When Your In-Laws Vote for Trump

Michael Sasso

A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend of four months told me that her parents were ardent supporters of Donald Trump.  The news had greater effect on me than I would have thought.  It gave me pause.  It made me feel queasy.  It made me want to cry.

Sure, Kristin, my girlfriend, is not a supporter herself—nay, she voted for Bernie Sanders—but in my eyes, it cast a strange light on her, and I was ashamed to see that light.  To judge her for who her parents are would be wrong, and I knew that.  But viscerally I was unsettled, and I could not figure out why.

For to support Trump isn’t to have a particular, subjective set of political views. It is to have an ethical barometer outrageously out of tune and/or an intellectual capacity unacceptably low for participation in modern human society.

My emotional upset was renewed shortly thereafter when, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw a pro-Trump article posted by a guy to whom I’m distantly related.  (Let’s call him Earl.)  Further skimming of Earl’s Facebook profile revealed that he is a vocal Trump supporter.  Post after post of Trump propaganda short-circuited the logic-processing areas of my brain.

The unsettled feeling in me grew, and I started to realize why.  Trump supporters are not a distant, stupid enemy.  Oh no, they are all around us.  They are people capable of kindness and love; they are our families, parents and friends. This acknowledgement, simple as it might be, was horrifying, and it’s not an exaggeration to say it began in me an existential crisis.  For to support Trump isn’t to have a particular, subjective set of political views.  It is to have an ethical barometer outrageously out of tune and/or an intellectual capacity unacceptably low for participation in modern human society.  So if these people are our loved ones, how are we to treat them?  How should one treat a Trump supporter?

Before these events, I saw now, I had demonized Trump supporters unitarily.  I ostracized them from the world that sees Trump as the danger he is.  I pictured them as uneducated rednecks or grotesquely wealthy business people. I had stripped them of their humanity and complexity, reducing them to villainous bad-guys as singularly dimensional as the antagonists in Disney movies.  They were virtueless wastes of human life.  I had made them an unholy “Other” to be vanquished.

I had stumbled upon the root of hate.  Europe and America made Africans the Other when they enslaved them Nazi Germany made Jews the Other when they exterminated them  Indias upper-classes regard the lesser castes as Others.  And when Trump suggests banning 1.6 billion Muslims from the United States in an effort to keep out the approximate 100,000 ISIS fighters, he is not using sound reasoning to keep the country safe: he is reducing Muslims to an Other to be feared and hated.

From this my inner turmoil stems.  The dangers of seeing someone as different and inferior are obvious, but I also truly believe Trump supporters have no place in participating in modern society!

A detour from the difficult question How to treat a Trump supporter?, my brain asked of itself, How can I be so sure that I am right in my disparaging of Trump?  That is, how am I to know that I am so blatantly more correct in my views?  We all know that no one thinks they are in the wrong, even when they are.  Even the suicide bomber is certain his acts are virtuous and right.  It is more than likely that somewhere there are people who have disregarded me as a worthless hunk of flesh for having supported Bernie Sanders.  These downward spiraling thoughts really do get you thinking that peace can never be achieved, and that perhaps these American political oppositions are no less silly than the rivalry between Capulets and Montagues.  It also worries me that peace may be an impossible goal, and it makes me want to share this poignant clip from The Kingdom.

But after some deep self-reflection on this, I do feel comfortable asserting that I am on the “right” side of this argument, because my strong anti-Trump stance is based not on emotion but on logic.  All signs of reason point away from Trump, and when spirituality, faith, and pathos are gone, I rely on reason and demand the rest of humanity do the same.  (It’s asking a lot, I know.)

Also, let me remind myself and the reader, I am not so foolhardy as to think I know what the ultimate “light” of American politics is.  No, I’m just resolute in judging that Trump is an ultimate, inexcusable “darkness.”

With that important detour completed, we can be sure again that Trump is about as good for the country as a line of cocaine is for the body. 

Let’s get back to the road towards figuring out how we should treat Trump supporters!  Even asking the question makes me feel queasy.  It reminds me of an Evangelical preacher asking, “What are we to do with non-believers?” It’s patronizing and dismal, but from this proud throne of righteousness, it feels about right to me.

Feeling like an Evangelist (or a Mormon on a bike, or a vegan with an organic recipe to share), I decided to try to share the “light” with my distant relative Earl.  Against my better judgement, I sent Earl a short message asking him to read an opinion piece written by Richard Hanna.  In it, the Republican representative explains why he will vote for Hillary Clinton this fall.  Thoughtfully and thoroughly, Hanna explains why he cannot endorse Trump.

