Orphanaged by Politics: The Unspoken Impact of Trump’s Administration

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Author: Erin Louis

At 5 years old, I sat cross-legged on pea-green shag carpet in the den of my southern California home. In the late afternoon sunlight, I looked up to our colour TV to see President Ronald Reagan giving a speech.  I had very little, if any grasp on the actual content of his speech, but I understood very well that this man represented America. At that moment, I felt very proud of the country I was born in. He spoke in a calm and well-articulated manner that instilled not only pride in my 5-year-old self, but also the feeling that everything would be ok.  The policies and politics of 1983 had no bearing on my life which mostly consisted of barbies, Saturday morning cartoons, and trips to the beach with my older brothers and sisters. I simply knew that this man, our president, was watching out for all the people of America, and I trusted him. Our president Ronald Reagan was someone to look up to, a role model.  The epitome of the way an American should behave.

My parents were divorced by then and most of my time was spent with my siblings.  I am the youngest of six kids, with my closest brother almost 10 years older than me and the eldest 14 years older.  My mother worked 40 hours a week, and my father was building a very successful business in northern California. I was taught to be honest, kind, and that hard work was the way to be successful in the world.  Morals and ethics were a high priority in my upbringing.

A pivotal character building moment happened for me at 6 years old. One of my brothers had come across a friend and I gorging on candy bars and had asked where we had gotten them from.  After a brief and half-hearted denial, I admitted that I had stolen it from our local drug store. In a flash, I was walked teary-eyed back to the store and made to apologize to the manager, while my brother paid for the stolen candy.  In an effort to justify my behaviour, I said to my brother “Why is stealing a little candy so bad? The store is huge and makes lots of money, can’t they afford a little candy?” I was firmly corrected with the statement “It doesn’t matter how much money they make.  Good people don’t steal, we are good people.” That settled it. We were good people, and good people don’t steal. They also don’t cheat or lie. Knowing that we were a Republican family, I learned to associate these principals with the Republican party.

When I reached voting age, I started to consider politics and how they might affect my life.  I didn’t put much thought into it, but I thought it important to vote. Although my family was still predominately Republican, I found that their policies didn’t always reflect my personal beliefs, especially regarding social issues. However, I still had faith in the system.  I thought it was a good thing that there were differing opinions and views and felt like it helped make sure that everyone had their voices heard.

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“My dad would be ‘appalled’ by Trump presidency”, Patty Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter. Source: NY Post

Bill Clinton was president when I was able to vote for the first time. While I mostly supported his policies, I felt like his behaviour was bad for the country.  Clinton’s infidelity, and his lying about it, soured me on his presidency. I also found the way in which his wife handled the situation dubious at best. I felt like she stood behind someone who was dishonest to her and then she seemed to demonize the women involved.  It was simply incongruent with the way a president, the person charged with representing our country, should behave according to our values. I was disappointed, but in my 19-year-old naivete, felt like America would learn from it and do a better job of electing a president in the future who would reflect our country’s values. Although I found his behaviour unbecoming, I never doubted that when it came to actual policies, Clinton ultimately did not act with malice or ill intent toward the America I knew.  

Then comes George W. Bush with whom I vehemently disagreed with his policies and actions. George W spoke inarticulately at times, but still managed to maintain a level of conduct that upheld the honor of the office.  Even while opposing his agenda, I still felt like he had America’s best interests at heart, however misguided I thought him to be. As I watched with horror, along with the rest of the country, the events of 9/11, I felt solidarity with our president.  Despite my opposition to his agenda, I felt the sense of unity with the rest of America that he was advocating for. At that point more than any other, I felt like our president represented all Americans. Hindsight of course, sheds light on some of the poor decisions that were made during that time, but in that moment, he was able to bring us together when we needed it the most.

I was so proud of our country when our first black president was elected.  I felt like our country was finally moving toward progress and letting go of some of the ugliest elements of our culture. Obama, however, would bring a subtle but noticeable change in the atmosphere of our family get-togethers.  I started to hear a strange snarky tone when discussing the new president that became even more pronounced after his second term. Politics now brought an uneasiness to family political discussions. I understood the disappointment and frustration that my conservative family felt toward Obama’s policies.  I felt the same way towards Bush’s. What was markedly different was the content of the conversation of dissent. Specific policies and legislation and their impact weren’t put down. Instead, there were discussions of birth certificates and scandals that consisted of whether or not the president was sneaking a smoke at the White House.  

I knew things were radically different when I heard the word “gorilla” used in a description of the first lady. Attacks on everything from tan suits to healthy eating and exercise being forced on our children. I then found myself actively avoiding any type of political discussions with my family. I told my self that the progressive policies were at the heart of the opposition.  I held on to my conviction that my Republican family who had taught me ethics and principals still believed in those principals themselves.

