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All I heard was “something something Trump something.”

I was on my way to my open garage after a passeggiata, or after-dinner walk, with my wife and young son. R. was finishing up yardwork. Shadows were collapsing intrusively all around us.

“What?” I replied.

HOH_2020 Car Show 300x250 copy

“I said,” R. answered, his twangy voice a pitch-black bowling bowl aimed straight at my head, “ ‘You trying to keep away Trump supporters?’ ”

I suppose he was referring to the toddler hockey stick in my hand. “No,” I wheezed, leaning the thin piece of plastic against the garage wall. “Just stray dogs.”

“That’s good, because you don’t need it!,” he roared, anger radiating from his thick frame. “We’re not violent. Not like that BLM!”

It was a long day. I did not want to get involved, especially with this guy, a sixtysomething father and grandfather whom I’ve liked and respected since first moving in next to him 12 years ago.

“It’s only a couple of knuckleheads,” I said sheepishly.

“No, it’s not,” R. growled, marching toward his front door, his eyes firmly on it and not me. “It’s all of them.”

I only hoped my wife had already gone inside our house. D. would have mixed it up for sure, and for me, for someone who likes to act as the glue in fragile, potentially explosive situations, I knew that any sort of rift between us and R.’s family would have had me concocting all sorts of remedies well into as many sleepless nights as it would have taken. D. does not give one 0.0001th of a fuck. This is a person who wears her Black Lives Matter (BLM) T-shirt everywhere. Kroger, our kid’s piano class, the liquor store, back to Kroger, back to the liquor store, and to all two other places we go these days (Walgreens, the bike trails) because we’re not risking catching COVID. Wherever we go, if there’s a chance my wife is going to be out in public, she is going to be wearing her BLM shirt. D. believes it is our job to let other, similarly minded people know that they’re not alone. I am in awe of her.

I wear mine only to keep up. A 210-pound former college football player, I am an easy target for vitriol or worse from bigger and badder — and way angrier — men. We’d like to think that no one would accost a normally sized woman over a togged political statement. We’d like to think that.

I haven’t talked with R. since, and in the meantime, I’ve been dreaming up all sorts of chummy conversation starters for our next run-in. “How’s OU doing this year?” “Dove season yet?” “How ’bout dem Cowboys?”

I don’t want to be too chummy. R. is still in mourning.

 

*****

 

This election tension isn’t limited to my homey little spot in a sparkling white North Fort Worth neighborhood. Over in the U.K., The Guardian says the results will “define the [United States] for a generation. These are perilous times. … The country is at a crossroads.”

The tension is even being stoked by one of the presidential candidates. The one not named Joe Biden says he won’t accept the results unless they’re for him, and some of his cultlike followers are already preparing to arm themselves and swarm the nation’s capital to ensure he remains in power. (Good luck taking on the Marines, guys.) The violence may not stop at Washington’s doorstep. In many ways, it’s already going on under some people’s roofs.

I’m glad that D. and I are on the same side. I know other couples who aren’t as united, politically, and I feel for them. I guess I just don’t understand why anyone would vote against equality and against science and, most importantly, why anyone would vote against love. I simply don’t get why a lot of my family and friends are voting the (wrong) way. How I reconcile their hostility toward unity with my love for some of them is a battle I fight every day. For months now, my wife has been composing in her head her “see ya” mass-text to our family and friends. I just don’t think more division is the answer. I feel I have a better plan.

 

*****

 

After my exchange with R., I lugged myself back inside my house just in time for a text from them. It’s always them. My three best friends back home and I really don’t know how one another is doing because our convos are limited to only a few stereotypically male, stereotypically American, stereotypically straight subjects: sports, music, and family, kids specifically, struggling with having kids even more commonly. Venting about the current presidential administration from one of the guys and me, and mostly only us two, brings only silence from the others. I have my suspicions that the other two are on our side. I can only suppose that our beloved Steelers and Penguins — and Led Zep, Van Halen, and The Doors — are more important to them. And at any other time, I would agree.

“Taylor Hall to the Sabres,” the text read.

At any other time, though, the fate of American democracy isn’t suspended by a strand of wispy blond hair over a gaping chasm of lava, puke, and crushed-Adderall-laced snot.

I had to text back. “He deserves it, but why go from one basement dweller to another?”

