Love & Friendship in the Age of Trump

Well, doesn’t he seem nice?

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Strangely, a number of people think the man who tweeted this does seem nice, even when he’s grabbing women by the pussy or plotting with Vladimir Putin. More than 62 million of them, as a matter of fact. Some are friends. Some are family. What to do?

I once ended a twenty-year friendship with a man who, one day out of the blue, told me he wanted to load Mexican immigrants onto cattle cars and ship them back over the border, topping it off with a rant about putting Obama in prison for falsifying his birth certificate. I never knew he was like that; if I had I wouldn’t have befriended him in the first place.

We all have lines we’re not willing to cross, not for friendship, not for keeping peace within the family. Some of my “whoa!” moments include a guy I thought I knew well nudging me as a twelve-year-old girl walked by, then whispering “I bet she’s tight”; a co-worker casually telling me to “hire some niggers” instead of buying a new lawnmower; a married couple Donna and I both liked turning on us for not being as interested in money as they were; a fairly senior military officer telling me a president he didn’t like would never be his commander-in-chief.

It’s that last one I’m thinking about today, because now I’m the one who can’t and won’t accept a president. In my military career I served under many presidents, some whose political views I opposed, some whom I would not have wanted as friends. They were not evil men, though. None of them displayed the overt racism, willful ignorance, and lack of character Mr. Trump seems so proud of. With Trump it’s not politics, it’s values. It’s good versus evil.

Trump is going to test many friendships. Donna and I are agonizing over our friendship with a woman who, over the past year, has come out as a full-fledged Trump supporter. In her eyes he can do no wrong. We’ve been friends for years, but this is a side of her we didn’t know. And by now it’s not a side, it’s pretty much become the whole her.

Most Trump voters will tell you they reject his negatives (as if racism and fascism can be described as mere “negatives”). I don’t doubt Trump supporters come in various strengths, from those who simply can’t vote Democrat and thus vote Republican, all the way up to people like my former friend, the one who can’t wait for Trump to declare open season on Mexicans.

Like attracts like: we seek out people who share our values as friends. There may be one or two friends in my circle who secretly admire Mr. Trump’s lack of character, but if they do they hide it well; apart from our woman friend I’m blissfully ignorant of their proclivities. Ditto relatives who beat their wives or wear white robes: if I have any, I don’t know about them.

Most Trump voters I know think he’ll behave better in office than he behaves now. I won’t turn my back to them, now or after their inevitable disappointment. Still, even the most tepid Trump voters saw the man’s true character emerge over the course of the campaign. They knew what they were voting for, and whether they like it or not they’ll always have the stink of that vote on them, just as Germans of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation have the stink of Hitler and the Nazi Party on them.*

Oh, we’ll manage to get along. We’ll nod politely when spoken to. We’ll continue to do business with, and work with, those on the other side of the line. There are too many of them to ignore. But we will never forget where our personal moral lines are drawn and we won’t cross them, even for friends and family.

So to true friends and family, to those I love, to those who strive to live up to the moral values we were raised with and want to make this a better world for everyone, Happy New Year!

*Yes, I am familiar with Godwin’s Law, that bit of internet wisdom from the early days of Usenet, which goes like this: “If you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” With Donald Trump and the “alt-right,” however, we’ve come to a time when such comparisons are not only inevitable but apt.

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