Spawns Of Humanity
I never imagined at any point in my adult life that I would be thinking of Donald Trump, talking about Donald Trump, paying a bit of attention to one thing Donald Trump ever said. I never imagined Donald Trump, with his fancy golf courses and big hotels and gaudy apartment towers would have a single thing to do with me or my life.
I am not a particularly political person, I do not hate those who disagree with me, I am not accept the noxious idea the left or the right, I do not argue my political views with strangers online or friends in person. I do not have to be a conservative or liberal to be an American.
But in the mysterious and wonderful and puzzling ways of the world, Donald Trump seems to have worked himself into the popular imagination, he is exciting many people, terrifying many others. He is in my lead and in my head, looming over me like a Macy's Parade Float, like one of those giant green spirits in Ghostbusters. It is the time of Trump.
It is not possible to ignore or dismiss him. I wondered aloud to Maria the other day if I could be close friends with a person who was going to vote for Donald Trump and who shared his values, some of which I consider to be hateful and destructive to our democracy and tragically insensitive to the feelings of people.
I do understand that he speaks – sometimes brilliantly – to an alienated and suffering and abandoned culture which is crying out for attention and support. They want and desperately need change, and have come to believe he is their best and only chance of getting some.
I learned the other night that I can be good friends with someone who supports Donald Trump, I think Trump is, in many ways, a gift, a spawn of humanity, a call to awareness. We have to decide who we are and who we wish to be. Most of us can go about our business and leave politics to those who are drawn to it, we can stay completely out of it and live our loves. Maybe we can't any more.
I had dinner with a good friend the other night, a man I have come to admire, even love. Of course, Donald Trump, a name I don't think I mentioned or took seriously in memory before this year, came up. My friend said I can't wait to vote, I wish it was tomorrow, I can't wait to vote for Trump.
I was surprised, I felt a rush of disappointment, a flash of anger. I took a breath and suppressed both.
Wow, I thought, this is my chance to see what I am made of, it is really true, as I have been preaching, that I can accept disagreement and accept it, even though it is utterly apart from my own feelings. I didn't wish to argue, I wished to understand.
In all honesty, accepting Trump is a powerful issue for me, many of us know hardship and struggle but people who come from Jewish refugee stock, who are African-American, Muslim or gay and trans people in the 20th century have a visceral appreciation of hatred and demagoguery that is not abstract, it is all too real and not that far away. Many fears are exaggerated, even exploited, and many dreams come true. But so do many nightmares.
I was reading just last night about the fact that it was illegal for women to wear pants in public in many states until the 1970's, and older women were moved to tears by Hilary Clinton's pantsuits. I do not define my Jewishness by the holocaust, there have been many holocausts in the world since ours, and the world must move forward, nobody has a patent on suffering.
I know how hard many farmers struggle to survive and sink in our world, nobody seems to care a thing about them.
For me, Trumpism is not a political difference but a nightmare coming true. It transcends left and right for me, or conservative and liberal. It approaches my idea of genuine evil. Still, I have no right to disrespect the views of others, not if I wish my own to be respected. The things I fear and hate are the things I have to work to understand.
I asked my friend what was important to him in terms of politics, he mentioned concern over climate change and water was one issue, and universal health care was another. I asked him if he knew that Donald Trump thought climate change a hoax and opposed universal health care. He said he didn't know, and he knew Trump was a "dumbass" in some ways, but he thought the system desperately needed change, and he didn't think anyone but Trump would truly bring about change.
My friend is one of the most tolerant people I know, he judges no one and minds his own business. He is no hater.
He also said he worried about the Second Amendment being taken away, he is a gun owner and lover.
I told my friend I wasn't trying to argue with him, I was just trying to understand why some people vote against their own self-interest, why he would vote for someone who doesn't share any of their goals and values, except this concern about the Second Amendment (which, as far as I know, no one is proposing repealing.) I did understand his feelings about change and frustration, it was useful and helpful to me to hear it.
In this convention week it seems the whole world is talking about Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and the choice America is going to have to make about what kind of country it wants to be, as President Obama suggested in his speech.
I respect my friend, he is a good man, a gifted man, a man searching thoughtfully for his place in the world. For me, Donald Trump is a gift in many ways, he challenges me to think about politics for the first time in many years, to recognize the suffering of people in a different way. To understand who I am and who I want to be.
Trump forces me to think about what it means to be a human. To note hate people who think differently. To not promote hate and fear.
I stopped talking about politics at dinner, it was very comfortable and easy for us, we are good friends, and I didn't want it to get uncomfortable or hurtful. I don't want to be one of the haters and ragers, they are suddenly everywhere, unleashed by the forces of darkness like in some horror movie.
Donald Trump is forcing me to decide what humanity is.
I didn't ask the next question I was thinking about, I don't like to talk about politics for more than a few minutes in America, at times it reminds me about what I have read about Europe in the 20's and 30's, where people were so polarized and frightened they didn't dare speak about their political views. My grandmother often told me it was a great risk in the Russian she grew up in. She warned me never to speak of politics, even in America.
My friend has grandchildren that he loves very much, and I am about to be a grandfather, and for the first time in my life, I am thinking about the world my granddaughter will be living in. I don't want her to live in a Trump world, not simply for the sake of change, as an experiment in shaking up a system. corrupted by money and dysfunction. There are other ways to do that, as Bernie Sanders and Trump himself have already demonstrated.
I don't want her to grow up terrified of her own country, of turning against needy refugees seeking freedom and safety like her great-grandmother did.
I don't want her live under a King who is the "only one." Wasn't that what our revolution was about?
Most of us come from places where they did that. As soon as I can I want to take her in her stroller, put her on a subway train and take her to the statue of liberty, where my grandmother took me when I was five or six years old. It was the first thing she saw in America, the statue, and it was the first thing I saw in New York.
She took me there on a train and bought me a postcard I still have somewhere in some drawer, where it says "give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses yearning to be free."
That is the dream I want my granddaughter to know and have, to put in her young head, a gift I wish to give her. The good side, the generous side of us. I want her to know it is there.
I am grateful to Donald Trump today for helping me to find my own compass, my own humanity, for forcing me to think about who I am and what I want my country to be, grandiose thoughts I always thought were above me. I am grateful he helped me cross a milestone, and prove to myself that I can be friends with someone who disagrees with me strongly, there was no hate or hurt in our talk. That is something.
I am confident that people will do the right thing, I believe they are good, and in their own way, wise. In our world, it is no small thing to keep a friendship going across such a difference. It seems healing to me, a step on the road back.