How My Poet-Refugee Mother Became A Trump Supporter

By Ari Honarvar

Like other Iranian Americans, my mom has a surprising — and dangerous — view of a president she would seemingly despise.

Recently, during my weekly visit to my mother’s house for tea, I brought up some pressing political news. “You heard about what Trump said about the nuclear deal?”

“I love it,” she responded casually, taking a sip of her tea. “I was hoping he would do something like this.”

“Wait,” I replied, stunned. “Do you now support Trump?”

“He is doing the right thing.”

I asked her, pointedly, if she really thought Trump was fit for office. She retorted that she found his erratic behavior refreshing, and his lies “cute.”

I felt like I’d entered an episode of The Twilight Zone.

My mother wasn’t a hardline Democrat — she was wary of Hillary, and left the presidential box unchecked when she voted — but she’d also never been a Trump supporter. How did she, an Iranian American poet-refugee, come to support a man who defies everything she would seemingly stand for?

I was stunned — and curious. Was my mother alone in this view? Or was she expressing something more widespread? Intrigued, I started doing research, and discovered other Iranian Americans openly touting Trump’s foreign policy. Then I reached out to two of my mother’s Iranian American friends via email, asking them what they thought.

Like my mother, these folks are intelligent, well-educated older adults whose general political views tend to lean liberal. They approve of universal health care and free college. They’re pro-choice. They’re not excited about a border wall. And they are well aware that if Trump had his way, they would be banned from entering the U.S.

But when asked about Trump, they defended his views on Iran vehemently — and not only that, they spoke positively of the man himself. Like Christians willing to overlook Trump’s distinctly un-Christian views to have a pro-lifer in the White House, they were so enthused about his views on Iran that they were able to ignore the many ways in which his ideology directly opposed their own.

This unofficial survey is, of course, hardly enough to prove Iranian Americans view Trump positively on the whole — and indeed, statistics show that the majority of them do not. But the people in my own life are also not a complete anomaly; a quarter of Iranian Americans do support Trump, a surprisingly robust number under the circumstances.

What, I wondered, was going on?

To say that the current theocracy in Iran continues to make life difficult for its people is an understatement. Human rights abuses — including violations against women and minorities — are systemic. In the face of this, many Iranians, especially those overseas, want a regime change. And with Trump — who has been unabashed in his disavowal of Iran’s “dictatorship” and “terrorism” — they believe this could finally happen.

Recently, Trump, against the advice of his military experts, took a hardened stance against the Islamic Republic, refusing to certify the multi-national nuclear accord. The agreement, he stated, wasn’t in the United States’ national security interest. This decision will likely motivate Iranian hardliners to scrap diplomacy and enrich their uranium, impeding the already tenuous relationship between Iran and the U.S. Trump’s rhetoric also chillingly echoes that of Bush before the invasion of Iraq.

And it’s not just Trump who appears intent on implementing a military solution. Senators Tom Cotton and Bob Corker have introduced legislation that would “provide a window of time for firm diplomacy and pressure to work,” undermining diplomatic efforts at progress.

Such strong-armed tactics are resonating with the people I know. When I asked my mom why she supported Trump, she responded that “someone has to stand up” to the Iranian regime. And on some level, I understand this response, rooted in a deep desire for change and a belief that a bold approach from someone outside the system could bring this about.

But even though chess was invented in Iran, none of these Iranians are considering the next move. None are asking, “At what cost?”

When, in an email, I asked one of the Iranian Americans what would happen if we went to war in Iran, his response struck me as short-sighted: “Anything is better than this. Why would you be against a war with Iran if it leads to overthrowing the regime?”

I’m all for people-led democratic processes, including revolutions. But if I know my history, I know that a foreign invasion/coup will not bring about sustainable stability. Consider the rippling effects of the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, leading to the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis. And the irony is that these Trump-supporting Iranians know this history better than I do. They also know about the 1949 coup d’état of a democratically elected Syrian leader and the horror of overthrowing Salvador Allende in Chile. I point out the most recent examples of the unintended yet inevitable catastrophic consequence of meddling: the overthrowing of governments in Iraq and Libya. I add that in 2017, more than 12,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Every day, the U.S. loses 20 veterans to suicide. We can and must do better than resorting to war to fix systemic national issues.

But those I spoke to refuse to see it that way.

Trump’s rhetoric on Iran chillingly echoes that of Bush before the invasion of Iraq.

“We’re part of nature and nature needs to renew itself,” one of the Iranian American men I emailed said. “Trump is like a cleansing forest fire. Often there must be death and destruction before the new cycle of growth begins.”

My mother echoes the same sentiment. “Trump is crazy. Perhaps we need a madman to shake things up.”

Through these conversations, it occurred to me that these Iranian Americans are, in their own way, waiting for the mythic messiah. I want to respect my elders, to see the wisdom in their words. But as much as I appreciate the poetic fatalism of this perspective, I can’t help but see this worldview as outdated at best and quite dangerous at worst. There is no messiah, noble or horrifyingly destructive, who can save Iranians.

A similar myth persists on the domestic front, where Americans who want to impeach Trump think that this one move will miraculously save us all. I admire the fervor for change, I do — and I definitely don’t oppose getting rid of Trump.

But what’s the next move? Like the rich mullahs of Iran, Pence has strong ties to the moneyed interests of dangerous forces like the Koch brothers. He has also been on a long crusade against gay rights, and wants to impose Draconian measures against reproductive rights. He has said that he would “rip up” the nuclear deal with Iran, and has even earned the nickname “Ayatollah Pence” by some Iranians and Americans. If you want Trump impeached, you have to be fully comfortable with the idea of President Pence.

I believe that sustainable change, the kind that pushes us in the direction of inclusiveness and peace, doesn’t magically happen through a violent usurping of leadership. It happens through systematic efforts and the fierce organization of virtually all of us.

I trust, in the end, that Iranians will make wise choices to bring about meaningful change without having to rely on external intervention. Young people are educated, motivated, and creative. Women have already defied the oppressive sharia law and have excelled in many areas.

I trust, in the end, that Iranians will make wise choices to bring about meaningful change without having to rely on external intervention.

Since the 2009 uprising, Iranian authorities have cracked down on protests, and citizens lack the right to free speech and assembly — but even so, people have been taking to the street in droves. Social media, too, has proven to be a potent way to organize for progress. And over time, a more moderate leader could emerge to lead the way — like Mikhail Gorbachev did in the USSR, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The U.S., too, has far more options available than blunt force — starting with honoring our diplomatic commitments.

For the record, my mother doesn’t think we will go to war with Iran. She somehow has faith that “this administration is genius at diplomacy and would not bring us to the brink of another war.” Instead, she believes Trump will come up with some incredible, never-before-considered idea that, without resorting to war, leads to long-term change in Iran.

Believing that Trump — who could very well launch nuclear devastation with his careless tweets — will come up with a bold but non-conflictual way to mitigate an immensely complicated foreign-policy crisis seems, at best, misguided. But in this belief, my mother is surely not alone.

For now, all I can do is talk to my mom about these issues, as I’ve been doing regularly when we meet up for tea. I maintain faith that, if I could help a travel ban supporter see from the point of view of refugees, I can help change her mind.

Here’s to hoping.

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