The reply was immediate. “$8M reasons why.”

In opening one of the subsequent texts, I saw in my history a thread between me and my oldest brother, L. My older brother, I should say. The brother between us killed himself two years ago. L. and I, and our mother and sister, are still in a lot of pain and probably will be for the rest of our lives. I will always ask myself if I could have done more, and the answer will always be the same: Yes. Yes, I could have done more — a lot. I didn’t because I am selfish and because I was so wrapped up in my own problems that I couldn’t see the pain crippling him. My dear brother. As my life will never be the same, I don’t want to lose my only other brother, my hero growing up who willed himself into Harvard Business School, who read comic books with me as a child, and who turned me on to Genesis and Heatwave. And KISS.

I’m not afraid of losing him to suicide. I don’t want Donald Trump to take him.

“This why I don’t trust the media,” L. had texted me with a link to a CNN story about Nicholas Sandmann, the high school student who stood right in front of a chanting Indigenous American while smiling and wearing a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap. The Washington Post had published a scorching editorial about the 17-year-old before additional footage surfaced that showed that he had adopted his calm, smiling visage after a fringe group, the Black Hebrew Israelites, had begun taunting everyone in the vicinity, including the Indigenous Americans. The terms of the settlement between the WaPo and Sandmann, and CNN and Sandmann, have not been disclosed.

“One story wrong,” I had texted L. back. “How many right? Oh, that’s right. ALL OF THEM.”

I believe that after that point, I stopped following the thread. I would click on L.’s responses, maybe two or three total, and simply not read them. All I wanted was for that red numeric notification to go away. That OCD of mine, hard at work.

As I hope he is of himself, I am proud of me for mostly ignoring our convo. L. is beyond saving. He will vote for whomever runs as a Republican, no matter what. L. is pro-embryo, and that’s all the matters to him. I told him he would vote for Hitler if Hitler were the only pro-embryo candidate in any given election. L. said he would. “Abortion is the greatest genocide in the history of mankind,” he had said to me once a while back. I know for sure his position hasn’t changed.

“Glad you baggied all that sperm you dumped during adolescence!,” I replied before ignoring the thread altogether. What my wife and I try to do is simply avoid, avoid, avoid because we’re outnumbered and because I have some serious anger issues.

There was a time when I thought L. was seeing reason. It was last year at our sister V.’s house. My son and I were staying with V., and the remaining family — Grandma, L. and his wife, V. and her husband, and my son A. and me — had come together for some food and apparently some Fox News. Christ.

I think my son started it. After His Orangeness had appeared on the TV after dinner, A. made a disparaging remark that I, as an adult in charge of a then-8-year-old, fully and full-throatedly endorsed.

V. shook her head. “Donald Trump’s done more for Black people than any other president,” she whined softly from a recliner in the basement-slash-game room where we had been noshing.

“That’s a myth,” I said, marching A. up the stairs to the living quarters and ultimately to bed. “Let’s see, he was sued by the federal government for not renting to Black people, and settled, he said [President Barack] Obama was born in Africa, he took out an ad calling for the execution of five innocent Black boys, he didn’t want Black guys working on his buildings or dealing in his casinos, the list goes on. The guy hates Black people. Case closed.”

This was nearly a year before Trump refused to disavow support from white supremacists on national TV. I could say I was being clairvoyant, but Donald’s white sheet has been showing his whole life. On the campaign trail, he implied all Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, he proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country, and in 2017 he said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville protests. One of those sides was Home-Depot-tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists.

“That’s not true,” V.’s husband retorted. “I guess you believe that Russian hoax, too,” referring to the Reds’ meddling in the 2016 presidential election to favor Trump, as confirmed last year by a Republican-led senate committee.

“Oh, OK,” I replied, trying to cover A.’s ears with my hands — my voice was rising like a rocket with a grudge. “I suppose every other newspaper, magazine, and TV station on the entire planet is wrong and only Fox News is right.”

The husband put his hands in his pockets. “Well, yeah.”

This, he said with a straight face.

“Why’d you open that can of worms?” L. asked me kindly when we bumped into him upstairs. He was smiling in disbelief. It was odd. It was also short-lived.

