I’m standing in CVS looking at the racks of cards. I want to buy one for a family member. Do I wish this person a happy birthday? Yes, I do. Am I going to send a card lauding this person as inspirational or a beacon in my life? No, I’m not. It proves challenging, but I find something basic and honest and put it in my basket.
This person dropped me in 2016 shortly after the presidential election. I wrote a column back then about how Donald Trump’s victory was race-based and I quoted, anonymously, extended family members who’d said racist things over the years and who were now Trump supporters. Some bristled that I’d called them racist, others got angry that I’d outed them as racist. Some stepped up and wanted to talk about it. Others just unfriended me on Facebook, which I respected. Still others just talked about me behind my back.
The people in the world whose family and friends occupy the same tribe as them (not political party, tribe) don’t have a clue what it feels like to deal with what Trump has wrought in our lives. They mostly get to talk in generalities and assumptions about the other side, calling them stupid and similar insults.
The problem is there’s a whole faction of people like me who know Trump supporters intimately. We know they’re not stupid. Or necessarily uneducated. Many are hard-working, law-abiding citizens from blue collar to white, whose religious beliefs are all over the spectrum. They have friends and beloved co-workers who are racially diverse, so it’s largely not their day-to-day dealings with other human beings at issue.
What they don’t have is a belief that systemic racism is a problem, in our police forces or otherwise. Hence, every reference equating support of Trump to them being racist has either insulted or angered them for the last five years (longer if you include the introduction of birther-ism). They see it as thousands and thousands of accusations blaring at them from all directions, because of course Fox News and like-minded sources have built an audience by reminding them and labeling it liberal PC radicalism. They literally DO NOT see what they’ve signed on to in that MAGA tent.
Many reading this will ask, how is this possible? If you consumed what they’ve been consuming as “news” for over a decade, you’d get it. It’s not always about what’s being said in Trump-friendly media, it’s about what’s being left out. We assume they know what we know, that they’ve seen the same footage; they haven’t.
Get this: I am not talking about people like the terrorists who stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. I am talking about people who unwittingly enabled that uprising. And unfortunately, I am at a complete loss as to how to get through to them. Not that they need to agree with my world view, but that they need to come back to a place where objective truth exists.
So much of what I read and watch falls way short of understanding the great divide in this country. I’m no expert, but I pay close attention. The last social event I attended before going into lockdown mode last year was hosted by the Common Ground Committee. The name alone was appealing to me and so I eagerly signed up to see journalists Chris Wallace and Maggie Haberman discuss covering the White House.
I enjoyed the discussion on the whole, but I recall telling my friend on the subway ride home that something was missing. What bothered me was that both journalists had normalized Trump. I understood it from a journalism perspective. We were, after all, sitting in a room at the Columbia Journalism School. It made sense that there would be a focus on objectivity. But even audience members with intelligent questions that spoke to the troubling aspects of a Trump presidency were met with an eerie hewing to the line we all knew had been obliterated for years. Trump, after all, had just been impeached.
Little did we know that less than two weeks later we’d have our lives permanently altered by a pandemic lockdown and his utter mismanagement of the virus on our shores.
Nearly a year later, in a week when many of us are trying to process an attempted coup at the Capitol, I see this in an email from the Common Ground Committee:
Demonization and tribalism inevitably lead to situations like those we saw today. Enough! We – all of us – must stop allowing political disagreements to draw us down the self-destructive path of impugning the character and morality of those we disagree with. It is time for those in Washington to lead the nation to reconciliation, not revenge, to work together to solve problems, and stop tearing down opponents.
Political disagreements? Really? Is that what we’re having in this moment in our nation’s history?
I was under the impression it was, despite Trump’s own hire declaring this a fair election, one side believing a massive, damaging lie by the President of the United States. A lie so big and pounded home with such force and frequency by Trump and some of his boot-lickers in Congress, that a frightening mob assembled and terrorized people literally carrying out the process of democracy and many of those whose job it is to protect them.
Fired up, armed, militaristic, carrying racist banners, defecating, destroying, stealing, and yes, killing human beings in their mission of destruction and fear. From the reports and videos still coming out, what they had planned was much, much worse. Only an end run around Trump allowed others with power to green-light assistance from nearby national guard and state troopers.
Fox News has already curbed what it carries showing the destruction. Better to keep the “fake news” cry alive than use their platform to alleviate the pain they’ve helped create, even in an emergency. And it is an emergency, make no mistake about it. These terrorists are not finished.
What does that mean when it comes to our personal relationships? We’re in a place of not asking because we don’t want to know the answer. Or asking and having to live with the answer. Perhaps something in between which is, trust me, equally as anxiety-producing. I haven’t talked to my therapist in nearly a decade, but I’m tempted to make that call.
In the fall I was on a social Zoom session with some friends and one of them mentioned she’d been in mourning about what her Trump-supporting family is as opposed to what she thought it was. That hit me hard. Yes, grief. That’s what I’ve been feeling. And in fairness, I suppose you can say that’s what my family members are thinking about me.
Maybe one of them has stood in front of the card rack at CVS and taken a pass on the cards telling me I’m great and instead settled for the generic message. It’s where we are.