My relationship with my sister, my only sibling, may have ended as a result of the Trump presidency. She was always a little strange. My parents thought it was due to her epilepsy. I learned how to help her avoid injury during seizures and assured gawking adults she wouldn’t “swallow her tongue.”
I was always protecting her. She attended school when she felt like it. She had a cadre of girlfriends who led her to class, hoping to get her there on time. She was never hostile but simply lacked interest in following rules. Once, in a blind rage, I burst into the principal’s office and threatened to kill him for expelling her.
After she was permanently expelled from high school, my father, the school superintendent, found a “free school” in Maine that would take her. Maine was as far away from Michigan and her much older boyfriend as he could imagine. I hitchhiked there once to visit. It seemed the curriculum consisted mainly of getting high and listening to Neil Young records.
At some point, the much older boyfriend retrieved her and she simultaneously became a wife and mother. We remained close, in spite of having little in common besides our family ties. Since she always voted for Republicans, and I for Democrats, we in effect canceled each other’s vote. We used to laugh at that.
I came to suspect she had voted for Trump, not once but twice. I had texted her about my alarm and despair, assuming that, even if she was a Trump supporter, she’d be as disturbed by his actions and those of his followers as I was. Attached to the text was my Jan. 27 essay in the Independent about the Black Lives Matter movement. She texted back and asked that I stop sharing my political opinions with her. I haven’t communicated with her since. I think everything’s political.
Millions of Americans were enthralled by Trump and listened to him repeat lies over and over while separating children from refugee parents in a cynical effort to discourage immigration. He was responsible for decimating environmental regulations while encouraging Nazis and white supremacists to attack Congress.
Tens of millions of Americans believe that the presidential election was fraudulent and will never be convinced that it was fair. Facts will not change their minds, living as we do with the unprecedented distribution of disinformation and lies.
While we will never resolve our differences of opinion regarding race, gender, identity, and politics, it somehow seems important to try and understand the feelings involved. Rage about persistent racism. Fear of losing work and home. Feelings of loss and sorrow as the fabric of our community is rent, and of alienation when you think no one cares.
Unbelievably, Republicans in six states are attempting to legislate immunity for drivers who “inadvertently” run over protesters. In Idaho, they voted to exterminate over one thousand wolves. There are literately hundreds of proposed bills to make voting more difficult, particularly in urban areas where Democrats and voters of color are more likely to live.
The estrangement between my sister and me mirrors the larger divides that have been exacerbated in the Trump era. His supporters struggle to defend what they perceive as the heart and soul of the country through the prism of fear, hostility, and prejudice. There’s no easy way to restore civility when half the country holds the other half in contempt. I’m certainly guilty of thinking my sister and those who share her beliefs are dangerous idiots. I’m no more willing to accept her beliefs then she is willing to accept mine. We are both wrong and right. We’re right to hold strongly held beliefs but wrong to demonize each other for them.
I’d like to believe that fundamental decency will ultimately prevail, although the last four years have tested that belief. It’s frightening to watch the promotion of bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, and ignorance unravel the ties that bind family and community. I fear the unraveling will be as difficult to mend as the relationship with my sister. Probably we will occasionally text or call on holidays or birthdays, wishing each other well. Our differences will remain unspoken.