Nick Sandmann needs to realize that what was working against him was his hat. The person represented by that red piece of fabric has done more to tear this country apart along racial lines than any other entity since the KKK in the early 20th Century, and by wearing that garment, people are saying that only white lives matter. We can disagree about which Eddie Van Halen riff is best (“Unchained”) or which NHL’er is the greatest of all time (Mario Lemieux). We cannot disagree about racism or sexism or bigotry at any level. There’s only one side. There’s only one right answer.

I’m not saying Nick Sandmann is punishably racist. I don’t know whether he is or not, and I don’t want him to sue me and become a multi-multimillionaire instead of just a multi-multimillionaire-plus-122?-123?-bucks. What I do know is that my older brother, L., is not racist. At least I think so, though I know enough about life to know that … aren’t we all a little bit racist?

“Everyone’s a little bit / Racist sometimes. / Doesn’t mean we go around committing / Hate crimes. / Look around and / You will find / No one’s really / Colorblind. / Maybe it’s a fact / We all should face. / Everyone makes / Judgments / Based on race.”

These lyrics from the comedy musical Avenue Q are really kind of hard to argue with. If you’re being honest. And as the father of a Black boy, I know that even I have work to do to break down any preconceived notions I have about groups of people different from me. It’s work I’m willing to take on. It’s work I must take on.

 

*****

 

The tension that has existed since 2016 became more pronounced since a white police officer murdered George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis several months ago. Many “friends” and friends, and family members and, of course, R., began complaining to me about the resulting protests. The protests. The problem wasn’t that yet another white cop killed yet another Black person. The problem was that Black people were upset about it and dared to gather in public to express their displeasure. According to my trusty peeps, Black people and their supporters are trying to overthrow the government. In actuality, more than 90% of the near 10,600 protests across the country have been peaceful, according to a nonprofit that studies armed conflicts internationally, and that uncooperative 10%, the organization says, were influenced either by counterprotesters or the police or both. You don’t need to wonder where my relations obtained their misinformation. Fox News and Facebook go together like shit and stink.

“Have you seen this about Austin in FW?” D.’s dad, P.B., emailed me in the summer with a link to a blog post — a blog post by a self-described Christian soldier — about “riots” in Austin, near where P.B. lives with D.’s mom. “Anything similar happening in D/FW? Pretty scary! If this kind of momentum continues unchecked — I don’t have a good idea here — it will metastasize, and there will be violence. This is not spontaneous but is organized and funded with the purpose of destroying to effect change. I can’t think of a precedent where this kind of action brought about a satisfactory outcome.”

The “story” was about some graffiti on cop cars, one that was pictured, more that were only referenced. Apparently, George Soros and his evil pedophilic minions are funneling millions of dollars into all 50 Antifa members across the country to “effect change” by, I’m not sure, tagging some cop cars?

“While we can all agree that the destruction of property is dumb,” I replied, “this [story] is pure right-wing propaganda. Please don’t fall for it, the incendiary, incredible words and pictures of a right-wing blogger clearly itching for a reason to own semiautomatic rifles. Antifa is a joke. There’s no leader, no group organization, no ‘meetings.’ It’s just a way of resisting authority that scares white people, and Fox News, to increase ratings, continues whipping up viewers and, apparently, bloggers into believing Antifa is some sort of boogeyman coming for white America’s guns and daughters. It’s a few knuckleheads, nothing more, mostly idiotic kids and part-time Islamic extremists taking advantage of a fraught situation. We all know this.

“The news sections — not the op-ed pages but the news sections — of The AP, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and nearly every other major print publication are duty-bound to tell only the truth or be sued for libel. Some libel suits are in the millions of dollars. The men and women writing the news for these organizations must not make any mistakes. No newspaper can afford that kind of legal exposure. You need to trust these people. Their lives and livelihoods are on the line, and their reportage is unbiased (though there are some exceptions, of course).

“The real problem in this country is cops killing unarmed, innocent people: Black, brown, AND white (but 3.5-times more Black than white and 3-times more Black than brown). Elijah McClain was buying an iced tea for his brother back home. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her house. Atatiana Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew in her [mom’s] house. The list goes on. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about statues and cop cars. I care about police murdering innocent people and not facing any sort of penalty. No wonder people are pissed. The cops get off every single time.

