To my Trump-supporting family,
On the morning of November 9, 2016, the America I knew and loved died. Or rather, I woke that day to discover that it never really existed in the first place.
Let me explain.
I grew up in the Deep South. I was a flag-waving, gun-shooting, red-blooded American boy. I said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, got tingles when I heard the national anthem, and fervently accepted that no other country on the planet could ever come close to the grandeur, freedom, and inspiration that the United States of America offered. We were that City Upon the Hill that was promised to the world – a shining beacon of participatory democracy that everyone else desperately wanted to emulate but could never achieve. We were tough on our allies, but only because we needed to push them to excel and improve. Of course, they’d never quite catch up to us economically, politically, or militarily, but hey, that’s the price of not being the USA. The chants of “USA! USA! USA” weren’t taunts, but merely celebrations of our preeminence. And anyone’s detractions were just signs of their jealousy. Because everybody wanted to be American, right?
I was sold the American dream just like the hundreds of millions of my compatriots. Work hard, pay your dues, and you’ll succeed. No child left behind. All in this together. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I joined the Navy and proudly served my country because that’s just what a Southern boy did. There simply was no higher honor than being part of the vanguard protecting democracy from those who would do us harm.
Even after traveling the world with the Navy and learning that, actually, America didn’t hold a monopoly on freedom, I still wasn’t swayed from my categorical resolution that no country was better. No people could be better. America resulted from the failures and lessons learned from every other country’s trials and errors. Mostly errors. But we corrected them all. Where other countries had endured the restrictions of authoritarianism or the unfettered chaos of direct democracy, America perfected the balance with our Constitution and its representative democracy. Sure, we had our own fits-and-starts, which our schools taught – seizure of land and the treatment of Native Americans, the slave trade and oppression of black people, relegation of women to the home – but the America in which I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s had moved past those missteps. Right? Wasn’t America now that happy melting pot teeming with opportunity for all, if only you tried hard enough?
Of course not. But that was how I viewed it. And I’m sure that’s how you still think of America. What we did to the Native Americans? They just need to accept that we civilized them and they should be thankful. Slavery, Jim Crow, systemic racism? Nah, African Americans need to get over slavery, stop being ghetto thugs, and start accepting responsibility for their own communities. And women certainly have come a long way – just don’t get too uppity or think you’re entitled to too much of a political view, otherwise you risk losing your innate genteelness. (If reading this part makes you feel uncomfortable – and it probably does – stop for a second and think about why. Your discomfort is what’s left of your conscience.)
After I left the Navy and joined the real world, I saw more and more of what this country truly was. The mistreatment of people of color, the judgment and chastisement of the LGBT community, and the everyday sexism. Unlike the America taught in schools, this place had a lot of scars, scratches, and quite a few gaping wounds. But still I thought none of them were terminal. Surely Bill Clinton (for all his flaws) had it right when he said there was nothing wrong with America that couldn’t be cured by what was right in America. Surely.
Up until November 8, 2016, I genuinely believed that, despite its myriad shortcomings, America was still the country that stood up to bullies. It valued intellect and scientific discovery. Americans may have disagreed on specific policies, but still had faith that public servants genuinely had the country’s best interests at heart. Immigration built this country. And we should always, always protect the innocent and welcome those fleeing poverty, war, or famine with open arms.
But America didn’t elect a leader who represents any of those principles. America didn’t elect a leader with any principles. And you did that. You can say you held your nose and voted for the “lesser of two evils,” or that you only voted for Trump because you knew he’d further the policies with which you agreed, even if you found him personally detestable. But when you and all of the other Trump voters pulled that lever, you weren’t just selecting your preferred presidential candidate. You were selecting what America was. And it is nothing like the America I grew up believing in. To say that your choice and the result it brought about triggered an existential crisis would be an understatement. My whole life, I’d been an unquestioning, patriotic servant of America because of what I’d believed it stood for. But in a single night, everything it stood for was revealed as a fraud. Everything I stood for was a fraud.
So now, two and half years into the alternative reality, I’ve come to grips that this isn’t some insane nightmare. This is reality. And seeing how Trump supporters (yourselves included) have behaved since then, I really was a fool for ever believing America stood for anything else.
I won’t bore you with my journey to “wokeness” or why the things you tolerate literally sicken me. Sexual predator? “They’re not hot enough to sexually assault.” Racist bully? “Fake news.” Uncompassionate bigot? “They should stay in their own damn countries.” Even if I had the capacity and patience to expound on every deviation from the America I thought existed, you wouldn’t care. Why? Because you’ve stopped listening. The rise of Fox News means you’ve stopped reading the papers. And even if you did, you wouldn’t be intrigued or inquisitive about what they say because you’ve bought into the idea that the press is the enemy of the people (except for Fox News and the National Review, which get passes because, well, why?).
You’ve stopped paying attention to anyone who doesn’t agree with your crystallized view of the world. You’re the mosquito of the Reagan era, completely unaware the sap has long hardened around you into amber. And frankly, it’s not even particularly pretty amber. It’s dull, opaque, muffled. You can’t see or hear through it and you don’t want to.
But to be honest with you, I’ve lost all interest in trying to break you free. At first, I really wanted to. I wanted you to understand how the promise of America was broken. I wanted you to see so we could find some way to fix it. But every time I tried, you trotted out some line you heard Trump spew (none of which make any sense whatsoever, by the way) or that some Fox News commentator has conned you into thinking reflects reality. So I’m done.
The America I believed in doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s a different country now, irretrievably. I get a bit melancholy about it sometimes, because promise and hope and opportunity are like political endorphins, and I miss them. And I miss you. I miss having conversations about our lives as though you hadn’t abandoned everything we ever believed in. I miss seeing your smiling faces without having to hold back a political tirade. I miss spending time with you without constantly wondering how you sleep at night knowing what this country is doing to the defenseless.
Surely by now you’ve seen the AP’s recent photo of an El Salvadoran man and his two and a half year-old daughter who drowned as they fled the violence in their home country, hoping to seek asylum in America. They drowned because Trump won’t let them claim asylum at the border entry points. He’s denying them the safety and promise that America used to stand for. Many observers who haven’t yet fully recognized their prior delusions are saying, “This isn’t what we stand for.” But it is. It’s exactly what America stands for.
And that is why I’m done with you and your ilk. We’re still family; you raised me; we share the same blood. But we come from and live in two different countries.
This letter was submitted to the ‘Open Letters’ series. If you would like to contribute by writing a letter of your own, please contact Greg at [email protected]