Civil War #2

1866
I might as well begin with an embarrassing admission; I suspect me sister and my two nieces — her daughters — voted for Trump. In my view, this is more of a stain on the family than if we had harbored a criminal. I seldom interact with them. My sister lives in Florida and the two nieces live in Oklahoma.

They are the only members of the family to live anywhere but in New Jersey in almost 300 years. Maybe there is something in the water out there beyond the Delaware River. All three are college educated and middle class, so what happened? I don’t know because our family solution — adopted by unspoken consent — is not to discuss politics. I love all three dearly and I know the feeling is returned so why head down a path to sure-fire hard feelings?

As the holidays approach, a great many families in this country are facing the same divide and there is no one formula that characterizes them all. An article in the New York Times suggests it’s based on education and families have split along blue/white collar lines. That may be true in many cases but not in mine. My family has been college educated, quite literally, as long as there have been such things as colleges — both here and before in England/Ireland.

In some families the split is due to racism and homophobia, yet I have never seen even a hint of such things in my relatives, though all three are conservative Christians while I am the farthest thing from such an ideology (religion is another thing we don’t discuss).

My family does not assemble for the holidays. I spend the holidays with my gay family of choice, so we are spared the awkward confrontation many in the U.S. will face in the coming month. I will share Christmas phone calls with my relatives, and gifts exchanged by mail and our rather loosely connected family ties will remain intact.

For many however, the situation is analogous to 1861, when many families in this country split bitterly and permanently over the issues that led to the Civil War. My family was spared that horror. They all, as I said before, lived in New Jersey and were all abolitionists and supporters of the Union. My great grandfather, in fact, ran a station in the Underground Railroad, using a secret room in the house I later grew up in. For many families then however, the split never healed. The bitterness of a shooting war and the destruction of the South ended forever any chance of reconciliation.

We may stand today on the verge of such terminal disassociation and there is no real cure for it because, as in 1861, it goes to fundamental principles and core beliefs. I can paper over the cracks in my family because I know they are not racists and they are not homophobes. I fear they have for whatever reasons, erroneously supported those who are — but I don’t know that for a fact and I don’t want to. Many, many are not so fortunate and must confront in their own families, unmasked bigotry, uneducated foolishness, anti-science idiocy and class hatred, all now seemingly licensed to run free. This is not a situation where good manners will save the day.

We are in fact in the midst of a new civil war and as with the first one, it will not be resolved by consensus. White supremacists and anti-Semites will not be talked ‘round to sanity. They have to be defeated, marginalized, quarantined or destroyed — just as were the Nazis, and before them, the slave owners. They all believe to the very bottom of their souls that God is on their side and when you believe that, reason goes out the window.

Whose side is God on? Prince Bismarck recognized the ridiculousness of the question over 150 years ago when he answered “God is on the side of the big guns,” meaning whoever has the power and the victory can claim divine support.

Right now, the Trumpists have the big guns but that doesn’t mean they have won the war. So far this is a war that will be fought in courts and legislatures, in schools and media and we must not concede one inch of ground. The present trend to normalize Trump — to “give him a chance,” to pretend the spiraling rate of hate crime isn’t his fault, is not an acceptable strategy. Donald Trump is NOT normal. The Republican Party and the intense homophobia enshrined right in its platform, in clear, unmistakable language, is not normal. The arrogant racism expressed by so many of Trump’s followers is not normal. If we start pretending he is just another turn of the political wheel — perhaps a little different from most but still the president we must all get behind — we will legitimize the base and loathsome values expressed by many of his supporters, including ones in his inner circle such as the execrable Stephen Bannon.

Will heels-dug-in opposition to Trump and all he stands for continued gridlock and bringing government to a halt work? If it is to be Trump’s government, then I can only hope it does. Better that than any affirmation of the values he represents.

I say “represents” because I don’t believe Donald Trump, the ultimate opportunist, has any personal values whatever. All he has ever displayed is the profit/power motive, in the furtherance of which he has been willing to do or say anything that will serve.

Families may divide and go separate ways or decide to be civil and paper over the cracks but the nation as a whole cannot do that. We can not be civil and polite When Trump tries to privatize the national forests and sell them to property developers. We can not just sigh and say “well, he’s the president” when he nominates some Calvinist troglodyte to the Supreme Court. We have to fight back. We have to demonstrate and deluge congress with letters and emails. We have to support our LGBT organizations now more than ever before. We have to get involved in politics at whatever level we can.

It isn’t difficult. Most party district committees are easy to join. You might even consider joining a Republican committee to work on changing the party of NO from within. The point is, the Trump presidency is going to be a bar room brawl and there’s no exit from the bar room. We either pitch into the fight or we get creamed.

We have one big advantage: motivation. The civil rights of the racists and red necks are not at stake but ours are. We have a lot more to lose. A half hearted effort won’t do. As that great philosopher Yoda said “there is no try. There is do or not do, but there is no try.”

There is more at stake here than our own well being, though that is enough to energize us by itself. There is the vision of what this nation is supposed to be — of what generations before us have tried to make it; a place where the verse inscribed on the base of a great lady who stands guard yet in New York harbor is more than empty rhetoric: “Send me your tired, you poor, the wretched refuse of your storm tossed shore. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The land of the free — not just the land of the free 1% — not the land of you’re free to abuse anyone who is different — not the land where one segment of one race thinks it is God’s gift and has an inherent right to dictate cultural norms that were obsolete a century ago and most certainly not the land where the rigid theology of archconservatives is enshrined in law.

But it will become such a land if we do not oppose the enemy constantly, faithfully and with every resource we can muster. Though she is made of copper, the lady in the harbor has shed tears this week. Let us drink those tears and find strength in the bitterness to resist, to stand up to mindless bigotry where ever we encounter it and to win. We have no alternative.