“The playing field has been titled against African Americans since 1619, and that includes your sweet, innocent, beloved grandson. I have to follow him to [his best friend] Emmy’s house now because five young Black men were recently found lynched. IN THIS COUNTRY. How do you think that makes me feel? How do you think that makes your daughter feel?”

I never heard back from him.

Though I wouldn’t know, because I only watch sports, it appears that the chief driver of the violent-BLM storyline has been Tucker Carlson. This is the same Fox News talking head who recently escaped a slander lawsuit by claiming that he cannot be trusted to tell the truth on TV. In a federal court, Tucker Carlson’s lawyers actually argued that their bro is never “stating actual facts” and that he instead engages in “exaggeration” and “nonliteral commentary.” And yet there he is, still on the air, still in primetime, still peddling #fakenews that most of his viewers not only don’t care to fact-check but don’t want to. He gives them what they want, and what they apparently want is more racist conspiracies, more anti-immigration rhetoric, and more pro-Trump blather. My dear Republican people, you need to wonder whether voting for the guy supported by white supremacists and Tucker Carlson is the right guy for this country.

Avoid, avoid, avoid has been the way. The only time I broached the subject with D.’s father was right after the 2016 election. After seeing one too many states on the map turn red on Nov. 9, I stormed out of my house into the rudely beautiful evening, the phone trembling in my hands.

“Can you please explain to me what just happened?” I texted P.B., the white, straight seventysomething retired Air Force colonel and proud Texas Fightin’ Aggie.

You could see the excitement burning in his thumbs as he anti-grammatically tore through a litany of reasons why Trump would be the best president ever. From what I recall, the word “jobs” was used about a million times. I deleted the thread immediately out of pure disgust.

Seeing “jobs” mentioned again by conservatives all around me, I’m left to surmise that maybe these “jobs” are a kind of aegis beneath which Donald Trump is advancing to be able to foist more anti-immigration policy on us. His job numbers are only about average. Factor in the lockdown brought on by the pandemic, a lockdown precipitated by a still-vague federal response, and his job numbers are the worst of any president since World War II (when job numbers were first kept). Since Trump took office in January 2017, the U.S. economy has shed 4.7 million jobs, according to the Labor Department.

During his time in office, according to the nonpartisan think tank the Brookings Institution, immigration into the United States fell by almost half, to about 600,000 people per year.

The last time levels were that low, malls were a thing and Duran Duran topped the charts. It’s almost as if Donald Trump hates immigrants, which is highly unusual for a guy who’s married to one.

My father-in-law does not hate immigrants. This much, I know. He is the best grandfather to my 9-year-old Black son. I do not believe P.B. is racist.

I don’t know if I can say the same for some other Trumpers I love.

 

*****

 

 

I had shaken R.’s hand earlier. I had shaken it after he had come to drop off the slow cooker that D. and I had loaned him. We were one of dozens of couples who had signed up to cook a dinner for R.’s family during their mourning. I didn’t need to shake his hand at the funeral. I wish I did. I just didn’t.

I paid my respects at his son’s casket. I had hugged R.’s wife and told her that their boy was a solid young man and that they had done well with him. I should know. I lived next to him the past 12 years. He was a kind soul, always wisecracking, always sweet. I eyed R. across the funeral home. He wasn’t wearing a mask. There were about 50 people there, everyone masked up. Not R. But he had on his Trump hat. He has not been seen without it since long before his son’s death. I doubt that will change anytime soon.

I told myself that the reason I didn’t shake his hand, a second time, is that he was engaged in conversation with a couple other mourners, which he was. I knew it was because I’m always so wrapped up in my own shit (parenting, work) that I don’t dare to care. It’s also because I feel as if I’m so important that my presence requires a special kind of consideration of some sort. In truth, it’s just embarrassing for me to express pain. Always has been, always will be. It’s part of my overall selfish character. I need to work on that, too.

The funeral was before R. accused me of carrying a child’s hockey stick to “keep away Trump supporters.” I wonder if he was upset that I didn’t shake his hand again. I still wonder.

R. and I have had some very lively and never angry conversations about politics and race over the years. I just don’t suspect he’s in the mood for fun anymore. I’m of the heart that all that’s going to cure his pain is a Trump victory.

