I thought it’s a first date. I met his mom who votes Trump.
It was a brief chance encounter during alumni weekend. He’s an alum of this Ivy League school. I’m a current employee. We ran into each other on the street and exchanged phone numbers.
He texted me saying he’s in town this weekend and asked if we’d like to meet. We decided on 10pm at a cafe near campus.
Me: Hi! Sorry but I have to ask, what is your name again?
He told me his name, and led me to a corner table, “Mom is also here.”
Mom was voicing some concerns about her knee.
Mom: I went to this doctor, who is Chinese, no offense. (Both mom and son are white. I am Chinese.) She is like this typical doctor, MD and all that stuff. She thinks medicine is the only solution. I don’t believe that. Don’t just give me medicine. Try some herbs or something.
The conversation went on from there, floating from topic to topic. I’m recounting them here in the order as they took place, to the best of my recollection.
— -Election 2016 — -
Mom: Do you vote here?
Me: No. I’m not a citizen.
Mom: Okay then you probably do not care.
Me: Actually I do. I volunteered for Obama in 2012. Did you vote in the New York primary?
Mom: Yes. I voted for Donald Trump. He (pointing to her son) does not vote.
Me: You voted for Trump.
Mom: Yes. I think he says a lot of crazy things. You have to read between the lines to get what he really means.
— -Black Lives Matter — -
Son: Oh! What do you think of Black Lives Matter? The organization.
Me: The ORGANIZATION?
Son: I think they are racist. All lives matter. Chinese lives matter.
Me: I think saying Black Lives Matter is addressing a specific social problem which deserves attention. There is no inherent implication that by saying black lives matter, one is saying only black lives matter and other lives do not. I support…
Son: They are very disruptive.
Mom: He just wants to get to work. They block the streets on his way to work.
Me: There are arguments or criticisms to be made about specific tactics. But if we look back a century or more, some of the most significant social advances happened, with legislative action, but also with a large element due to civil or not so civil acts of disobedience.
Mom: Like Martin Luther King Jr.?
Me: Yes. Or like women’s suffrage. We are not far from Seneca Falls.
— — Feminism — -
Mom: What do you think of feminists today? I do not like feminists today. They are too militant.
Me: Feminists today are more militant than the suffragettes?
Mom: Yes! Gloria Steinem. She did this Ms. magazine. I think she hates men.
Me: Are you saying what Gloria Steinem did with starting Ms. magazine in the 70s was too militant? Or the feminists movements today?
Mom: Oh the 70s you were not here you do not remember. This campus was crazy. (Mom is also an alum of this Ivy League school, in the 70s. Her parents were alum too.) All these women who wanted to be like little men.
Me: “Be like little men”?
Mom: Yes they want to drink and smoke cigarettes!
Me: Women should not drink or smoke cigarettes?
Mom: Smoking is bad for their health!
Me: Smoking is bad for men’s health too.
Mom: Women should just be what they are. Don’t try to be like men.
(At this point they asked about my work. I am a particle physicist. They asked about the Large Hadron Collider. They asked about the Higgs discovery. I enjoy talking about my work and the conversation went on for quite a while on this front. But I also really wanted to hear what they had to say on a number of things, so at some point I changed the topic.)
— — Donald Trump — -
Me: So you voted for Donald Trump in the primary?
Me: The New York primary was pretty late in the season so the field was pretty much set by then. Would you have voted for any of Trump’s primary opponents if the primary was a couple months earlier?
Mom: I do not know the other contestants very well. I call them contestants because it is so, competitive you know.
Me: Okay you do not know the other candidates but you know Donald Trump better?
Mom: Yes I read one of his books. What was the name of the book that you gave me? (point to son)
Me: The Art of the Deal?
Mom: No…”Think like a Champion”!
Son: He wrote many books.
Me: He hired … okay so you do not know Trump’s primary opponents very well, is it safe for me to say that you did not vote AGAINST Trump’s opponents, but you did vote FOR Trump?
Mom: Yes. I voted for Trump.
Son: You would not vote for Jeb?
Son: But you voted for his brother, George W.
Mom: But George W. is different.
Son: Yeah he’s the dumber one.
Mom: The dumber one?
Son: Yeah. He’s “Dubya”.
Me: Will you be voting for Trump in the general?
Me: Will you be voting for Trump because you do not like Hillary, or because you think Trump would make the better President?
Mom: I think Trump would make the better President.
Me: Why do you think Trump would make the better President?
Mom: I think first of all, Trump would make things “Made in America” again. Sorry not to offend you personally but there are a lot of things made in China now. Secondly Trump says he is really going to go to a trade war with China. Sorry again but China is on the spot here. And finally Trump says he is going to really crack down on illegal immigration. Not legal immigration I know that you are. Illegal immigrants. Now I’m not for the wall I think that is just crazy. Do you know about the Berlin Wall?
Me: Yes. Actually I was born a few days before the Berlin Wall fell.
Mom: Oh! That must have been quite an experience!
