It was Inauguration Day, and I was enraged.
“Listen to Joe Biden,” I hissed at my 9-year-old, who was grunting at me. “I said listen to Joe Biden!”
In the other room, our 46th president was calling for unity in his first address to the nation. Yes, Joe! I remember thinking. Bring some mother-effing unity to this mother-effing house! Though I think he was talking about the liberals and conservatives in the country, his speech could have applied to the Marianis of Fort Worth, three people — me, my wife D., and our third grader A. — dissolving into yet another Mariani Blowout ®. More grunting, a lot of yell-whispering, and finally tears of sorrow soundtracked my “helping” our littlest family member redo a few math questions he had screwed up. You would have thought his teacher had asked him to saw off his right hand with a plastic butterknife. *grunt*
My wife had removed herself early on, wisely. D. has zero patience, and like me, she had been waiting four years for this day. She was not going to let our son ruin it for her. I have half an ounce of patience, so I tagged in right before Uncle Joe uttered, “… distinguished guests and my fellow Americans … .” I guess when the choice came down to family or history, I chose family. I always do, and it’s not always easy, especially when some of them are becoming more radicalized politically than ever. I don’t mean our son. As, um, challenging as he can be, he’s a good little dude, sweet and kind, and, as far as I know, he has not gone MAGA (yet). I mean my extended family and other loved ones. I’m worried about them.
The number of viewers tuning into the crackpot networks OAN and Newsmax is skyrocketing, and far-right social sites like Gab and MeWe are also racking up users. Openly promoting lies and conspiracy theories like QAnon and permitting libel plain-facedly in the name of the First Amendment, these making-Fox-News-look-sane outlets are warping the brains of many people I know and love, now especially since Dear Leader got embarrassed at the polls. (And embarrassed, he was.) As I’ve said before, I’m not throwing away my years of love for and friendship with some people in my life over a single politician. I don’t want anyone to have that kind of power over me. I’m simply going to care for them the way one would for someone who had just joined a cult or lost a limb. I’m going to minister to them. The way I do that is by 1.) avoiding them the best I can because I don’t want my boorish told-ya-so asshole side to come out and 2.) by putting them in my stories. Hi, everyone. Don’t sue me.
He won’t read this. My wonderful older brother L. won’t read or listen to anything that’s not coming from Newsmax. As much as I know he loves me, and he does, I know that his opinion is shared by the majority of readers who comment on our political stories. The ones who aren’t canceling us for not being woke enough, and there’s a shit-ton of them, are calling the Weekly “liberal trash” or a “liberal rag.” The notion brings me back to a tweet I read a few months ago from some high-powered progressive, that the time for “both-sidesism” in journalism, and in life, is over. And I honestly couldn’t agree more. I write what I write, and what I have been writing since 2016, not to promote policy from either the left or right. It’s to espouse truth, justice, and equality, and when you squarely consider these concepts, the very foundation of our society, there’s really only one side fighting for them, and it’s not the Republicans. What Republican lawmakers represent is a mix of fear and hate: fear and hatred of the Other, of the unknown, of the future. I’d bet that most of the people who pull that red lever at the polls share the same depressing worldview as John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and John Hawley or “Josh” Hawley or “Jordon,” whatever, something white, and all of the other far-right nutjobs. Some conservative “readers” — I use that term loosely because most of them read only the headlines and subheads instead of the full stories — believe we cancel them because they don’t believe what we believe, which is not true. We cancel them because they believe in conspiracies, sexism, and racism. Stop promoting that shit, and we’ll stop writing about how shitty you and your political party are. Pretty simple.
