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Politics and families

November 5, 2018

Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies that intentionally separated children from their parents, is from a family of Jews who fled Russia and the anti-Semitism practiced there. His maternal uncle and his childhood rabbi have publicly excoriated his turn toward fascist politics.

Laura Ingraham’s brother opposes her racist views, and provides some insight into how deep-seated they are. That must make for some chilly pauses between Thanksgiving dinner and evening wine.

Politics sometimes creates tensions within families. There is a difference now. It’s easy to imagine family members having friendly disagreements over tax policy or military spending or healthcare, even though one supported Mitt Romney for president and the other Barack Obama. Trump defeated his conservative opponents in the primary by turning to more extreme rhetoric: damning immigrants, spouting conspiracy theories, cheering torture, treating women like dirt, encouraging violence, painting existential threat, and promising his followers that only he could defeat all those enemies. That style of politics goes much more to personal values than do policy differences.

There is related element. Trump’s firehose of lies and other strongman tactics have many seeing this as a struggle for the very nature of our democracy. When George Conway tweets about Trump’s lies, he tacitly is accusing his wife Kellyanne of being a charlatan who daily helps corrupt our government. Lies are corrosive to relationships, even when their purpose and subject are tangential to it. George Conway knows that his wife’s job is to defend the president’s lies. She knows he knows that. How does that not create at least some cracks in their personal relationship?

I suspect holiday celebrations will not so easily set aside political differences as they did in years past. Alas, the reasons for that are all too real and ugly.

Though I live in a red neighborhood of a red state, the Republicans I know are conservative in the former sense of that word, and therefore quite demure about Trump. They got the tax cut they wanted and the conservative Supreme Court they wanted, but try to distance themselves from his political movement. Trump offends their sense of decency. They say they don’t like Trump as a person and would have preferred some other Republican candidate. They act as if his hate mongering and conspiracy broadcasting were mere impolitenesses, like picking your nose at a party, rather than its signal feature. I will give a cheer for the Republicans acting on their sense of decency, who are rejecting Trump’s GOP because of that. Chesley Sullenberger III provides the current example. He won’t be the last. But just one cheer. The movement Trump rode to power was there before him. Why did it take Trump’s rise, for decent Republicans to see it?

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