Me: Well I was a few days old and in China, so I’m not sure how much firsthand experience I could count on…
Mom: Wow what an experience. If only you had been in Germany!
Me: Well I would still have been just a few days old…but, what do you think about the ban on Muslims Donald Trump proposed?
Mom: He wants to stop bad people from entering this country. The Muslims who want to kill us.
Me: How do you think he would be able to know who are the bad ones?
Mom: Investigate! Have the FBI investigate!
(I wanted to ask more about the Muslim ban and homegrown terrorism at this point, but the son interjected)
— — Second Amendment — -
Son: What do you think of the Second Amendment?
Me: The Second Amendment itself? Or the right to bear arms as it is interpreted differently, by the NRA or …
Son: The right to bear arms. Self-defense.
Me: So I’m not a constitutional law scholar…
Son: You are a scientist! That’s even better.
Me: So I’m not a constitutional law scholar, but my understanding of the Second Amendment, is that it is less about self-defense against violent individuals, but more about collective self-defense against tyranny. But it was also written at a time before the invention of modern weaponry. So I’m not entirely sure how to interpret the Second Amendment in the current times.
Mom: So if you are at a restaurant, like here, and someone comes in with a gun and start to shoot people, what would you do?
Me: I would try to hide and call the police.
Mom: Do you know how long it would take the police to get here? If you had a gun…
Me: Well in an active shooter case, in a crowded public space like this, I think if I had a gun, my ability to use it effectively against the shooter without harming anybody else is slim to none.
Son: What if you are at home and there is an intruder?
Me: I think there is a valid question here, if I had a gun, is it more like to give me protection or cause harm? From the statistical evidence that I’m aware of, by having a gun at home, one is much more likely to shoot oneself or one’s family member with it, than to shoot a home intruder.
Mom: Where did you read that statistics? The New York Times?
Me: I think it has been reported quite widely. I think the data comes from the FBI and law enforcement agencies, since gun-related casualty is a law enforcement issue.
Mom: Do you know Charlton Heston? He was president of the NRA. He said you would only take guns away from his “cold dead hands”. He was an actor. He was in Ben Hur. Have you seen Ben Hur? There is a new one coming out.
Me: I saw the old one.
Mom: How did you like it?
Me: I think it was an interesting movie, and quite a beautiful cinematic production.
(I saw this as my chance to change the topic and ask them some more questions)
— — Religion — -
Me: Are you religious?
Mom: Oh yes. I’m Christian. Presbyterian. I raised him (pointing to son) Presbyterian. Are you religious?
Me: I am not. Most of my family are Christian. My mom goes to church every week.
Son: Oh you can go to church in China? You do not get persecuted?
Mom: Churches in China have agreements with the government.
Me: So the larger churches do operate with some kinds of government rules, like if you use a large building in the heart of downtown like the church my mom goes to. There are also smaller, family meetings, which would operate differently.
Mom: They get persecuted. My friends tell me they get persecuted.
Me: Well this I really do not know enough. If you read stories about certain things, it does not mean…
Mom: It does not mean it is true!
Me: Yes but that’s not what I was trying to say…
Son: That it might be distorted!
Me: Also yes, but what I was trying to say is that even if the story is true and reported fairly, it is just one story, and may or may not represent the majority of the cases. If people go to churches or family meetings peacefully without persecution it would not get reported. So I really do not know what is the rate of such persecutions.
Mom: There are so many people going to church. I’m sure many of your science friends do too.
Son: No they don’t.
Mom: They don’t? I’m sure they do. I see so many people. I sometimes wonder if Jesus is coming back.
Me: You think Jesus will be coming back?
Mom: Yes it is what is said in the Bible!
Me: Okay so when Jesus comes back, what form would he be in?
Mom: Human form!
Me: Okay so where would the human form of Jesus appear? How would you know that he is back?
Mom: He would appear on top of Mountain ??? (I did not catch the name of the mountain due to my lack of Biblical readings, and could no longer verify what exact mountain she referred to), as it was written in the Bible!
Me: Okay. What do you think Jesus would do when he comes back?
Mom: He is going to clean things up!
Me: Would you please elaborate on what you mean by “clean things up”?
Mom: He would clean out all the people who are against Israel!
Me: What do you mean by “clean out all the people”…
Mom: He would kill all the people who are against Israel.
Son: No God does not kill.
Mom: Yes God kills.
Me: Okay you think Jesus when he comes back is going to kill all the people against Israel. What do you mean by “against Israel”?
Mom: People who are outside Israel. Israel is surrounded by people who want to wipe them out.
Son: Except the United States.
Mom: There might not be a United States when Jesus comes back. There was not a United States mentioned in the Bible.
Me: Okay just to clarify here, you say people who are against Israel means people who are outside Israel. Do you mean the people who live outside the national borders of the state of Israel? Because I can imagine there are people who live outside Israel but are still for Israel; and similarly some people live in Israel but are not so much for Israel.
Mom: But Jesus would know what each of them thinks. He is God. God knows.