The Republican party was never as offensive and wrongheaded as it has been the past four years. Along with the swamp things in Congress and throughout D.C., Donald J. Trump did a lot of damage to our nation and did a lot of damage to me personally, which is the most important. Of all the dumb, evil, dumb/evil things he did — fiddling while we all died of COVID, separating children from their parents, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, attacking Obamacare, using the highest office in the land to line his pockets to the tune of $900,000 — I think he’ll be remembered most for saying out loud all of the nonsense white Americans have been thinking for decades, legitimizing the cruel words and emboldening their speakers. My beautiful son is Black, and I hate the thought that people who do not like his smart, silly, kind self simply because of the color of his skin can now parade around their racism without fear of retribution or comeuppance. For DJT, and many other conservatives, including my family and friends, disavowing white supremacy isn’t enough. Because of the dirty association, they must do more. The way they can do that is by supporting Black Lives Matter and other causes that seek justice and equality for minorities. The only thing that stopped me from sending L. a BLM T-shirt for Christmas — as a light joke beneath the ominous shadow of truth — was that he would in some way diminish it. Or light it on fire. I respect BLM enough not to sully the movement’s mojo. They’re going to need all the good vibing they can muster to beat back the propaganda being fed to my brother and probably every other conservative by the right-wing media machine. Newsmax shows a couple of dark-skinned looters or graffiti artists during a justice march, and every viewer assumes the same is going on in every other American city. The truth is that the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that 93% of BLM marches this summer were nonviolent, but conservatives don’t want to hear that. They will refuse to budge from the lie that BLM is violent because it goes against their hatred of the Other, and all the while, they will turn away from the real damage being done to our republic by the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the Aryan Brotherhood, and all of the other domestic terrorists among us, including the ones who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Calling them “very fine people” or telling them to “stand back and stand by” was the exact opposite of what needed to happen over the past few months. But here we are.
My brother is very fine people, and I mean that genuinely. A married father of adult triplet girls, L. has never hurt a soul and has never used the n-word around me or, as far as I know, publicly, which is a goddamn gold-medal achievement considering we grew up in an Italian-American household in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s with a casually racist father and dozens of foaming-at-the-mouth racist adults. L. and his just-as-far-right wife are also awesome piblings to A. They never miss his birthday or Christmas. It’s pure love. I just can’t reconcile the kind, funny L., whom I love, adore, and admire, with the L. who flies a III%ers bumper sticker on his red Maserati.
A couple of weeks ago, I tried to gauge his interest in one of our traditionally serious but kind political conversations via text. Our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers were getting their asses kicked, and we were both really pissed off. Supremely pissed. Funny how being shut off from the rest of humanity brings out the inner tribesman in us all. Knowing that Twitter had just given DJT the boot for spreading lies and fomenting an insurrection, I texted L. a link to a tweet about the lack of guts behind a Steelers punt after they had just clawed back to within 13 points of the lead and had all of the momentum on their side and an entire quarter left. L. wrote back, “I deactivated Twitter so no longer on platform.”
My rage — his cold, suggestive, haughty reply, the impending loss, the fact that democracy in America almost died, the freaking punt! — overcame me.
“So why’d you leave Twitter?” I texted back. “Dear Leader got banned for spreading lies and inciting a limp-dicked coup???”
I was ready for another one of our spirited flame wars.
“Sorry, Anth,” L. replied a beat later. “Don’t want to go to politics.”
His response was expected but still no less deflating. Here I had been waiting for weeks, privately, to gloat. Now my power had been removed. I apologized, told him I loved him, and moved on. #bebest
As you can imagine, I’m still thinking about it. I’m also still enraged. I’m not sure I want to be united as much as I want the traitors to be held accountable. Do you want to be united with someone who thinks a fair and free presidential election was rigged? Or who thinks COVID is a joke? Or who thinks ethnic minorities are all criminals? Or who thinks immigrant parents and their children should be separated for trying to come to America to escape their war-torn countries? Or who thinks we should erect a gas-drilling rig wherever there’s a patch of wild grass? There’s no telling what goes through the mind of someone who takes as gospel every single thing tweeted by some known, provable conman who bankrupt a casino but believes nothing that is written or broadcast by head-of-their-classes professionals who expose themselves to libel suits (some in the multimillion-dollar range) every day. It’s baffling, and they’re no one I want to be “united” with. Go start your own country. It will be in the cornfields and the swamps, and it will last about five days, because blue areas fuel two-thirds of our economy and keep many red states afloat. If I love or like you, we can always still text. Depends on your cell reception in Trumplandia. Can you hear me now?
Along with pretty much every other conservative on the planet, my dear older brother had picked up his social-media ball and taken it elsewhere. Maybe to Parler. Maybe MeWe. We’ll never know. And I’ll never care enough to find out. All that’s a fact is that wherever he took his ball in a huff, it’s unregulated, meaning users can just spew nonsense and lie with impunity. And continue warping minds, like my Harvard-educated older brother’s.
