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.