Me: Okay so can you give an example who are some of the people that will be purged by God, the ones who live outside Israel and are also against Israel?
Mom: The Arabs.
Me: The Arabs. By “the Arabs” are you referring to their ethnicity, religion, or just where they live?
Mom: Their religion.
Me: Okay so can I make the assumption that you are referring to Arab Muslims? Because there are Christians living in Arab nations too.
Mom: Yes. Not the Christians. Only Arab Muslims.
Me: Okay so you think all Arab Muslims would be killed when Jesus comes back?
Mom: Yes, I do.
Me: Okay. What about Muslims who do not live in Arab nations? What about Muslims in Indonesia?
Mom: Them too. All Muslims. They believe in Muhammad not Jesus.
Me: You think all Muslims would be killed when Jesus comes back?
Mom: Yes. I have a daughter who converted to Islam. It makes me very sad. I know she is going to hell.
Me: You believe your daughter is going to hell because she is a Muslim?
Mom: Yes. It makes me very sad. But I have a grandson who lives in Israel. When I think about the end of the world I think about my grandson who is going to be saved because he lives in Israel.
Me: That is a very sweet thought. What about Buddhists? Atheists? What would happen to them when Jesus comes back?
Mom: That depends. I think that really depends. They also do not believe in Jesus. But I think they are better than Muslims.
Me: Do you think a Muslim could be President of the United States?
Son: We already have a Muslim President.
— — Obama’s religious belief — -
Me: Obama is a Christian.
Son: Obama is a Muslim. He was raised Muslim. He later claimed to be a Christian to go into politics.
Me: Why do you say Obama is raised Muslim?
Son: He was raised in Indonesia. That is a Muslim country. Everyone who grew up there is Muslim.
Me: Obama lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child. But he also lived more years in Hawaii, and with his white, Christian grandparents from Kansas. Why is his time in Indonesia the determining factor here?
Son: I think when you are a few years old, that’s when you form your world views.
Mom: His name is Hussein! Who names their child Hussein?
Me: I think this was because his grandfather was named Hussein.
Me: I also do not think Obama’s and his paternal grandfather’s lives intersected very much.
Son: I think Obama has a soft spot for Muslims.
Me: What do you mean by “soft spot”?
Son: When Muslims commit acts of terrorism, Obama makes a specific effort not to associate the terrorists with Islam.
Me: When Christians commit acts of terrorism, Obama also does not associate that with Christianity very much, does he?
Mom: Oh are you talking about the West Baptist Church? They are terrible!
— — Marriage — -
Me: That, but also like the Klan, or people who bomb Planned Parenthood clinics. But speaking of West Baptist Church, do you support gay marriage?
Mom: No. The Bible says marriage should be between one man, and one woman.
Me: Okay. In this case, could a person get divorced and then marry someone else?
Mom: No.The Bible says that is condemned too.
Me: Okay. So Donald Trump has married three times. What do you think about that?
Mom: I cannot be the judge. Only God can be the judge on that.
Son: Hillary is worse for women than Donald Trump.
Mom: Yes! Hillary is worse for women.
Me: Why do you think so?
Mom: She wants to kill babies!
— — Abortion — -
Me: You think abortion should be illegal?
Mom: Yes. Abortion should be illegal.
Me: Under all circumstances? Rape? Incest?
Mom: (Before I could finish the word “incest”. Apparently knowing where I’m going) Yes.
Me: What about life of the mother?
Mom: I think the baby’s life should always come first. Always save the baby.
Me: What if the baby is not viable? But the mother’s life and only the mother’s life could be saved?
Mom: The mother should die with the baby.
Me: The mother should die with the baby? Even if the baby could not live?
Mom: I believe in miracles. Some babies are found in dumpsters and still live. Doctors do not know everything. Medicine cannot explain everything.
(I realized how this conversation had started to echo notes at the very beginning. And it was about midnight. The son signaled his mom that it’s getting late. I might as well get a couple more questions in.)
Me: If abortions are illegal, should the women who get them be punished?
Mom: No. I believe the abortion itself is enough punishment. Do you know that women who get abortions have a higher chance of getting breast cancer?
Me: So if it comes to it, the woman should die with the baby; but otherwise it is a concern they might have a higher chance of developing breast cancer if they sought the abortion. Okay. So should doctors who perform abortions be punished?
Mom: No. Doctors should not be punished if they perform abortions.
Me: So if abortion should be illegal, but neither the woman who get them nor the doctors who perform them should be punished, how do you enforce the ban on abortions?
Mom: Doctors should save lives, not kill them!
(On that note we called it a night)
Mom: You must think I’m crazy.
Me: No. Thank you for the illuminating conversation.
Mom: Do you need a ride?
Me: No I’m good.
Mom: You stay safe!
I walked back cross campus, surreally beautiful under the night sky.
Was it all a parody? I really wanted to believe it was all a parody and I just met two of the best actors.
Which would be really funny.
I tried to laugh. But somehow I could not.
I walked back to my office to write this down, as fast as I could. As much as I could. I had to write this down.