November 2016 was a tough month. For the country, for democrats, personally. It was a tough one.
I’ve always erred on the liberal side of politics, although I don’t recall it ever being a conscious choice that I made. My first memory of civic engagement was the 1988 presidential race between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. I was a young girl of five at the time, so the nuances of an election were obviously lost on me, but I do remember my mom taking me to her polling place and leaving me in the car (hey, it was the 80s!) so she could go vote. In my mind, both candidates would be inside the polling station and the voters would all line up behind the person they wanted to be the president. Whoever had more people in their line would win. It’s not that far off from how the popular vote actually works (although my five-year-old assessment that a man with a name like Michael Dukakis probably had a mohawk, several piercings and a sleeve of tattoos turned out not to be correct).
My mom became a democrat in the 1970s after Nixon proclaimed that he was “not a crook” and then promptly was proven to be just that. Her father was a republican so her mother registered as a democrat so that my mother and her siblings would make their own choices in politics instead of feeling the need to follow in the footsteps of their parents. As a side note, my grandmother died in 2009, but she was a Hillary supporter in the 2008 democratic primary and I know she would have voted for her in 2016.
My dad, however, has always been a republican. In his mind, the 1950s were the greatest era in American history. Of course this is an easy assessment to make when you are an able-bodied, white, middle class man. But I tend to think the reasons my dad aligned with the republican party is his younger days were fiscal rather than social. As a business owner, I can respect that his views skewed towards fiscal conservatism. But being a republican meant something very different then than it does now.
My dad was never a particularly introspective person, but he was a good guy with a pretty simple moral code: treat people with respect, work hard and never lie, steal or cheat. As my dad got older and retired and Fox News was running on his TV more often than not, my dad seemed to succumb to the vitriol that many older white men who watch Fox News seems to fall into. Today’s youth is lazy; poor people shouldn’t be given government handouts; immigrants are ruining this country and stealing our jobs. My dad lived in a border town in New Mexico, so that last one was always a huge point of contention. He loved Fox News, and he loved Bill O’Reilly. He would listen to O’Reilly’s audio books when he would drive from New Mexico to California to visit my brother and I. He became more and more cynical and he distrusted most politicians. He hated Barack Obama.
So it came as no big surprise when, visiting my brother and I in LA last June, my dad mentioned that he thought Trump was a good candidate. He was a businessman, like my dad, and he would run this country as it should be; like a business. No matter that Trump had dozens of lawsuits filed against him for not paying his employees and contractors. No matter that Trump had no clear concept of what the job of CEO of the United States really meant. No matter that Trump couldn’t articulate one clear policy during his campaign trail. All politicians were crooked, and Trump was the anti-establishment candidate who was going to build a wall and turn our country around. My brother and I debated with him Ad nauseam at the kitchen table. Why was it such a terrible thing to help poor people in this country? You hated that Obama went golfing, but you support someone who owns several golf courses that he is sure to frequent during his presidency? You say that Obama does nothing for small businesses but you’re supporting a man who has literally lied and cheated people he’s done business with? You’re looking at your daughter in her face right now and telling her you’re supporting someone who is a complete sexist and misogynist?
The thing is, my dad could never come up with compelling reasons for why he believed what he believed. He was gullible and he believed Fox News, so whatever they said became gospel, whether they had the evidence to back it up or not. Often during the course of these conversations, my brother and I could sway him to use his brain and think for himself. And often those conclusions would lead him to side with what would be considered a more traditionally democratic opinion. But my dad was battling dementia and he would go home and put Fox News back on and forget that there was any other opinion than the one they were shelling out.
In October, my dad got sick. He was in the hospital with pneumonia which snowballed into a million other things. When we would talk on the phone he was out of it, and politics never came up even though it was present in every other conversation anyone was having at the time. By the first weekend of November it was becoming clear that my dad was not doing well, so instead of voting on election day as I usually do (it makes me feel more patriotic), I went to an early polling place and stood in line for 3 hours to cast my vote for what I hoped would be the first female president. On the Monday before the election, my mom called with the news I had been dreading; my dad wasn’t going to pull through and I needed to decide if I wanted to come home to say goodbye to him. On election day I made plans to fly home the next day. Election night came, and I went to a friend’s house and watched the results in a fog. I couldn’t tell whether the hopelessness and despair I was feeling was because my dad was dying or because the country was saying yes to hatred and racism and exclusion. Probably it was both. I was surprised and disappointed along with the majority of the nation when Hilary lost. But for me, it was all shrouded in this feeling that it was disappointment I would have to deal with in the future. I had more pressing matters at hand.
The first time I went to see my dad in the ICU it was late at night. My mom drove me because I was a disaster and the ICU, usually buzzing with visitors and activity, was quiet. My stepmom, aunts, uncles and cousins had all left his bedside for the evening, giving me time alone to sit with my dad while my mom waited down the hall. He was sedated and intubated, and mostly I talked to him about nothing in particular, but I also let him know that his orange cheeto won, and that if this was his dying wish it was kind of a bummer since he wouldn’t have to live with the consequences. More than anything, my dad had an amazing sense of humor and I knew that if he’d been awake he’d have found my rant amusing.
A few days later my dad passed away. In the months that have followed we have been subjected to Muslim bans, threats to defund Planned Parenthood, stripping of environmental protections, a complete middle finger to the ACA with the ill-prepared Trumpcare bill, a president who said that this job was harder than he thought it would be and that no one knew healthcare was so complicated, so much golfing, an O’Reilly sex scandal and resignation, etc, etc, etc, etc. It’s been 100 days, and the incompetence is unending. Every conversation I’ve had can turn into politics. It comes up at work, in my social life, on my Facebook feed, my email inbox. It’s everywhere. But the one person who I’m dying to talk about the state of the nation with most is my dad. I know we wouldn’t agree. He would undoubtedly try to allay my fears in a way that I would find both endearing and incredibly patronizing. But I still want to know how he feels about it now that a Trump presidency is a reality. How would he feel that Trump tried to put the wall in the budget deal even though he promised that Mexico would pay for it? How would he feel about health care being stripped even though he was on Medicare? How would he feel about the proposals for tax cuts for the extremely wealthy? What defense could he possibly come up with to explain O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News?
Even though we disagreed on basically everything political, I genuinely valued his opinion and why he thought the things he thought. Even if the reason he thought those things was because he was being poisoned by a completely biased news source. And even though we disagreed, there’s a part of me that feels he’d be proud of me for attending the women’s march and proud of me for volunteering to clean up the LA river and proud of me for donating to the charities and nonprofits that I find value in. Because even though we disagreed, he raised me to be a moral person who stands up for what she believes.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’d be disappointed to hear about me marching in the streets. But I sure do miss debating with him. Debating with my dad gave me a deeper understanding of him and his life. I don’t think all Trump supporters are evil, hate-filled racists. I love my dad and I think he was a pretty great guy. But I do believe that many Trump supporters, like my dad, are gullible and misinformed to the point that they would vote against their own interests. There would have been no convincing my dad that Trump was bad for America, just like there was no convincing him that Obama was good for America. Sometimes opinions are rooted deep and there’s no changing them. I know he would never have been able to change my mind about Trump. But I’m still glad we had the conversation. In an age of divisiveness in politics, I think talking to each other is one of the only things that will bring about understanding and empathy. And if we have understanding and empathy, the world would surely be a better place to be.
All my empathy,