Trump family values

I have never been very close with my family as an adult, but I am increasingly afraid to call home. Within the last couple weeks, my mother and grandmother both, despite having serious misgivings about Trump, have suggested that the alternative might be worse. In fact, both, though they seem to agree on little lately, used the exact same word: she’s “scary.”

I will admit that voting for Hillary Clinton is not a self-evident choice and there are things about her that scare me, but I was still frustrated because it seemed so obvious that their misgivings were based on lies and misrepresentations. Far from being a scary unknown, Hillary Clinton is the closest to a 100% known quantity that politics could offer us — we have two eight-year Democratic administrations, both of which she played a huge role in, as evidence of what her administration would be like. In neither case did the world end. Yet both seemed surprised at the idea that she would be broadly similar to her own husband and the president she served as Secretary of State. She must have some insidious agenda — after all, it’s Hillary.

Why should this be such a big issue for me? The worst thing they’re going to do is to be one vote among millions for a candidate who is almost certainly going to lose. And I understand that for many of them, abortion remains a trump card that prevents them from ever voting for a Democrat. It’s a view that I don’t have much patience with, but I realize it’s not one that’s easily changed. Yet the thought that they might consider supporting Trump is very hard for me to take. In my darker moments, I think about cutting them off entirely, which seems cruel and gratuitous — especially when it’s not like there’s a transformative candidate on offer on the other side. Even voting for McCain-Palin over the first black president, which they almost certainly did, could be construed as more unforgivable.

Virtually everyone I know who comes from a middle-class Midwestern background has conservative relatives. Some of them even connect with these people on Facebook and argue about politics there — a thought that horrifies me. Debates around the Thanksgiving table are apparently commonplace, though in my family the practice quickly died out after a couple years of my uncle baiting me in arguments while I was in grad school. Am I uniquely unable to handle this?

What do I actually want? Do I want them to think more like me? How could they do that without leaving the communities that make their positions feel plausible? And is my answer all that great? In practice, all my cogitation and reflection has resulted in a program of action that’s basically identical to that of a knee-jerk Daily Kos liberal. I voted for Rahm Emanuel, a man who went on to cover up a particularly brutal police shooting, in his first run. I am planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, who supported the Iraq War — opposition to which was the beginning of my own political transformation from a former Republican who couldn’t quite get on board with Democrats to a firm anti-Republican (though still not an enthusiastic Democrat). And even my vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary doesn’t absolve me entirely, because he remains pro-Israel.

A small difference makes a big difference in a big, powerful system. But it takes a lot of work to see all that nuance and shading, especially when most news sources are either right-wing (Fox) or sheerly nihilistic (CNN), and it doesn’t leave room for much enthusiasm or sense of belonging. My politics, such as they are, are entirely negative in the context of US debates. I don’t get to feel excited or feel like I’m on a “side.” I don’t get to feel like my vote is growing out of what I actually believe and the communities I am involved in.

Part of the issue is surely that I have departed more radically than most from the lifestyle of my upbringing. I am living with a domestic partner outside of marriage, with no children and no car, no longer attending church, pursuing a career that I’m sure none of them really understand, etc. The fact that they’re in a place where Trump might even pass the laugh test just highlights that gap. To really make a difference in their lives, I would have to be more a part of their lives. But I’m not really willing to do that, because so much about their lives is alienating and soul-deadening to me. Part of me wants them to escape that life, too, but they wouldn’t see escape as escape — they’d probably see it as just… nothing.

7 Responses to “Trump family values”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I am aware of all of that, as any reader of this blog should know. My point is that my family is not reacting to those legitimate concerns, but to made-up bullshit.

  2. John Emerson Says:

    People whose families of birth are a resource for them are lucky, just like anyone who has any other resource. Many people have lived without this resource, and it’s often been more liberating than crippling for them, even though painful. There are lots of good things that are not essential things. I am pro-family compared to some of the most anti-familial modernists but it’s just one part of life, not the essential or central part of life in the Kinder, Küche, Kirche way. (Tacit Godwin violation).

    I’m lucky to have a compatible family, which is nice, since I’ve never had a career or colleagues who did me much good. Even so, the compatability is only relative and partial since none of them have literary or philosophical interests.