I don’t want to be around when that doesn’t happen, honestly. I had a dream in which R. asked me to vote for Trump, that it would be one way I could help. I believe their son had to be of the same persuasion. Even before I knew what blue lives matter was, R.’s son had planted two blue lives flags in the back of his souped-up black pickup truck and drove them around town. This was before D. and I had brought our son home from West Africa. I wonder if our boy’s presence had done something to change that pro-cop attitude.

I still see him, R.’s son. I still see that handsome young man lying motionless in a coffin for making a mistake on a motorcycle. His pickup still sits in the driveway next door with its odd, motorsports stickers, I’m assuming, and his IG handle on a side window. I imagine it’s waiting for him, his truck. I can feel the weight of the eternity of that duration, and it’s heavy, dark, the way I wait to hear from my dead brother.

R.’s son died only about a mile from his house, I’d later heard. He was almost home.

 

*****

 

This election is the most important one of our lifetimes. Along with donating to good causes and writing as many awesome columns as I can for this very fine print publication, I’ve taken to proselytizing the right way: by being sympathetic.

I know now might not seem like the right time for that. I understand that the playing field has been slanted away from progressivism by right-wingers who think we still want their ideas despite the numbers to the contrary. California’s population is about as big as nearly two dozen other, smaller states combined but still is represented by only two senators. It’s time for a change. In the current senate, the Republican “majority” represents 15 million fewer people than the Democratic “majority.” It’s time for a change. Republicans have made most of the Supreme Court picks since forever. It’s time for a change. Gerrymandering continues to allow Republican lawmakers to win elections unfairly. It’s time for a change.

The patriarchy is on its way out, and these power grabs are last-ditch efforts to remain relevant and in charge. My (white, straight) family members and friends are not bad people. Quite the opposite. And like all good people, like L., P.B., and R., they deserve my care in their time of need. I don’t want to call it “pity,” because it’s not coming from a place of anger or resentment. I say it’s care because I love them, my older brother and older sister, my father-in-law, even my neighbor, and I love probably more people than I’m even aware of who have bought in to the current federal “leadership.” It’s political care I’m advocating for. Let’s get super-corny and call it “politicare.” #cringingonyourbehalf

I have said some horrible things in the past about Trump followers. “Trumpanzees,” “racists,” “cheats,” “liars,” “bigots” — I wonder if my family and friends have read my words. I wonder if that’s why R. gave me the business out front the other day. If that’s the case, I’m sorry, not because many Trump supporters aren’t blind followers of a cult leader but because, man, there has to be a better way to win an argument than by name-calling. If you can’t make your point without libeling someone else or calling them a derogatory name, maybe your point is weak. And I would know. I’m a weak, tiny-souled man who would rather hide behind his laptop than be confronted by someone who disagrees with me (including — especially — my wife). I need to be better. I don’t blame R. at all. I’m just a chickenshit name-caller. I wouldn’t talk to me, either. All I can do is say I’m sorry. My arguments are better than my rage.

The main question is, “By voting for him, are Trump supporters as bad as he is?”

I would say no. First of all, no one is as horrible as he is. Secondly, some Trump supporters are actually concerned about jobs. Not jobs in double quote marks, actual jobs. I know a few of these folks.

How do we reach them? I can only be nice to them because that’s the way I would want to be treated if I continued making poor choices and believed in a conman.

Watching my Super Steelers the other day, I had a visceral response that, as I’ve discovered, also applies to possibly dumping Trump supporters. A clear, obvious touchdown had been called back by a phantom offensive pass interference call. D. was getting antsy waiting for me to blow the heck up. I simply smoothed back my Ancient Aliens-guy hair, sat back down with my arms on my knees, and said, “I’m not gonna let these lousy refs come between me and my favorite sport.”

Much in the same way, I’m not going to let Donald J. Trump come between me and my loved ones, people with whom I have a lot of history and many fond memories, people who support me and whom I support. All I can do is help them. All I can do is “politicare” for them. They certainly need it.

In P.B.’s retirement neighborhood near Austin, either a Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence sign looms over every yard. (There are more Biden/Harris ones than you might think.) There’s only one sign in my neighborhood. And it’s not outside R.’s house. In front of his abode is a pumpkin on a stick emblazoned with some sort of “blessings” greeting. I noticed it the other day when I was pulling up and saw R. walking with his lunchbox toward his front door, wearing his Trump hat, always wearing that damn hat. I waved. He waved back.

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