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“Obama would bring a subtle but noticeable change in the atmosphere of our family get-togethers.  I started to hear a strange snarky tone when discussing the new president that became even more pronounced after his second term. Source: The Independent

Usually, when approaching a disagreement, especially with a loved one, I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.  I try to view the subject from the other perspective. If the other person does the same, there is usually a common ground to be found.  I have changed my opinions and in some cases the way I vote. Viewing the issue from a point of compassion and empathy for the other person’s point of view or situation at a the very least ends the conversation civilly, even if the disagreement wasn’t resolved. This argument strategy has contributed to the overall health of my 17-year marriage as well as other close relationships.  I learned this way of resolving issues from my siblings which is why I find the recent political discussions with them so confusing. While I struggle to understand their positions, the lack of logic, empathy, and reason on their part is unnerving. The tendency to devolve into personal attacks feels deliberately hurtful. There seems to be an underlying hostility that I have so far failed to understand.

As the lone liberal in the family, politics had never before been a contentious issue between us. In fact, I felt like although there were disagreements, arguments were weighed with respect and consideration. I never once doubted my republican siblings’ dedication to the idea of America and its values or the way they felt about me. My siblings taught me that behaviour mattered, how we treat others mattered. As adults with our own family units, our sibling gatherings were treasured events, where we could come together and remember our roots.

On Thanksgiving 2016 I was faced with the true reality of the situation. My elderly father walked in the room wearing a MAGA hat, giddy with excitement.  My brothers shared the jubilation. Inexplicably, or maybe just obliviously, they had invited our lesbian cousin to dinner along with her wife. This would be the most awkward and tense family gathering I would remember.  Talk of all those low life blacks and Mexicans that would now be forced off of welfare and food stamps. Talk of making America great again. When I mentioned that despite its issues, America had always been great, I was told that the last 8 years had decimated American culture. I was nothing short of alarmed.  

Amid all the scandal and chaos of the current administration, the thing I find most disturbing is the complete and total abandonment of ethics, values, and sense of common decency of the Republican party. Where is my Reagan of 1983?  Stepping back from looking at the forest to ponder the trees, I utterly fail to understand the mental, moral, and ethical gymnastics required to justify such a destructive force in the White House by my family. The same people who taught me to work hard and save my money, are now ok with a soaring national debt? The same people who taught me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are perfectly fine with the person representing them resorting to grade school name calling?

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“Family gatherings now have an ominous tone that I loathe and dread.  Not only do I feel uncomfortable around my family, but I feel like the very foundations I have built my life around were false.” Source: TGYN

My personal role models are now ok with these non-stop petty infantile attacks and poorly written tweets. They seem to have no objection whatsoever to unqualified loyalists and family members being installed in highly important roles. My family now supports a man who is very obviously profiting from the highest office in the land.  It’s like I woke up in the middle of an episode of the twilight zone. It almost feels like they have taken into a cult. It’s as if they have found the Messiah and have suspended critical thinking in favour of life in their own information bubble. They refuse to acknowledge objective truths and facts that don’t fit the narrative they’ve chosen to follow. 

What could possibly offset the damage being done not only to the Republican party, but to our country as a whole? Do tax cuts that only minimally benefit them, justify the behaviour of this reality TV clown?  My brother brags about his one-time $1000 bonus, ignoring the fact that his company will benefit billions for years after that bonus is spent. Asking these questions and presenting these points now makes me a hysterical libtard? No longer the baby sister, I am now the enemy.  The time for thoughtful and considerate discussion and discourse is gone. What happened to the values I was taught? How is it possible that the Republican party has drifted so far away from its own ideals and then led my own family in the same direction?

I didn’t choose my family, and I will always love them, but the division that now exists feels too big to ignore. The damage done to my family by the current occupant of the White House will linger long after he is gone.  

Family gatherings now have an ominous tone that I loathe and dread.  Not only do I feel uncomfortable around my family, but I feel like the very foundations I have built my life around were false. While the current administration uncovered a hidden ugliness in America that must have been lurking for some time, I was utterly blindsided by the fact that some of that ugliness existed in my own family. That they were not, in fact, the good people they taught me to be. Their capacity to justify such glaring incompetence, blatant disrespect and misunderstanding of our branches of government is surreal. The lack of respect for our laws and institutions is the antithesis of what I thought good people stood for. It’s hard for me reconcile that these are the same people who raised me.

I have been asked why I am so worried about this president when he doesn’t really affect my daily life, and I have struggled to answer that question.  As a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman, he really shouldn’t have any bearing on my life. I was hurt financially in the recession of 2008, but my husband and I have recovered and are in a better position to weather another one.  I have had as many kids as I want and have consistent, albeit expensive health insurance, so family planning is not an issue. No one will ever question my citizenship or right to vote. Still, this man does affect my life. My family is broken, something I didn’t think anyone had the power to do.  Somehow, this small, petulant, farce of a human being, succeeded in breaking apart a solid bond held by siblings. This con man, who spent his entire life and career building a fragile façade to hide his own shortcomings has succeeded in conning my family into believing that I am the deluded one. He has affected my life, he has for all intents and purposes, made me an orphan.

I didn’t choose my family, and I will always love them, but the division that now exists feels too big to ignore. The damage done to my family by the current occupant of the White House will linger long after he is gone.  

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