    So, the perfectly normal person has everything, but hardly anyone is normal.

    Don’t know if you were wanting my mansplaining, but anyway.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This post is not about Hillary vs. Trump as such. It’s about dealing with family. My guiding assumption is that Hillary is deeply flawed, but better than Trump. I don’t have any interest in debating that point in this context, and any further comments that attempt to start such a debate will be deleted.

  4. Shala Howell Says:

    I grew up in Texas, completely swallowing the prevailing wisdom that Massachusetts was the most God-forsaken liberal place on earth. (Seriously, one of my close friends ended up as a missionary in — wait for it — Massachusetts.) Anyway, imagine my surprise when I moved up there and discovered that I was in fact left of most people in Massachusetts. So much for stereotyping. Members of my family who remain in Texas are all over the map. Since I see them so infrequently, the topics of politics rarely comes up with the ones that are on opposite sides of the spectrum from me. I don’t see any point in throwing carpet bombs into the middle of what is always a short visit. With one exception. My brother-in-law is quite conservative, but he’s also a thinker, and as a Christian & an entrepreneur honestly wants to do the best by his employees. We have had several productive conversations around the topic of Obamacare and its impact on his business. Texas hasn’t yet taken the Medicare expansion, so Obamacare has not been all that great for him. While many of my conservative relatives are so conservative there’s no point in doing any thing other than smiling and nodding and changing the subject, I do feel grateful for every fascinating debate I have with my brother-in-law. Will I change his mind? Eh, maybe. Probably not. But he forces me to sharpen my arguments, and I like to think that I make him think about his.

  5. Ruth Marshall Says:

    It occurs to me that this divide and its effects on families Adam talks about so poignantly is the US equivalent to UK class, but without the defacto political divide. The working class being predominantly left in the UK and Europe helped bridge the massive class gap that estranged people from their families when they chose education and upward mobility. I had many friends for whom being at Oxford was leaving, to never return. I had one grandmother who was invited to the Coronation, and another living on Glasgow’s equivalent to Coronation Street. My parents emigrated shortly after my brother and I were born…. I suppose that’s changing now though with UKIP and Brexit. Argh.

  6. William Says:

    By analogy with Brexit, I find myself in a similar position. I split out voters between a core of racist little englanders who voted out for more control on those who are non-native and those who voted out for a general sense of ‘more control’ for no particular end on the other. My family who dwell on the other side of the atlantic are racist little englanders. They voted out in order to be able to stop immigration, but the immigration to which they are really worried about comes from outside Europe to which we already have ‘control’ over. The alienation that they feel is not from Brussels elites, but a combination of their alienation towards cosmopolitan elites who have advocated a policy of multiculturalism and those who have arrived in our mists over the past decades.

    Bizarrely by not being God botherers themselves they still view England as a Christian country. If we were to have immigrants, it is better that they come from other Christian countries. Immigrants who can worship vicariously for the non-believing natives. The vulnerability of the racist little englander who is unable to muster the reverence necessary to match those who worship Allah, but must interpassivly rely upon Christian immigrants to receive religion for them.

    I happened to be in the UK at the time of the referendum, and actively tried to engage them in debate, with one family member stating that all those who proposed to vote remain were traitors to memory of those who died in WWII, the invasion of immigrants that threaten a way of life are equivalent to an invading army.
    They swallowed 350m for the NHS hook, line and sinker. Why give others 350m when we could spend it on ourselves? They were dismayed when the Pyrrhic Brexiteers backed away from the suggestion that was taken as a promise. Do I say ‘I told you so’?

    I felt uneasy supporting remain campaign as some of my political bedfellows supported austerity, like the European Union itself, but also in the way in which the remain campaign was conducted. After the vote itself I lamented with others on the losing side of the referendum. Though I cannot fully embrace it due to the soulless individualism inherent in the embracement of the global capitalism that the remain side in some sense embodied.

  7. anon Says:

    This is a nice post in that you refuse any temptation to moralistically blame, denounce, or dehumanize your family, but confess honestly to a certain helplessness.


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