My brother and I were always close until recently. He supported Trump, and I did not. Like many families fractured by partisanship, my brother and I had aligned with opposing tribes.
I’m not surprised it happened. Trump was a perfect fit for my brother — Someone who believed in conspiracy theories embraced the person who fomented them. Their connection was preordained.
Over the years, I listened to my brother’s theories on how NASA staged the moon landing and 9/11 was an inside job. But, I never criticized him for what I considered outlandish thoughts.
We stayed close despite our differences because of an enduring childhood bond. Throughout our adolescence, my brother and I were a team, battling internal forces of dysfunction. We had forged an alliance against our older mentally disabled brother who created chaos in our house.
Because of an undeveloped emotional intelligence, my disabled brother viewed his younger male sibling as a threat and tormented him, while I protected him.
Late night was our safe time.
Soon after everyone had gone to bed, my brother tiptoed up to my room on the top floor where we played chess by flashlight.
When we got bored, we sneaked downstairs to the living room and hid behind the couch, waiting to see if our footsteps had awakened anyone in the house. Ten minutes later, we started our journey back upstairs. “Let’s go,” I’d whisper and slip out from the couch into the shadows, keeping my brother safe behind me.
He always followed my lead because he trusted that I would protect him. If only I could have saved him from the bullies at school, but I could only console him after the fact.
My brother and I stayed close as we grew older — always a phone call away, picking up where we left off, no matter how much time had passed.
During the recession, when my brother missed a mortgage payment on a building he owned, I helped him write emails to state officials to prevent a lender from forcing him into bankruptcy.
It didn’t end well for him. “The bank sold my mortgage to a lender in Texas,” he told me one day.
All I could do was to console him then, and again later, after the lender evicted his tenants and gutted the building, dismantling all the improvements my brother had made. He continued to fight in the courts until the deep-pocketed lender, who cheated him, won the case, leaving my brother financially and emotionally spent.
It was heartbreaking to watch the demolition of my brother’s dreams by a dishonest banker who misled him and the predatory lender who stole from him, doubling my brother’s monthly payments so he would default on the mortgage.
My brother’s trusting nature and the misfortunes they reaped led him to Trump. Spurned by Bernie’s loss in the Democratic Primary, he turned to the other populist candidate who understood his anger. Soon after, he became entrenched in the alt-right websites, championing their propaganda.
This time, my brother didn’t follow my lead. He didn’t read the well-sourced articles I had sent him. Nothing I did could persuade him from relinquishing his steadfast convictions, and I gradually stopped speaking to him.
I believed he had become a follower of a cult-like leader, someone who promised to blow up the system that had crippled him. For my brother, Trump represented hope, the man who could save both the country and him.
Just as another charismatic leader, Jim Jones had promised his followers’ utopia in Guyana, where they drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide in a mass suicide, Trump’s promises will likely lead to biblical disappointment, too.
Cult-like leaders tend to use their followers to advance their agendas.
Even when Trump tweets devolve into borderline treason, my brother stands by his orange man. A low information voter, my brother rarely reads investigative pieces instead, he drifts through the alt-right sites that bastardize the news to fit their agenda. News that he believes to be true and thinks the mainstream media are the “fake news” sites.
I patiently wait for the day when the fog lifts and my brother is no longer under the ether of Trump. The day he can distinguish what’s fake from what’s real. The day he can see that Trump’s cabinet stacked with billionaires is the opposite of “draining the swamp.”
When that day comes, in the not so distant future, my brother will realize that he drank the Kool-Aid, too. That the charismatic leader in whom he believed made promises he never intended to keep.
I hope I reconnect with my brother before then, so I can help him through another heartbreaking disillusionment I believe is inevitable.