Adam Kinzinger, You’re Not the Only One
Trump has left a trail of devastation in the wake of his presidency, from a fragile democracy to broken families
Christmas 2016 started like all the ones before, offering no indication that the season of giving could take so much away. Each family brought their signature dish, bags of gifts, and an appetizer or bottle of wine to share. We greeted each other with bear hugs and warm smiles, swapped stories about our kids, marveled at how much each child had grown, and ignored the subtle signs of age that altered the landscape of our faces.
Families see past wrinkles and grey hair because the connections were never superficial in the first place. Familial bonds run much deeper. They’re forged in the heart and refined over a lifetime of shared experiences, the recollection of which result in wistful tears or gut-busting laughter. They include ordinary events like lazy summer days barbecuing, wading in watering holes, catching crawdads and fireflies, playing capture the flag and hide-and-seek. They include extraordinary moments we’ll never forget: blessings that left us pacing hospital waiting rooms with anticipation and excitement; accidents or disease that brought us to our knees with anxiety and supplication and despair.
Yet, something felt different that year, the Christmas of 2016. A peculiar energy flowed through the home, one I couldn’t quite put my finger on until the adult gift exchange. That was the moment it zapped me.
We’d stuffed our bellies with the traditional turkey and dressing. Afterward, we mingled in the family room to watch the kids open their gifts, then cleared away the discarded wrapping paper and collected the remaining presents into a pile. We watched and laughed as those gathered opened new presents or stole coveted ones per the rules of the game.
“Who’s number five?”
I held up the number for all to see and rose from my seat. I studied the unwrapped gifts around the room, then turned my gaze to the mound of green and red boxes on the living room floor and selected one.
“Oh! You’re going to love that one! It’s the best gift in the bunch! Probably the best gift ever! Everyone is going to steal it!”
The gift-giver is supposed to be a secret — thus, the name Secret Santa — but the giver of this particular gift couldn’t hide his excitement. He wanted everyone to know he’d brought it.
It must be something special; I thought to myself as I returned to the sofa. I wonder what it could be? All those gathered scooted to the edge of their seats and leaned closer for a better view. I gingerly removed the wrapping paper to the exasperation of those present, grinned at their increasing annoyance, and finally opened the box.
The hyperbolic description of the gift should’ve given me a clue, but my brows furrowed as I stared at the “best gift ever.” Had I misinterpreted the rules this year? Were we doing a White Elephant gag gift instead? Surely, this was a joke.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t hide my disdain. I held up the red MAGA hat, pinching the bill between my thumb and forefinger like a reeking, decomposing, maggot-filled rat.
Seeing the disgust on my face, the giver said, “Oh God! Don’t tell me you’re a fu*king liberal!”
Offended, I retorted, “Don’t tell me you’re a Trump fan.”
The room grew quiet, and I realized he wasn’t the only one. Other than my husband, I was in a room full of MAGA supporters. I couldn’t believe it. How could people who shared a similar background, and the same values, arrive at opposite ends of the spectrum in their assessment of Donald Trump?
How could they look past the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and megalomania that he exhibited on an almost daily basis? Did they not see the Hollywood Access tapes or hear that he’d been accused of sexual assault by more than two dozen women? Did they not realize he’d conned students with tuition fees for a sham university or stole money from a children’s charity? How could they buy into the self-made billionaire businessman myth? Did they not know his father bequeathed him a windfall over a lifetime through manipulative and fraudulent business schemes? Did they not believe that he had a history of tax fraud and bankruptcies, and shady deals with mob bosses? All these characteristics indicated he was the antithesis of the good Christian man his conservative followers claimed him to be.
Yet, all these criticisms rolled off “The Donald” like water from a duck’s back. The only words that stuck: Christian billionaire. And they couldn’t even see the irony in that.
Fortunately, another family member stole the coveted MAGA hat and whatever else accompanied it — a bottle of alcohol or Mylanta, maybe. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking as it was the only way the gift was palatable to me. I breathed a sigh of relief but secretly lamented that I couldn’t carry out my devilish plans to burn the red symbol of a so-called “Christian man” in a more fitting pagan-like ritual.
Much has happened between that first “Trump Christmas” and the last. Christmas 2020 was unlike any Christmas before.
Racism slithered out of shadows and into the spotlight that year. It reared its ugly head, exposed its fangs, and bit society’s conscience when a white policeman smugly pressed the life out of a black man who allegedly presented a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.
Initially, the nation expressed unanimous outrage but soon began to take sides. Maybe he deserved it. He had a questionable background. He was going to die anyway. He didn’t suffocate; the “druggie” overdosed instead. These excuses sought to justify a policeman serving as judge, jury, and executioner right there on the street. Many conservatives, claiming to be strict constitutionalists, had forgotten about a string of amendments in the Bill of Rights. For those who don’t know, several other amendments follow the first two.
For months, a pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation, while the Golfer and Twitter-in-Chief did little to stop it but much to aggravate it. The country counted over 300,000 deaths when we celebrated Jesus’ birth that winter holiday. Over 300,000 humans lost their lives to the disease due to distrust of science and government ineptitude. That’s more than all American wars, except World War II and the Civil War, combined.
The cracks in our familial bond that emerged that first Christmas widened to deep chasms when politicization crept into every discussion. We ignored more than wrinkles to maintain our relationships, but it soon became clear: the Trump era had altered the familial landscape forever.
