A Conversation with my Father: Doctor, Friend, Regretful Trump Voter

President Donald Trump greets supporters as he walks on stage during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

A lot of preparation goes into the long-anticipated Thanksgiving dinner. Preparing the table, preparing the food and preparing yourself mentally to deal with that certain family member with some less-than-agreeable political views.

At Thanksgiving this year, we had two rules: Don’t get seconds until your plate is clean, and don’t talk about politics.

It is a common rule that one should never engage in politics in mixed company. For me, every family holiday dinner is usually mixed company. I am the blue sheep in my Republican family. It can be frustrating and uncomfortable at times and I usually avoid mentioning anything political with my family.

However, I often make an exception with my dad. My dad is the most wonderful, brilliant man I know. He is a beloved doctor, family man and friend. He spends his weekends at the beach or at Grateful Dead cover band concerts. He also voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

So when I read think pieces about Trump supporters wanting to reestablish the confederacy, I immediately click out. Articles like this imply that all Trump voters are white supremacists. And that is so blatantly false. My dad is not racists or intolerant and to lump him in with the most deplorable people in the country is insulting. My dad is not a very political man, but this election really changed him and his perspective on politics. I called my dad to talk about the election and the current state of the nation, two years after his vote for Trump.

Me: WHAT FACTORS MOTIVATE YOU TO VOTE?

Dad: “I pretty much vote with my purse. I am for cutting taxes, smaller government and whatever lets me keep more of my money. Growing up Catholic, we had to vote for any pro-life candidate. But that was years ago. That’s not the end-all-be-all anymore.

“I was against most of what Obama did in his eight years. I have a lot of respect for the guy, but I do not like the Affordable Care act, I did not agree with his economic plan, and I think he was too heavy-handed. He had a lot of executive orders.

“However, for this past election, I felt very disenchanted. Most U.S. elections are pretty moderate; the candidates are usually not that far from center on either side. But this one was different. I felt I was voting against a candidate, not for one.”

My dad really does not like the Clintons. Between Bill’s failed healthcare bill, Benghazi, and the, what he describes as, “dirty cover-ups” in between, he couldn’t trust Hillary enough to vote for her. For him, the Clintons represent the worst of the corrupt Washington insiders Trump promised to get rid of.

“I thought Trump would be like Reagan; an outsider coming in to drain the swamp and finally get things done after a dysfunctional Congress. I hoped he would realize his limits and surround himself with a good team that was knowledgeable.”

DID THE SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS INFLUENCE YOUR DECISIONS?

“The allegations definition made me respect Trump less as a person, but no, it did not sway me. Other politicians and people at that level have all done something. I don’t think it affects how they will be as politicians.”

I was not in this country during the final months of the 2016 election. I was studying abroad in Rome, enjoying the break from the constant bombardment of political analysis on cable news networks. The school held a viewing party of the election result in the cafeteria. There were decorations, snacks, an open bar and general merriment. Everyone was excited to see Hillary Clinton named the first woman president of the United States.

But then the results started coming in. The projector screen filled up with red. The energy went from joy to panic to despair. My fight-or-flight anxiety told me I had to get out of there. I ran upstairs to an empty classroom and called my dad. I was in full panic mode, rambling on about how awful Trump was and how we are going to have a racist, sexual predator in the White House. But my dad, ever the logical thinker, tried to talk me down. He told me that if Trump is elected, the world will not fall apart. That there are people and institutions set up in our government that will not let him turn our democracy into a dictatorship. He told me Trump would have smart people in his cabinet that will help him navigate the presidency and keep him in line. Four, maybe eight years. That’s it. Then someone else will come to power and I will be the one freaking out. Don’t worry. It can’t be that bad.

Trump’s State of the Union address was a glimmer of hope for my dad and many across the country. It seemed like Trump was starting to take a different tone, advocating for more togetherness after a tumultuous campaign.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TRUMP NOW?

“I guessed wrong. Unfortunately, this past year, Trump has been petty and divisive, not presidential at all. He panders to the whims of his base, which, for lack of a better word, is comprised of a bunch of rednecks.

“The economy is getting better. But the financial benefits are not worth the cost to the country. There is no cooperation and that bothers me. It seems like divided tribalism and I think Trump has cheapened the office. Obama had dignity, class. He was what you need from a president. Not the bully or petulant child we have now.”

WHY DOES TRUMP STILL RESONATE WITH SO MANY PEOPLE?

“A lot of Trump people I know are just reactionary Republicans. They get a kick out of Trump. They like that he calls people out, says what he thinks, and says what they think. I think this is dangerous. Presidents should not be that drunk guy at a bar talking with his buddies.

