I Miss Those Old-Fashioned Family Arguments

My family and I have disagreed on politics for a long time. I turned left even before going to college, rejecting the conservatism I was raised in.

Their conservative beliefs — shared by most people where I grew up, in West Texas — seemed hollow and hypocritical to me. They talked a big game about freedom, but sent me to the principal’s office for daring to wear a hat to school (only girls were allowed to wear hats in those hallowed halls, I was told). They talked up their faith, and turning the other cheek, but it was me that was supposed to turn that cheek, not them, as they let their sons bully me between classes. And they wrapped themselves in patriotism, but only for “real Americans,” like them, not liberals or Californians or anyone living back East…or me.

There was no place for me, in their America. Except at the bottom of the ladder, to be kicked and laughed at. Open season on nerds.

So I left Texas, and I left their beliefs behind. I didn’t give up on my family, though. I argued with them, often and vigorously. They were amused at my liberalism, I’m sure — there’s a smirk a right-wing person gets when they feel a leftie is talking out of their ass — but I was sincere.

And they argued back! We had good discussions, for many years. They pushed me to refine my thinking, and I used to think I was helping them, too, to see the other side of the argument. We didn’t have much in common, anymore, but we had good, old-fashioned, no-holds-barred, debates. All in good faith, and with love.

But we don’t — we can’t — argue like that anymore.

Things started changing during Obama’s presidency. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back a pivotal moment was when my older sister, in all seriousness, sat down across from me after dinner one night for a chat.

“I need to ask you about something,” she said. “You’re pretty up on things, you know what’s going on.”

I shrugged. “Sure, what’s up?”

“I know the IRS is building camps out here, in the desert, to round up people with guns, and you know, conservatives. So what I do, when they come for me?”

…and I was speechless.

I mean, I said all the things I thought were right: The camps weren’t real, no one was coming for her or her guns (which she doesn’t own) or conservatives in general. That President Obama had no such plans, and would never do such a thing.

She listened, and she nodded. And I thought she believed me, and felt better.

But now…Now I’m not so sure. When my family’s constantly posting things about how the election was stolen and the Democrats are all Muslims that want to put Oklahoma under Shari’a Law and Black Lives Matter protestors burned down the entire city of Portland in a single day. I feel like that conversation was my first glimpse that something was wrong, that my family was slipping from conservative to right-wing, and losing their grip on reality.

Could I have done something, said something, back then, to keep that from happening? Could I have reached out more, found conservative but reality-based news sources to help them feel comfortable staying with us in the real world?

Because I can’t have arguments with them anymore. I have to spend all my time trying to convince them that these things they fear are simply not true.

And I can’t get through to them. No matter how many news articles I link. They’re “fake news” from the “mainstream media,” and so can’t be trusted.

Not only can’t be trusted, but challenging their reality this way is taken as a personal attack. They’re not “lies” they’re “conservative facts.” I can’t…I don’t know how to respond to that.

And all the time I spend fact-checking, they’re continuing to like and re-post articles spreading hate and fear about liberals, about BLM, about…well, about me. Not directly, but people like me. My friends. My neighbors. Our fellow citizens.

I’m…angry, sure, but also sad. Because I’ve lost something that was very important to me. I’ve lost my debate partners. But more, I’ve lost my family.

And I don’t know how to get them back.

Don’t Fall For Republican Nostalgia

Paul Ryan’s only just announced his retirement from Congress, and already people in the media are writing hagiographies to how “different” his brand of Republicanism was from Trump’s.

Don’t fall for it.

These same people wrote the same hagiographies about Bush when Trump won the election. They wrote the same lies about Reagan when Bush was in office. I’m certain they’ve got similar paeons to Nixon, they just can’t get them published.

Let me be clear: the Republican Party has been a party of right-wing nationalists and bullies my entire life.

Reagan’s rise was a dramatic split with the centrist GOP of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His faction dropped support for the Equal Rights Amendment from the national party’s platform, and embraced the pro-corporate economics (deregulation, tax cuts) that until then sat on the fringes of the party. Once in office, Reagan caused a massive recession, presided over the biggest bank scandal in our history (until W outdid him), and repeatedly lied to Congress about our military engagements. Not to mention his neglect of anything resembling the public health, like the AIDS epidemic, inner city blight, or the rise of crack cocaine. All the while, he bragged about family values and restoring our nation’s confidence.

Sound familiar?

When Bush II was elected, he followed a similar pattern: tax cuts leading to massive deficits and recession, along with misbegotten foreign wars built on lies and sustained via misinformation. And to rally the troops at home? Talk of an “axis of evil”, of the perils of Muslims, and of a restoration of morality to the White House. But nothing about the soaring cost of home ownership, or the stagnant wages of the American worker, or the struggle for single working mothers to find affordable child care.

Trump is just more of the same, but this time with the mask ripped off. Instead of talking of a clash of civilizations, he talks about “shithole countries.” Instead of dancing around a woman’s right to equal pay and equal dignity with talk of “traditional family values,” he brags about the sexual assaults he’s gotten away with. And going beyond talk of tax cuts helping the economy, he flat-out tells us that tax-dodging is “smart.”

So don’t fall for anyone who tries to contrast Trump with some golden era of Republican civility. For the last forty years, that party has been a coalition of radicals hell-bent to undo the progress made during the New Deal. Their policies have bankrupted our government and crippled our ability to respond to the domestic and foreign challenges we face today.

They are not conservatives. They’re radicals. And they’ve been that way for a long time.