On social media, I posted my 2.23 mile run in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a young man senselessly gunned down by neighborhood vigilantes while going for a run near his home. I showed my solidarity for the BLM movement by posting a black screen on Black Out Tuesday and cringed when a family member posted a white screen that following White Out Wednesday in response. I shared books and other posts about racism, while some posted racist remarks. I promoted Emmanuel Acho’s program, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, and lauded his effort to bridge the gap between races. Those posts received fewer and fewer likes over the following weeks, while the random puppy post garnered much attention.
I developed my home bartending skills and virtually tipped out-of-work service industry employees through Venmo. In contrast, others called for the country to “open back up” and condemned the “secret leftist government” for orchestrating an economic catastrophe to make Trump look bad.
I sewed masks for family and friends while others poked fun at the “sheeple” who believed in the “plandemic” by wearing them.
I shared TED Talks about critical thinking and documentaries about social media algorithms that feed the public the negativity humans naturally crave. Others shared conspiracy theories and repeated Trump’s claims of the “fake news media.”
I expressed my abhorrence for Trump’s dog whistle to white supremacists in the first presidential debate, while others cheered on the Trump caravan for booting the Biden bus out of Texas. I shared posts calling for counting every legally-cast vote while others spread disinformation about election fraud and called for the counting to stop.
I started writing on Medium to try to make sense of a world seemingly gone mad. I shared what I’ve learned about crowd psychology and identifying fake news. It fell on deaf ears. I warned people about moving to Parler and helplessly watched as many railed against Big Tech censorship and deactivated their Twitter and Facebook accounts and moved to Parler anyway. I pointed to books I’ve read that may enlighten their views, but they didn’t bother. I shared other articles and book recommendations, but few responded.
I tried to bridge the political divide by sharing something positive about a person with opposing political views. After only one comment, no one else joined in, and the post faded into the ether of cyberspace.
I occasionally visited the Facebook pages of friends and family to keep up with their lives, but when some continued to post Trump propaganda instead, I deactivated my account.
I just can’t stomach it anymore.
It’s like watching my family and friends from a one-way mirror outside a soundproof room as they sit down to dinner with Hannibal Lecter. He cleverly feeds them a diet of fake news, sprinkling it with the negativity that leaves them craving more. All the while, I, the silent and unseen observer, know what he’s planning. I wave, but they can’t see me. I tap on the window, but they can’t hear me. Lie after lie fills their bellies and poisons their minds. It only radicalizes them further. I bang on the glass in desperation, but it’s no use.
We seem to be living in alternate universes —anti-Trumpers and Trump acolytes. The algorithm has severely distorted the reality of Trump’s followers. Many still believe the Big Lie and confirmation bias reinforces it.
They stubbornly cling to the myth of Trump. They genuflect before him, construct idols in his image, and wave flags bearing his name as if he was the divine incarnate.
I’ve tried to engage in civil discourse, but reasoning with a Trump supporter is a Sisyphean task. What started as a pebble accumulated so much detritus each time it tumbled back down the hill that it snowballed into a boulder. I’ve struggled for over four years, but I can never make it up that damn hill. The weight of disinformation has increased with each passing day. The burden is now too massive to bear.
As much as it pains me to admit it, I gave up. I don’t have the skills to cope. It’s not in my wheelhouse. I even had to block one family member, the one who brought the “best gift ever” to Christmas in 2016. That seems like a lifetime ago. He has fallen so far down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that I’m afraid he’s lost in a warren of disillusion for good.
To my dismay, he had prayed for a Christmas Miracle, a civil war to keep the almighty Trump on the throne. He claimed that “one day soon you will see, the truth always prevails. It has to happen this way to expose how bad it is because many like you can’t comprehend its magnitude and how they have manipulated you. This is not new, it has been going on overdrive the past four years after Trump wrecked their plans to head us into their global one world order with Hillary at the helm.”
Yeah, it got worse, but I’ll stop there.
When I realized that he likely celebrated the insurrection — an attack on our nation where people died — with the same glee as Trump, I cut ties.
The words in the letter Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) received from his family members were painfully familiar to me. I’ve been stung by similar criticism. Throughout the letter, the underlying Christian theme is indicative of the guilt that Christians employ to sway those to their side. They genuinely believe Trump, a “good Christian man,” is fighting the “devil’s army” (the Democrats) in the ultimate battle of good vs. evil.
The “fu*king liberal” label initially applied to me only devolved further to other defamatory sobriquets. A family member blocked me on Facebook for warning about the danger of spreading election fraud conspiracy theories that unfortunately came to pass on January 6th. Another family member chastised me for my “political” Facebook posts (which I described above).
“I’ve seen your Facebook posts! I know about your politics! ‘X’ would be so disappointed! We are conservatives! We are Christians!”
A family member hung up on me for my “blind hatred of a good man.”
Do I hate Trump? You’re damn right I do.
I disliked Trump before he entered the political scene. The theme song for Trump’s reality TV show, The Apprentice, said all we needed to know about the man.
Money, money, money.
An educated public would never elect someone with such a sordid past and despicable character to lead our country. But, sadly, blindly, America did.
I despise Trump for what he did to our country and our families during his four years in office. He uncovered the depraved underbelly of American society and not only gave it a voice but amplified it. He disgraced the highest office in the land with his rhetoric. He strained our global alliances with his ineptitude. He damaged our democratic institutions with his lies. He left a massive trail of devastation in the wake of his presidency that will take years to repair.
Yes, I loathe him, but it is not blind by any means.
For the first time in my family’s history, we did not gather for Christmas. The pandemic provided an acceptable excuse, but I suspect other reasons contributed to the decision.
After four years of Trump, we are not only a nation divided, but a nation of families divided. Will we ever recover?