A few hours later, Earl wrote back: he politely thanked me for the message, but he told me he would not be swayed.  And it was clear he would not, considering he told me he finds Trump more favorable than Clinton, in part, because he does not try to hide his weaknesses, that one can see Trump’s weaknesses “right in front of you.”

Spreading the “light,” it seems, is near impossible.  I can only imagine how much energy Kristin would have to spend trying to change her parentsminds.  No one wants to be swayed.  In the case of Trump supporters, you could argue that the depth of ignorance and conditioned misinformation is so deep, the task is nearly impossible.  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” as Frederick Douglass once wrote.

But if we are not to change their minds, and we are not to treat them like lepers, then how are we to treat them?

I voiced this all to Kristin, and she echoed Jesuswords: hate the sin, not the sinner.  But this only opens up more questions and more philosophical channels of thought—for to hate the sin (supporting Trump), but not the sinner (the Trump supporter), it reminds me of those parents who do not respect their childs homosexuality.  They say they love their kid for who she is, and yet they disapprove of her sexual orientation.  To the childs ears, they are false words of love. How can one love the child, if they cannot accept that crucial aspect of their person?  Can one accept a person and not the significant parts that make them who they are? 

And does it really matter either way, when considering how to treat such a person?  Whether or not we hate Trump supporters does not change the danger they, their support, and their votes hold.  It does not change how we should or should not treat them.

Perhaps the best way to regard a Trump supporter is the way one would regard a proud white supremacist, or how Germans of the 1930s should have regarded supporters of Extreme Nationalism.  Theirs are not trifle opinions to be ignored!  To smile and nod at learning that someone close to you is a Trump supporter is to give their heavy political stance triviality.  It is to look the potential victims of a Trump presidency in the eye and tell them “There was nothing I could have done.”  Perhaps that sounds dramatic and hyperbolic, but to me it does not.  I am reminded of Niemöller’s famous words.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Niemöller

There are obvious extreme options in the matter.  One can shun Trump supporters—distancing himself from them, providing a show of his disapproval and hoping to eradicate their poor judgement from his circle of reason—but what good does this do for anyone?  Does this change anyone’s mind? 

Or one can treat a Trump supporter with respect and dignity, while ignoring his heinous choice.  But this gives him implicit permission to vote for Trump. 

Or one can fight the Sisyphean fight and try to bring Reason to those who once had only Fox News;  One can try to persuade our mothers and uncles and friends to abandon Trump.

None of these options seem healthy or effective in the grand scheme of things.  I offer no satisfactory resolution, and I am no less unsettled than when I found Kristin’s parents are Trump supporters.  It feels, now, like I have done a careful biopsy of a sick animal, painstakingly dissecting and separating healthy and diseased tissue.  I look down at the good and bad spread out before me, and from this vantage point the cause and nature of the disease is apparent.  But I’m far from a prognosis, and I’m further from any plan to heal.  I know not how to save this sickly creature.

At the bottom of his Facebook message, my relative Earl told me that political debate is healthy, but that he didn’t want disagreements between us to cause bad feelings.  He finished by writing, “I hope we’re okay.”  In colloquial terms, he was asking if he and I were “cool.”

Perhaps Earl’s plea for peace and mutual respect has been eating at me too.  Trump supporters are not the monstrous “Others” that I once labeled them all; the majority of them are like Earl, loving parents and spouses.  And I believe Earl when he tells me that he does not have ill-feelings towards me.  But no matter how I look at the situation, I cannot bring myself to truthfully tell him we’re okay.  Because we are not okay.


 

[1] Settle down, no one is saying Clinton is “the way.”  Good lord, we know she’s not. #AnyoneButTrump

[2] To be clear, this piece is not meant to convince that Trump represents sexism, xenophobia, fear-mongering, scapegoating, elements of fascism, and that he would pose an international threat if elected.  It assumes that the reader already acknowledges that and the fact that supporting Trump is anything but a benign political alignment. 

[3] I’m biting my tongue.  I’M BITING MY TONGUE!

[4] I rather dislike assigning a religious label to supporting Trump, but I must for sake of this argument.

 


Michael Sasso is a writer, actor, and award-winning filmmaker living in Los Angeles.  He is a co-creator of the acclaimed series Swipe Click Bangand he likes to make stuff that subjugates the romantic and romanticizes the absurd.  Sasso is also a published author of erotic fiction, under a pseudonym that he shall not share, because then what would be the point of having a pseudonym?