On the Election of Donald Trump: An Open Letter to my Family
Dear Mom and Dad,
Let me begin by saying that I am deeply saddened by the political divide that stands between us. Mom, you were the first person to whom I ever felt close, the first person I ever loved. Throughout my childhood you had a deep wellspring of affection for me and for my brother, and you had a wonderful, playful sense of humor. You were like a force of nature to me — like a fiercely protective lion who sheltered her cubs at all cost. I admired you and sought your affirmation quite desperately. I loved you then — and I still love you very much now. I have wonderful memories of our time together, of the vacations, the trailer, the long car trips, the visits to Steve the barber, the trips to the mall that always involved bookstores, the amazing food, the New York style pizza, which you had an uncanny knack for finding even in the far corners of the South. You weren’t just a good Mom, you were a brilliant one. I had a very happy childhood, and I believe that my brother did, too.
From Dad I learned enthusiasm. I learned to lose myself in the books, movies, and ideas that I loved. He gave me the gift of slapstick comedy, of James Bond, and of science fiction. I suppose what I’ve always admired most about you, Dad, is your ability to enjoy things that other people like. When I say something like: “hey, you’d love the new Captain America movie,” or “You should read Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay,” your response is: “cool! This is something new for me to enjoy!” You were a cheerleader and an enthusiast, and I had fun with you.
Mom, like you, I have a very strong emotional response to politicians who say or do things that I find inhumane or unethical. But I’ve come to recognize that if I say nasty things on Facebook or social media or on text or in a crowd, I will hurt other people, some of whom I love, and I will invite the wrath of those with whom I disagree. Outrage online has helped to divide our country. You might not have liked Gore Vidal and I might not have agreed with — say — George Will — but when they spoke to the public or to each other, at least they had been vetted. They spoke with a modicum of respect and decorum. They had viable arguments. They were people who engaged in arguments in a civil, humane fashion. Today, liberals, conservatives, and truly extreme right-wing fanatics spew too much rage and bile online. There can be no conversation, no dialogue, no compromise, and no real democracy when people are shouting at each other, hating each other, refusing to show the other side any respect. A civil society requires civility. Allow me to paraphrase the gandaddy of conservative thought, Edmund Burke: For us to truly love our country, our country must first be lovely. It doesn’t seem lovely to me right now. It seems quite ugly, and its incivility has never been more distasteful to me.
I believe that democracy requires listening and learning as much as it requires strong opinions. I’m as guilty of violating this principle as anyone, of course. I overstate things and overreact. Frankly, I really don’t want to inhabit a world that defines itself in the negative, a world that says “I’m not really sure what I stand for — but I hate that man/woman because s/he’s not like me or doesn’t share my beliefs.” I feel like the current divisiveness of American politics makes it nearly impossible for us to enjoy being together. I have always loved spending time with you guys and sharing my family’s life with you.
The fact is, I love you both very much. You were my entire world when I was growing up. I have great memories of being with you and I hope to make more, but the world seems like a bleak, angry, divided, hateful space right now. I will have to spend a lot of my time and energy working to fight against that hate and that anger. I hope that you will, as well.
All My Love,