Thursday, April 29, 2021

Trumpism and Me

I have more to say about how to situate myself within Trumpism. My first tendency is to explain how I am not a part of that ecosystem, to deny it, but I have to remember that I am engaged with Trumpism whether I like it or not. My sense of identity may matter, but it does not remove me from Trumpism. My beloved friends and family are Trumpers, and much of my country is Trumpist. If I look wider, then I see that much of the world is Trumpist. I'm engaged. So how do I situate myself within this place?

I can start with Bill.

Bill and I were childhood friends. We went to the same school and the same church in Buford, Georgia — some thirty-five miles northeast of and, in the mid-60s, distinct from Atlanta, with a rural, small town feel. Buford was conservative and voted Dixie Democrat, a political allegiance seriously challenged by the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Anyway, Bill and I played together. We had sleepovers. Life was safe and comfortable where kids could stay outside and play past dark and no one worried much. Buford coddled its young — to the point that we were allowed at 14 and 15 years of age to illegally own and operate scooters and motorcycles on Buford streets, at least until several accidents drove some common sense into the city elders' heads.

Then in January, 1967, during my tenth grade of school, my family relocated from Buford to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I lost contact with most of my Buford friends, including Bill. My new high school was all sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and the University of New Mexico downtown was a hotbed of anti-war enthusiasm that proselytized the lower schools heavily. I was entranced. I wore my hair as long as my parents would let me. My new best friend Kerry introduced me to poetry and philosophy, and I met Anna at my school and Julie from the next school over. I still remember standing in our backyard in the Summer of 1967, a transistor radio to my ear, hearing the Beatles' "A Day In the Life" for the first time. Church could not compete.

At the end of high school, I left for a short stint in a commune near Taos, while over in Buford, Bill left for a long stint in Viet Nam. Our life trajectories had split.

I didn't see Bill again until Fall, 2019, at the fiftieth reunion of the Buford High School Class of 1969. I was living in Georgia again, and the organizers kindly included me even though I had graduated from a school 1,400 miles and a universe away. The gathering was not at all political, but it was clear to me that politically I was out of sync with my old classmates. Still, I enthusiastically swapped emails and befriended people on Facebook, and I learned that Bill had fought in Viet Nam, had a career with the US Postal Service, had married and had sons, then a few years ago had lost his wife to cancer, and now had a new girlfriend. He had also abandoned our pentecostal heritage and worshipped now as a Catholic.

Bill and I especially promised to get together soon, but the pandemic intervened, so we communicated over Facebook, but it didn't go so well. I quickly learned that most of the people in Bill's Facebook circle were enthusiastic Trumpists, and I made some injudicious comments during one exchange that inflamed everyone's tempers, including Bill's. I shouldn't have said what I did on Facebook — I've never seen a political challenge go well on social platforms — and I had to scramble to repair relationships and forestall a series of unfriendings.

Still, the incident highlighted the core issue for me. Bill and I had started life in very similar situations and we were ending in similar places, yet our paths had been very different, and now despite our shared interest in being friends, we found our different views confusing and challenging to each of us. I could say, of course, that we had different DNA and different life experiences so that both nature and nurture led us to different political views, but that explanation seems way too glib and dismissive to me. I think something more interesting and human is at work, and I want to explore that deeper movement.

I've come to believe that humans create or adopt stories by which they try to explain and live their lives. As I've said in a previous post, I accept Walter Fisher's claim that homo narrans is one of the root metaphors for humanity. We create, share, and live by stories, and our narratives are at the core of what we are and describe us just as our muscular, circulatory, and neuronal systems do. I think that these narrative structures are embedded in us and, thus, are only partially explicit. Mostly they are implicit, but they form the frames through which we see life and the channels by which we try to live our lives. Forming stories is what maturation and enculturation are all about. We learn stories and live those stories. Most stories are shared within some group that we identify with, but most of us have a few stories peculiar mostly to ourselves.

To believe on one hand that Donald Trump is the last, best hope for saving the United States, you have to believe certain stories about the world. To believe on the other hand that Trump is a threat to the United States, you have to believe different stories. I want to understand these stories. I want to know what they are, where they come from, and how they inform, frame, and sustain our world views. I do not aim to reconcile these stories through some dialectic. Rather, I hope to turn them into a dialogic that allows for conversation enlivened by curiosity and compassion.

I also hope to test my own stories, to measure them against other stories to see how well they hold up and where they are weak. As a liberal, I like to believe that I have no inviolable stories, stories that I will defend at all costs, but I suspect that isn't the case. My conversations with obvious liberals have demonstrated to my satisfaction that most people have a story that they will not change or even challenge because doing so threatens such trauma and loss of identity that they cannot face it. I'm wondering what story I cannot do without.

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