For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by ethics, and their implementation. Perhaps as a result of that, when I was a kid, I was really interested in voting. My parents, having grown up in the Jim Crow South, even as whites, are very aware of voting as a right for which people have fought, and they take it very seriously. When I was old enough to understand presidential elections, I started asking my dad whom he supported for president. That always pissed him off. He’d snap that voting is private.
He’s chilled out about that, and so I now know that he voted Republican through 1998. It’s not coincidental that he got on with Boeing between the first and second George W. Bush administration. By 2002 he felt that the Republicans were fucking the working class. I often say that Boeing saved my family, and financially, it very clearly did. But it also taught my dad class politics, and forced him to work with people from all over the world, whom he learned to admire. I don’t think he knows how much it changed him. But I know, and it’s made him a better man.
This year, I’ve been watching the presidential debates with my parents. In some families, that might be unremarkable. But my parents are both registered Republicans. My mother is a moderate Catholic, and my father is a libertarian. Over the years, their politics have been somewhat unpredictable, but conservative leaning.
My family is also extremely conflict avoidant. Obviously, I’m not. I’m the “difficult” one. But the rest of them will do almost anything to avoid direct conflict. For my mother, that has always included never talking about politics.
But this year is different. For the first time in my life, my mother not only cares about politics, she’s talking about politics. She’s not only talking to us; she’s talking to her brother, in the Northern Florida backwoods, trying to make him see her point of view; she’s trying to make him see that the Medicaid that he and his wife have depended on for the past 20 years, is a social welfare program that’s dependent on taxes. He doesn’t hear it. But I’ve never before seen her advocate in this way.
My father has always talked about politics. But this year, he’s not saying things that make me want to punch him in the face. It feels very strange to think about my father’s politics as progressive, because I know a lot of progressive men, and not only are they not like my dad, they’d hate him. He has a pile of guns and a desire to build a compound. But this year, he keeps saying things that sound pretty damned progressive.
I’m glad that my family is talking about politics. I believe that’s an important part of democracy, and I have always believed that, even when we’ve strongly disagreed. But this year, something has shifted. They’re saying things, during these debates, that are contrary to many of the things that have infuriated me in the past. They’re saying things that make me proud.
During the vice-presidential debates, when Pence was erroneously confusing racism with prejudice, my dad snapped “It’s institutional bias, not individual!” I have never before heard him indicate that he differentiates between the two. During a presidential debate, when Trump was talking about Muslims not reporting terrorists, my mother burst out that “all the Muslims I’ve known really care about stopping terrorism!”
We don’t watch sports in my family. Aside from my mother, we don’t like groups, and we violently resent authority. On the rare occasion that we watch the Super Bowl, when everyone else is excited about this or that play, we get incensed about how the coaches talk to the players. Perhaps because we don’t watch sports, we don’t yell at the television. Well, not until now. This year, during these debates, for the first time, my family is speaking out, away from the ballot box.
My mom is standing up for Muslims. My dad is recognizing the institutional nature of racism. If you had asked me 20, 10, or even 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that either of them would ever do that. I wouldn’t have thought that they could do that.
This election makes me more cynical than ever. It makes me more critical than ever of my fellow Americans. But it’s also made me really fucking proud of my parents. And I know that there are more like them. I know you’re out there. Rightly, at the moment, we’re the laughing stock of the world. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll show the world that, even if only by a tiny majority, we’re not quite that stupid, nor quite that cruel.