Trump is killing relationships
The other evening, while stuffing delivery sushi into my maw with a close friend, I made a big mistake: mentioning Michael Cohen, the Trump personal lawyer and America’s #1 canary.
My intention was (relatively) innocent. My friend is an old-school, wool-died, mainstream Reagan-Bush Republican. Her brother in law had been a college roommate of Cohen’s who once bragged that Cohen would get him a big job in the Trump administration.
After Cohen squealed on Trump like bacon being made, I quipped, “I guess [family member] isn’t getting that big job, eh?”
My friend hadn’t followed the news that week — neither the Cohen plea nor Paul Manafort convictions. Maybe her news feed curated for her interests downplayed it. But she didn’t know what the big deal was. “Oh, it’s just more political stuff,” she said. “It’ll blow over.”
“It’ll blow over?!” I exclaimed, failing to use my calm, respectful and reasonable inside voice. “What do you mean? How will it blow over? Do you realize we’re looking at potentially criminal behavior by the president? And he might be creating a constitutional crisis that will disrupt our country and our democracy for years to come?”
Suffice I was not my best self.
I might have said swear words such as #@*&! Especially when my friend said that while she didn’t necessarily like Trump’s behavior, she supported what he was doing as president.
At that point, I could barely contain my strained and stressy voice. “What?! What do you like that Trump is doing as president? How is that different from his behavior and how can you possibly accept that?!”
Then she said: “I don’t want to talk about politics anymore. It doesn’t matter. There’s more to life than politics.”
At that point, I got so angry that I nearly peed myself, said something snotty about our different values, and stalked out in righteous indignation. I was also in high dudgeon.
The shame is mine. I accept that. I should have stayed and engaged constructively to understand her views, and sought a reasonable and respectful common ground, or at least cheerful agreement not to disagree.
My terrible reaction made me wonder about my reaction, and who I am as a person. (Hint: Not as amazing as I like to think.)
And yet ….
The discussion/debate about how friends, family and couples deal with Trump began even before his election.
In a way, Trump has done a great thing. He has exposed who we are — as people, and as a people.
Unfortunately, he’s also turned us into bitter rival gangs, the Montagues v. Capulets, Crips v. Bloods, Sharks v. Jets, Cowboys v. Redskins, Red States v. Blue States, Roe v. Wade, people who love cilantro and people who gag and spit it out in disgust. With nobody in between and never the twain shall meet.
The Trump Litmus Test has especially exposed mates who are getting along famously until they differ about Trump.
Some relationship experts, real or pretend, declare that a mate’s support for, or even tacit acceptance of, Trump is a deal-breaker.
Usually the Trump supporter is the guy. If so, he’s an utter, irredeemable, illiberal hateful blockhead manspreading mansplainer #MeToo ignorant perp who’s on dating sites with shirt off holding a big innocent fish or rhino he killed easily. He’s the guy who doesn’t care about—even secretly accepts — racism, misogyny and greed, e.g., he loves tax breaks and a 25,000 Dow more than people.
If the woman loves Trump, well, I would be an utter, irredeemable, illiberal blockhead manspreading mansplainer if I even hinted at what I thought about that.
To other relationship experts (real or pretend), rejecting a mate for his/her Trump support/acceptance is the kind of closed-minded fascist bigotry that liberals supposedly revile yet hypocritically embrace.
In any case, my friend’s feelings about Trump evoked — “triggered” as some say — three of my own as to why I care what people think about Trump:
1. Politics matter to me.
Politics is not just an interest or pastime, like following baseball or any sports, which I do not.
Call me misguided or obsessed, but my career, interests and passions have involved politics and public policy since my post-Navy GI-bill financed college days, when I headed the campus daily newspaper and wrote many ridiculously self-assured political editorials that were hilariously misinformed if not completely stupid.
I went on to cover local, then regional, then national politics and public policy as a journalist, getting my writing eviscerated by great editors. Then I wrote for a government ethics organization (more proverbial butt-kicking), served as a Congressional press staffer (even more coccyx assault), and was a political appointee in the Clinton administration and then communications VP for a major company with political roots. (Beetle Bailey would sue for such #HeToo emotional violence from Sarge.)
From all this, my work and interests have involved public policy and current events, demanding political awareness and involvement.
