“With Hillary, I know exactly what would happen,” you said. “With Trump, I have no idea what would happen… it might be good or it might be bad.”
Well, Dad, you were half-right? (The latter half.) You didn’t want a Father’s Day gift this year, because you’re trying to get rid of the stuff you already have. But I want to give you something anyway: forgiveness for your Donald Trump vote.
In any normal post-election year, that’d sound absurd. Your votes for John McCain and Mitt Romney didn’t bother me at all; the former is a heroic, lifelong public servant and the latter is a world-class manager with amazing hair. I didn’t like their policies, but they were both capable leaders. In a healthy democracy, family members should be able to disagree and move on.
But we’re not a healthy democracy, and your vote for Donald Trump was different. It wasn’t an inconsequential choice between Pepsi and Coke, The Tonight Show or The Late Show. You live in a swing state and voted for a tyrannical madman; you voted the same way as every Nazi and Klansman in America. I’ve spent the last seven months feeling more resentful than I ever did in high school when you’d get on my case for playing my CDs too loud or staying out too late.
It’s not logical to feel as if your ballot were the single deciding factor — Trump won your state by more than a million votes, and even if he’d lost it, he still would’ve been elected — but not much about the past year has been logical. “Get over it,” you said back in November.
As our country spirals out of control, that hasn’t been possible.
When Trump attempted to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s guaranteed preexisting condition coverage, a decision that would cost your daughter-in-law and me thousands of dollars per month if we were to lose our jobs, I blamed you. When Trump took the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, further dooming the planet that my generation will inherit from yours, I blamed you. With every headline I read, I think about your vote.
And I’m not alone. Many of my friends abhor their parents’ votes. The 2016 election can be viewed through many different lenses, most often race and gender, but it was also a generational war. Fewer than a third of U.S. millennials approve of Trump while 53 percent of your generation voted for him. That’s not us being young and naive while baby boomers have the wisdom of age; it feels like us wanting a future and baby boomers robbing us of it in exchange for a more luxurious retirement.
I don’t know whether it’s ethical to bring life into this world anymore; I don’t know whether you’ll ever have grandchildren who celebrate Father’s Day for me.
“I wouldn’t ever speak to my dad again after that,” said one of my friends when I revealed how you voted.
I’m ashamed to admit, the thought had crossed my mind back in November: to just never pick up the phone again when you called, to punish you with silence for as long as we both live. And that’s sick. We’re living in sick times, in a sick country, but we don’t have to become sick people.
When I ask Mom how you’re feeling about Trump’s job performance, all she’ll say is, “He isn’t happy,” even though it’s difficult to admit that you made a mistake. When Trump attempted to slash funding to the National Institutes of Health — which recently treated you in an experimental study — you met with your congressman to speak out against the cuts. Due to public pressure like yours, Trump backed off.
You weren’t a red hat-wearing Trump fanatic. You knew he was a bully; you held your nose when you voted for him, just as I held my nose when I voted for Clinton due to her support for the Iraq war and some other well-covered baggage. The 2016 election gave us two flawed candidates, and maybe that’s why so many people are suddenly demanding purity from politics, from companies, from TV and movies, from musicians, from artists, and from one another.
Strangers no longer debate in good faith; there’s no benefit of the doubt, no seeing the good in others along with the bad. We refuse to see shades of gray, only good and evil. In the same week that Donald Trump, Jr., said Democrats are “not even people,” a former Bernie Sanders volunteer allegedly shot at Republican congressmen in Alexandria, Virginia.
We’re becoming coarser, crueler, calcified. It’s now a source of pride to delete friends and family on Facebook over ideological differences — just one more empty action to brag about, one more point to score in a game of outrage that nobody wins. We’re attempting to purify our own realities, but our reality becomes very small if we shrink it only to people without any flaws.
I won’t be a part of this new Inquisition. I hate your vote, Dad, but I love you. So I’m going to stop thinking about your vote that didn’t actually flip the election. Instead, I’m going to think about the good you’ve done and the good you taught me as a kid.
- Like the time a movie theater cashier accidentally gave me twenty dollars extra back in change; you explained that I had to return the money or else the cashier would be held accountable. You taught me honesty.
- Like the time at a fair when I tried to dunk a clown in water by hitting a target with beanbags; I missed, so I ran up and pressed it by hand. Everybody laughed. A minute later I repeated the stunt but nobody laughed. You explained that a joke is only funny once. You taught me humor.
- Like the time we went fishing and the river’s current knocked me over. With a look of terror in your eyes that I’d never seen, you rushed through the water to pick me back up. You taught me that you care, which not every son is lucky enough to say about his father.
I fell short of your expectations many times while growing up, Dad, and on November 8, 2016, you fell short of mine. But there’s more to you — more to all of us — than whatever happened on that single day.
With blaming you forever, I know exactly what would happen. With forgiving you, I have no idea what’s going to happen… it might be good.