And the division between left and right will grow even larger.
I grew up idolizing my two older brothers. L. was off-the-charts smart, a great painter and illustrator, and the “fastest white boy” in high school, while tall, handsome Adam excelled at every sport and was incredibly charismatic. And while adult Adam avoided politics, not out of privilege but because of laziness (which I suppose is a form of privilege, but still), the adult L. swung far to the right, which was both expected and surprising considering our blue-collar upbringing. When Adam had not shown up at the rehearsal dinner for one of L.’s daughters, I called the police by his apartment in Northern Virginia. I answered the call one painful hour later when a detective informed me that my sweet, kind brother Adam had killed himself. That night, I cried by myself out in L.’s sprawling backyard facing the Long Island Sound, nursing a craft beer that had been sitting in L.’s fridge for, he says, weeks. (L. is an oenophile.) With my wife D. and son A. back in Texas, I spent the remaining nighttime hours of that horrible day alone except for Hector. L.’s big ol’ rescue dog lay by my side in bed as I cried. Now with the Steelers out of the playoffs and the Penguins just starting up, the most I’ve talked to L. has been about Hector. The lovable lug died of cancer last week. I am at one with their pain, all of them. I know we all have hearts. That’s the kind of unity I can believe in.
Yes, it feels kind of weird loving someone so different. So different but so similar. Except for the parenting — Mummy and Daddy went hard on eldest L. but let me, the youngest of four, stay up all hours of the night while eating chocolate and drinking Pepsi — L. and I, and Adam, went to the same places and did the same stuff growing up. None of us brothers ever really had the chance to befriend kids of different races and backgrounds until we got to high school, and I’m telling you, our high school didn’t radicalize anyone, especially L.
Back when we were growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, Catholics were blue-collar Democrats, and like all of the teachers and administrators at Central Catholic High School, we Marianis — Mummy, Daddy, we three brothers, and our sister — were Catholic blue-collar Democrats. My economics teacher referred to the Reagan administration as “the evil empire” — raging against the machine still had not brought him any closer to feeling that sweet, sweet American nectar of greatness trickle down onto his prematurely balding head. There’s no doubt in my mind that Central Catholic, where tuition has ballooned to a cool $15,000 per year, is a different place now. I’m betting the teachers either avoid politics altogether or back the most pro-life candidates only, creating more myopia and more right-wingers. Three of my best friends from back home are part of a text thread for ’89 Central alums that’s a few dozen names long, and with the exception of my three chums and a handful of others, all of those good ol’ CC boys are decidedly pro-Trump. However they became radicalized, it wasn’t at Central, which brings me back to the question of when L. became so, to be generous, nutty. It had to have been fatherhood. It makes you crazy in all sorts of ways. As one of the shittiest fathers on the planet, I know.
L. is a single-issue voter, and that single issue is abortion. As I always say, L. would vote for the second coming of Adolf Hitler if he were the only “pro-life” candidate on the ballot. And it’s true. I’ve asked L., and he believes abortion is the greatest genocide the earth has ever seen. There’s no going back for him.
The other day, my wife asked me when I became pro-choice, which was like asking me when I became a fan of oxygen. I could not recall a specific time or moment. All that came back to me were discussions with L. and his wife about how, yeah, while I’m not crazy about abortion, I’m smart enough to know that it’s none of my business and that by banning the procedure, all we would be doing is attacking women, which I do not stand for. The conversation I’ve been having in my head since then is about vasectomies. As people have been saying for years, why don’t we give vasectomies to all teenage boys, and if they stay out of jail and land a stable job after graduation, then they can have their vasectomies reversed? Stay out of my pants, I’ll stay out of yours, right? Works both ways, bro. And bros.
“Fastest white boy.” I recall the subtle pride with which L. relayed his nickname to us and anyone else who would listen. I don’t know if he would embrace it now. I even wonder if he would say it’s discriminatory. You hear that a lot in my line of work, that something I wrote or something I had quoted was “racist.” Not toward minorities. No. Racist toward white people. It’s as ridiculous as you can imagine.
