MEMBERS ONLY: Can I Forgive My Trump Voting In-Laws?

by Justin Rosario

As I wrote about last week, my Trump-voting in-laws came down from New York to visit us in Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend. My wife had asked them to stay at a hotel instead of with us as they usually do, not because of me but because she was struggling to deal with the constant drama from her mother. While I felt bad that Debbie was so stressed out, I couldn’t bring myself to be all that broken up about it. Less time in their presence was just fine by me.

When they finally showed up Friday night, the urge to act normal was almost overwhelming. It would have been so easy to play along like nothing had changed, that everything was just peachy and terrific. I even had a rationale forming in my mind to explain it away: I don’t like to be the source of family drama. So go on, give Grammy a kiss and hug and give Poppy a handshake! Do it and make the weekend go by smoothly.

But the second I heard their voices, my lip curled into a sneer and my skin crawled. That half-formed rationale evaporated like a drop of water on a metal plate burning with the rage I felt at living in a country trying to embrace white nationalism. No, I would not be treating these two collaborators like family. No family of mine would ever vote to bring fear and terror into the lives of my loved ones like they had. And in that moment I knew: These two people were dead to me for the rest of their lives.

Knowing deep in your heart that you are truly done with someone brings about a kind of clarity. It’s one thing to say someone is dead to you in an article or Facebook post, it’s another thing entirely to be in their presence and realize that their absence from your life would be met with an absolute lack of regret.

Elaine tried to be her useful faux-cheerful self but I simply wasn’t interested in playing along. I know that she really, honestly, thinks this is about politics and that I’ll get over it. I know this because this is what the Trump bubble has been endlessly telling itself since the election: Liberals are just sore loser babies that can’t stand that we won. Hahaha. That’s why the same people that can’t get a cup of coffee or go shopping at Target without a gun strapped to their hip have taken to calling us “snowflakes” at every available opportunity. 

I’ve come to believe that this “snowflake” sore loser label is some kind of defensive reflex that some Trump voters are using to protect themselves from the reality of what they’ve done. The white nationalists are thrilled that they elected a racist dictator but what about the millions of Republicans like Elaine and Lou that voted for him anyway? By now, they’re quite aware of the mistake they’ve made but being as conservatives are adverse to taking responsibility for their actions, it’s easier to believe that liberals are overreacting than admit they did something unspeakably terrible.

This seems to be the case with my mother-in-law. She kept trying to engage me and kept being surprised when I wouldn’t even stay in the same room as her for more than a few seconds. Surely I’d get over my temper tantrum any time now? But every time I looked at her, all I could think of was a meme that’s been passed around for what seems like forever:

Why does the Klan wear hoods? Because when they are done they go back to being your doctors, your lawyers, you governors, your police officers, your senators, your teachers, your judges, your coworkers.

And your in-laws. No, they’re not part of the Klan but it wasn’t a deal breaker to vote in lockstep with them and for mostly the same reasons. You don’t have to put a pointy white hood on your head to put your inner ugliness on display.

While the grandparents took the kids out for their birthdays, Debbie and I went out to see a movie (Logan. Amazingly good. Go see it immediately). On the way there, we discussed how the visit was going so far. Debra was worried about how angry I was about Trump and I explained to her again that is wasn’t really about Trump, it’s about the white nationalism he’s mainstreaming. White supremacy is not the problem (although it is a serious problem in its own right), America’s been like that since the beginning. We suffer from wholesale implicit racism but it’s, for lack of a better term, a passive racism. White nationalism, on the hand, is an active, explicit, hatred and targeting of Those People. White supremacy is content to rig the system against you if you’re the wrong color. White nationalism wants to physically eject you from the country. Or seal you off in ghettos and concentration camps. Or just murder you by the millions.

White supremacists are assholes. White nationalists are actively dangerous. Put the former in charge of the government and you get redlining and “Welfare Queen” stories. Put the latter in charge and they become an existential threat to anyone not considered pure, like our family and our closest friends. And I reminded Debbie, again, that Trump was very clear about what he would do if he became president and her parents voted for him anyway. I also reminded her about the bomb threats called into Jewish community centers and the Jewish cemeteries being desecrated. This is happening because white nationalists know they have an ally running the country and it was only going to get worse.

I did ease her concerns by explaining that I was less afraid than I was right after election day because Trump is, at essence, a moron. Hitler was dangerous because not only was he persuasive like Trump, he was brilliant. That meant he understood how to wield his power and expand it. Trump is too busy tweeting and making his family rich to solidify his control and implement Steve Bannon’s white nationalist agenda. With any luck, Trump will finish self-destructing shortly before the midterms and that will be the end of that. This made her feel better and we spent the day enjoying ourselves.

The rest of the visit went by in much the same way. Elaine made a few more desultory attempts to engage me and I quietly brushed her off and went about my business. Curiously, by the end of the weekend, I found that I just didn’t care if they were there or not. They were quickly fading into the background. During the weeks leading up to the visit, I had kind of looked forward to tearing them a new one but I lost all interest in that after the first hour. It didn’t take me long to figure out why.

Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference” and he was right. I don’t hate my in-laws; I would have to care about them to hate them and I no longer care about them or their opinions in any meaningful way. I’m not worried about them infecting my children with their moral rot as Anastasia already considers racism to be, and I quote, “Stupid” and Jordan’s autism insulates him from their bigotry. At most, they’ll be a source of irritation as they continue to make Debbie’s life miserable with unfounded criticisms. 

When she came back from walking her parents out, Debbie told me her mother was upset and disappointed, that they weren’t different people because they voted for Trump. As soon as she said, it was like the the last tumbler clicked into place and I understood my feelings clearly: The problem isn’t that voting for Trump changed them in some way, the problem is that it didn’t. They were the same people they’ve always been: intolerant, petty, small. The only thing that had changed is that I had finally decided that I would no longer wave it away. These were not good and decent people that just held a few abhorrent views. These were people that accepted white nationalism and had voluntarily voted to put my friends and family in danger because of it.

They’re free to spend the rest of their lives rationalizing that to themselves and I am free to live the rest of my life without them in it.