Both my mom and step-dad are in their 80’s and doing good. Clean mental states, a pill here and there, but mostly living an active life. My step-dad is a good guy. He helps all those in need. He helps me and everyone in the family. When my mother was ill, he stayed up to make sure that she took her medication at midnight on the dot. He cries at movies. He cries at the doctor’s office when relating how my mother’s passing illnesses scare him. He cries when the cats die, each at their own pace and time. My mom met him when I was fifteen. He has been the corner of our family, and as my brother has said many times, is more a father than our biological dad. But he voted for Trump. My mother didn’t, so it’s not an age thing.
He doesn’t watch Fox news and is a registered Democrat. He worked in many blue collar professions and has vast experience as a residential and commercial plumber. He reads the local newspaper every day. He has been retired for many years. He wasn’t laid off. He doesn’t live in a dying factory town.
The first time I asked him why he voted for Trump was right after the 2016 election. Things hadn’t gotten so bad then, even though all the anti-Hillary mojo was flowing through our culture. He was tired of the gridlock in Washington. He thought the place needed a good shaking up. Probably Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” mantra appealed to him. He was so tired of the same old thing that he thought throwing in a crazed outsider might do some good. Shake things up.
He listened as I explained that the founding fathers had planned the system of Checks and Balances so that our government would stall into inertia precisely since human beings cannot be trusted. Given power and money, people go toward their own self-interests. The constitution was set up with the knowledge that a majority will easily overwhelm and disenfranchise a minority. Inertia in government has always been the plan. It is better to do nothing rather than cause harm.
An idea the nation has failed over and over. The US has harmed minorities throughout history: Africans denied their humanity and enslaved; Native tribes purposefully destroyed through disease, fire, and famine; the ursupation of Mexican lands and the casting of Spanish speaking peoples as illegal and alien; the internment of Japanese on American soil; and these are only the top hits of legalized racial demagoguery. We have yet to mention religion, gender, sexuality, and all the other ways minorities can exist in this nation and in that way become deprived of basic human rights. In the US, we have caused harm.
We have also had a system of Checks and Balances by which to change laws, change the culture, and by which to develop a greater tolerance for difference. Though my step-dad knows how the US government is set up with three separate branches, I don’t think he knows the purpose. I don’t think he believes that if human beings are given power, they will govern to harm all those who do not stop them. He has hope in basic human kindness. He reveres his nation and is a proud American. He thinks the US cannot fall into fascism, that the US will always remain true to the rule of law, that following the rule of law always leads to safety and prosperity.
So when I ask him about the changes in the EPA that now allow hibernating bears and their cubs to be shot in their dens as they sleep, he replies that there is an over-population of predators. The repeal of protections for the bears serves society since the numbers of predators are being kept under control.
When I ask him about the children under five separated at the border from their parents, he replies that it’s better to separate the children now rather than later. I try to figure out what later he is referring to, and he replies that under Obama the parents of US citizens were deported leaving the children in foster care. So, according to my step-dad, Trump is stopping that from happening right at the beginning of the immigration process.
I don’t argue further. I know that he will present a rationalization for any criticism of the US government and Trump’s America. I am at a loss for words. He is a good man. He cries when his cats are put to sleep. He has been a father in so many ways to me, my brother, and my cousins. But he justifies Trump's misogyny, Trump’s disregard for the environment, Trump’s disregard for children, and Trump’s basic lack of decency. He can’t see it. He is blinded by belief. Go USA!
I think he actually replied, “Pshaw” once when I was listing the infringements on basic human rights that have arisen with Trump’s administration. He didn’t believe me when I shared my worry that we are moving toward fascism, that Trump idolization will lead us toward authoritarianism and the curtailment of our basic rights, not to mention the destruction of the environment. He said, “You don’t have faith in the United States!”
But what is faith in the US? Isn’t it the right to challenge the majority? Isn’t the US about moving toward a greater good? Isn’t the US about people speaking when things go wrong? It just feels as though there is something different going on right now. It’s not only my step-father. There are so many like him. Decent people who voted for Trump. How can so many good people turn away? How can so many good people justify all the harm that the Trump administration is doing?
It’s about the change in US demographics and the browning of America. It’s about the change in gender classification and what marriage means. It’s about the change in how we work and pass on knowledge to our children. Everything is happening too fast and the changes have come too quick for too many people, good people, in the US.
It just may be that my step-father wants to go back, back to a time when men where in power, when white men made the rules, when the rules were obeyed. Back to a time where the grass was sweet, the air clean, and the coal factories employed everyone at a living wage. Except that never existed. We can’t go back to a past that never was. But I have no idea how to convince him. What can I say that I haven’t said? What can he read that would break through?
This is a trying time for our nation. The system of Checks and Balances are moderating Trump’s worst impulses, but not fully. There is a travel ban. The children were not reunited with their parents by the deadline set by the court. Another Supreme Court vacancy has opened. Maybe Trump’s dance with Putin will affect the populace. Vote, my people. Let’s use the little power we have while we can.