My most recent experience with this phenomenon was related to a story I wrote about the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association (FWPOA). Mere days after dozens of “patriots” steamrolled the feckless Capitol Police and stormed the Capitol in D.C., the FWPOA joined Parler, a haven for racists and conspiracy theorists. On our Facebook page, the comments were wheels off. I mean, it’s nearly impossible to tell who supports what. All I know is that I was accused of being racist. Toward white people. Note: Racism works only from top to bottom. As it’s been proven in court a million times, “reverse discrimination” is a myth. White people in America saying they’ve been discriminated against is white privilege in action. Until white people are enslaved by people with non-white skin for 401 years, white people cannot claim they’ve been discriminated against. Just stop. Your white sheets are showing.
I think it’s truthful to say that all racists are Trumpers while not all Trumpers are racists. “The fastest white boy” is no racist. A Trumper all the way? He’s that times 10. A racist, he is not. As mixed up as it all is, I can’t help but feel bad for him and for all the other Trumpers I know and love. I’ve been wanting to ask him, and them, are you determined, disillusioned, or despondent? Or maybe all of the above depending on the day and the “news” coming from the wacko right-wing media?
Those three D’s were created by Rachel Bernstein, an L.A. marriage and family therapist who specializes in counseling cult members past and present and who hosts the weekly podcast IndoctriNation. As she told the Washington Post, the determined are convinced Trump is still the president and that the inauguration was prerecorded with actors playing the parts of the politicians. The determined also believe that Tom Hanks is dead and was played by a body double. This is important because the greatest actor of my generation is one of the leaders of a pedophilic cannibal cult along with the Obamas, the Clintons, and other D.C./Hollywood types. QAnon, a prophet, speaks directly to the determined’s souls.
In the middle are the disillusioned, who are “waiting and hoping,” Bernstein says, while at the bottom you have the despondent. “They had a dopamine rush,” she says. “They didn’t get to taper slowly off their drug. Those are the people who fell into tears. They felt left behind, and all their self-sacrifice was for naught, and that was devastating.”
No matter how L. and the others are feeling, the concept that unites them all is victimhood. Most conservatives feel victimized — by the economy, either taking too much or not giving enough, by the government, by minorities, now by voting. (!) The sense that “something has been taken away and you have to reclaim it by force,” Bernstein says, draws from the same anger that pushes people into the streets to march for justice. Some, like the families of Blacks murdered by police every year, are true victims. Many others, like that Harley? Hawley? Harlon? guy who writes in an MSM outlet that he is being censored, and my brother, who lives on what has to be, like, 100 acres on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, are not. It’s not hard to tell the difference.
I have to say I thought I’d feel a whole lot different now that that lying, self-enriching, rapey clown is out of the White House. He was almost as bad personally as his skewed policies were destructive. After giving up smoking on the daily a few years ago, I had set aside a cigar in late October to fire up on Inauguration Day. I’m now thinking that even if I had not been pointing in my little one’s face and yell-whispering at him to pick up the notebook he had just casually tossed onto the floor as if throwing away a used napkin, I would not have smoked it. “There’s nothing in the streets,” The Who sang two months before I was born and is singing to me now as I write this, “looks any different to me.” The parting on the left is now parting on the right, and I have to fight with parting from everyone, including family and friends.
What was true the year “Won’t Get Fooled Again” came out is true today. I’m as worried as you are about a spineless Biden administration, a sadly stereotypically gutless enterprise whose majority members bend over to the right and who do not go after the traitors, all of them — from DJT on down to the shaggy art lover flying the Confederate flag in the Capitol — and hold them accountable.
I’m also worried about the new radicalization. Lots of people I love and like are susceptible.
Oh, wait. It’s a text from L. Maybe he’s writing to say he’s been wrong about everything and that now he sees the light!
Nope. Just more sports talk.
“Pens play now,” he says.
Frustrated, both with my brother and with our favorite NHL team, who got spanked the night before, I tell the truth: “L,” as in “loss,” I text. “Going on a bike ride.”
“Sounds much better.”
Ah, I love my bro. I guess it’s OK to keep it at that for now. I can’t say I’ll be able to restrain myself once I see him in person again, which should be sometime soon — he makes an annual trip to North Texas for work. Seeing things through his eyes, I wouldn’t want to meet with me, either. My mouth may be shut. I don’t know if I can say the same for my Black Lives Matter T-shirt.