“Trump validates what they feel. People are tired of the liberal rhetoric of hand-outs, a welfare state, big government, immigration. Trump embodies what they think and what they want to be done. And he says whatever to get people behind him.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE MINORITY GROUPS WHO FEEL THREATENED BY THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION?

“I will never understand the plight of the LGBTQ community. Thirty years ago, they weren’t taken as seriously as they are now. People would say f*g like it was no big deal. No one went out of their way to harass them, but it’s not like it is now. Now they have a stronger voice, which is great. But I don’t think the administration takes them seriously. I understand that they feel threatened or disenfranchised by Trump. But I don’t know what it feels like to be part of that community. I try to be as open-minded as I can, but I will never really know.”

My dad has been coming to terms with his “white male privilege.” He never felt privileged in his life. He is the son of immigrants, his grandmother was illiterate, his father worked two jobs to provide for five children. It was difficult for him to recognize the privilege of his gender and color because his life has been a struggle of hard work and scraping by until all that work begins to pay off.

He never felt like anyone helped him get anywhere in life. He graduated valedictorian of his very white, all-boys catholic high school in Long Island and went to play football at Amherst College. He worked for a moving company during the summers to pay for school and was president of Delta Upsilon Fraternity, a haven for the blue-collar guys who felt out of place among so much pompous elitism. He went on to Harvard medical school and now has a successful urology practice in Rockland County, New York. He took out loans and lived for years with only tuna fish and cabbage in the fridge of his tiny New York apartment. However, this was the 80s, when student debt was something one could pay off in a few years, and young people just starting out could afford to live in Greenwich Village.

“I understand the minority struggle. I was poor, I had people call me a guinea. I didn’t suffer, but it was not a slam dunk for me. Everyone’s perception is their own reality, which is why you should step outside of yourself and understand your psyche and what external factors affect that. We need to be around other people who are different from ourselves. We need diversity. We have to check ourselves.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW, TWO YEARS AFTER CASTING A VOTE FOR TRUMP?

“I think that Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous. But there are checks and balances in place to keep him and our democracy in line. I love CNN because we need people to call Trump out on his stuff, to make sure he won’t get away with it. The greatest threat to our democracy is silencing the press, I believe that.”

WOULD YOU VOTE FOR TRUMP AGAIN?

“No, I would not vote for Trump again. I would vote for Pelosi before him.”

WHAT WILL REMEDY THE DIVIDE IN THIS COUNTRY?

“Trump needs to admit when he is wrong, he needs to denounce these awful people who make up his base. Like with these Neo-Nazis. He needs to draw the line there. He needs to say, ‘I don’t care if I lose my base or the election, I need to do what is right.’”

However, an admission of fault like that would be wildly out of character for Trump. His base is too loyal and the rhetoric he spews works too well. Plus, his giant ego would never allow it.

“He has put winning over healing the country, and by has done more harm than good.”

HAS THIS ADMINISTRATION CHANGED YOUR VIEWS ON POLITICS?

“I think Trump has made everyone choose sides. He has forced people to pay attention and be informed, which is at least one positive outcome of all this. I believe in the human spirit, I believe people are good. I think that ignorance is worse than evil, and we all need to engage in dialogue to be informed.”

Parties will win and lose, but the effect that politics has on the country remains long after a term ends. This is why it is vital people try to understand each other better.

While there are some racist, white supremacists who find a champion in our current president, it is wrong to think that minority is representative of all Trump voters. My family members who voted for and still support Trump are not evil. They are loving, kind people who have different ideas for how the country should run.

Making general claims are tone-deaf and are as harmful to the country as the lies and bombast Trump panders on his Twitter account. America is a big place with many people living their own realities with their own problems. To put labels on people without really knowing their situation is unfair and unproductive. It is easy to dismiss opposing views and put them in an inferior box than it is to confront them and risk challenging your own beliefs. But that confrontation is necessary because it forces you to not only understand other perspectives but reexamine your own. Without positive, respectful dialogue, we will continue to live in a nation of deep, hate-filled divide.

People who have differing political views as us are not monsters. They can be good people, friends, family. We should be able to sit around a Thanksgiving table and discuss football and movies and school and not let politics ruin a good meal. Plus, there are better debates to engage in, like Is 3 p.m. too early to eat dinner? Does stuffing go inside the turkey or outside? and Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

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These are a collection of unpublished articles I wrote as a student journalists at USC from 2017 — present.

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Lauren Giella

These are a collection of unpublished articles I wrote as a student journalists at USC from 2017 — present.