Plus, I have lived in Washington for 35 years, more than miles away from my native Northwestern Ohio. Like a goldfish in a tank, I’m swimming in the political world. It’s my environment. Also my oxygen. To me, “politics ain’t beanbag,” to quote Mr. Dooley, the Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne in his 1895 newspaper column.
Politics matters to life. Politics is how we get things done in America. Being political is a requirement of American citizenry.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia because he felt an educated and involved citizenry was crucial to the survival of a democratic republic. I believe in Jefferson’s insight and think informing and immersing myself in current events and embracing politics is part of being an American citizen.
And I do not take citizenship for granted, but as a privilege that comes with a duty.
My mother, an immigrant at 12 brought here with her family by Catholic Charities among other innocent folks made homeless by WWII-ravaged Europe, had to study hard to pass the American citizenship test. She finally did later in life. I’m proud of her. The test is not easy, and one many American-born citizens might struggle to pass.
While she seems politically conservative, which I respect, my mother’s experience fuels my passion for politics, which is not about right or left, or current events, but about right and wrong. Demonizing immigrants, then and now, is plain wrong. Embracing them, even if they’re different, is who we are.
Politics is really just about how we care about people.
2. Politics matter now more than ever.
Our democratic institutions are under greater duress than any time in my 60+ years on the planet.
I remember kvetching about Reagan, Bush and Bush. How stupid I was. Trump, we all know, is orders of magnitude fouler than any of his Republican forbears ever could be — for the GOP and most of all, for the nation.
Trump is fueling and harnessing hate, confusion and misunderstanding about our democratic systems and rule of law, and undermining what makes America great to save himself from utter humiliation including perhaps being locked up like he still calls for his defeated political opponent to be. The worst global despots have nothing on Trump, except maybe murder.
As many classic conservatives have said better than I ever could, Trump is destroying the GOP and conservative values. He doesn’t care. Trump has always been about Trump. Narcissists like him are fascinating, so I get that he still has power in popularity, and people believe in him.
But our Constitutional separation of powers, rule of law, due process and fundamental precepts say the president’s people, like Jeff Sessions and the White House counsel, are not beholden to him. They are not required to be loyal to him. They are beholden to the public. That’s how it works in America.
What a hall of mirrors that Democrats who care about our republic are in the position to defend an old-school southerner like Sessions!
Trump is feeding ignorance and suckering believers for his own benefit, at their expense. But his self-service will not end well for the country, no matter what his base believes.
The GOP establishment that’s afraid of Trump’s base, and going along just to get reelected, is twisting and turning over Trump. They celebrate John McCain’s courage to challenge power and party, but cannot explain why they cannot and do not follow his lead.
When the GOP accepts Trump’s squalid, disgusting, shameful, hateful, anti-patriotic and cowardly inability to rise to the occasion, be a gentleman if not an American and a president, to honor McCain and his national service, they reveal that the American colors they claim to stand for do run when an idiot narcissist and his selfish, hateful corner of the country crawl from under their rocks to bleat, sheep-like, the views that Fox and the alt-right media feeds and profits from them.
Trump might be bringing on a Constitutional crisis. I don’t want or look forward to that. But I cannot understand anyone who ignores the possibility, or Trumpism’s assault on our republic.
3. Our political values say who we are
I feel sorry, perhaps a bit of pity, for Trumpsters who follow and parrot Fox and alt-right sites that sucker them for viewers, clicks and ad money. Bless their hearts, as they say in Texas, maybe they don’t know any better. Thoughts and prayers from the heart.
I have less than charitable feelings for those who should know better.
Blithe acceptance of Trump’s squalid political, personal and financial mayhem and mishigas, what we already know, and what we don’t yet, says we don’t really care about holding power, the highest office in our land, accountable.
Trump acceptance says we don’t care anymore if presidents lie, cheat, steal, obstruct justice, or love dividing and insulting people. We don’t care if it hurts the country. We care about ourselves and our opinions, informed or otherwise. Or maybe we can’t connect the dots. Or maybe we don’t care about politics, as long as we’re doing fine.
To me, Trump comes down to our values, and what we value most.
If anyone voted for Trump, or defends Trump in any way, or accepts Trump in any way, then just out of curiosity, I really do want to know why.
But in the end, whatever they say or rationalize or don’t care about, it’s still hard for me to respect.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer