting myself through college – every cent – is the single biggest accomplishment of my life. It is sometimes difficult to read through the history of Italian-Americans and understand the suspicion they had of education and how that suspicion has been passed down through generations. It produces defensiveness. We’ve made progress as a people, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to apologize for any aspect of my intellect and curiosity.
Every summer we have our annual Trivial Pursuit game with some friends and family members. I am certainly not the smartest person in the room. There are topics I get my butt kicked on. But right now we’re in my wheel house — journalism. Heck yeah, I know more than most on this topic. I’m friggin’ obsessed with it. I believe what has happened in our country is the result of our consumption of two completely different sets of “facts” via the media. I’ve been watching it slowly go down – the rise of “culprits” like immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims, gays, women. The fear mongering. The doomsday scenarios.
The biggest clue here is the absolute astonishment of a lot of Trump supporters that so many of us are this upset. It appears they are genuinely surprised. Only after a few days passed did I start to get it. Holy crap. They are in a completely different reality. Every single offensive thing he said or did was explained away for them in a constant drumbeat day after day after day. How else does an email issue become so much bigger than mockery of a handicapped person or a complete dismissal of our intelligence agencies and military saying our election is being hacked by the Russians? How does such a large swath of Christian values voters ignore the degradation of women in a candidate for President of the United States?
The bubble, that’s how.
And of course the opposite was being beat to death in the other bubble in the name of ratings and clicks.
I don’t pretend to be unbiased. For a good part of my career I’ve been paid to have an opinion and I’ve never been shy about giving it. I’m smart, often stubborn, and I consume information voraciously. I continue to seek out alternate opinions. In fact, last week I had a satisfying hour-long political conversation in a diner with someone; he and I had not voted for the same person. I think we both learned a few things.
I’m fairly certain most Americans are not going to expand their minds in the least as a result of this election. They’ll dig in a little deeper, get entrenched in what they already believe and mistake that for being informed. And that, to me, is the most frustrating part of all because I can’t change it.
Like most families, mine has been through some stuff this year. We’ve been there for each other. With the events of the last week we’ll probably never look at each other the same again, but this is all part of life. Let’s all try to have a Happy Thanksgiving, America.
Life goes on.