Sometimes, there are moments of clarity. While in the car on the way to Lowe’s (I keep him company on errands, and he buys me Dunkin’ Donuts — it’s a long-standing quid pro quo) he told me that he knows when he is being irrational.
He said he unequivocally believes that systemic racism exists and he knows the media he consumes is biased. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he knows when what he is saying is wrong.
But less than an hour later, he was parroting Trump’s talking points about the Buffalo protestor who was hospitalized last month after police shoved him to the ground. My dad agreed with Trump’s tweet that 75-year-old Martin Gugino “fell harder than he was pushed,” saying the man, who now has a cracked skull, was an “agitator” who was waving his hand “threateningly” at the police. When I asked how police in full riot gear could feel threatened by a 75-year-old man, he said, “You don’t walk up to the police like that. He could have had a weapon.” When I countered that both of his hands were clearly occupied, he told me that I had “bought into the propaganda.” Whatever version of my dad I had been talking to minutes before, he was gone.
The breaking point was a debate that actually had nothing to do with him. I, for once, was the one to initiate the conversation after watching White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany equivocate on a question regarding Trump’s statement that he would override state governors who did not reopen churches. My deeply religious mother rose to defend her; I countered that overriding state governors would violate the 10th Amendment, and we fell into a debate.
The discussion itself was calm, if passionate. Mom’s arguments were based on the First Amendment, mine were based on the 10th, and we disagreed on respective interpretations therein. Out of nowhere, however, Dad chimed in.
“Because they don’t want to pay for it,” he said, seemingly once again following his own train of thought. “They don’t want to pay for it, so they have decided to go to socialism.”
Neither my mom nor I could fathom what “it” was for which “they” — presumably referring to my generation — did not want to pay, nor how socialism followed from an argument about religion. We both dismissed the non sequitur and carried on with the debate. But minutes later, after several more points and counterpoints, he inserted himself again.
Rising from his computer with a sigh and circling back around to the couch where I was sitting, he said, sounding as though he could not be more disappointed, “It’s sad. I really thought you had a brain. I really thought I raised someone who could think. Think for themselves.”
I am no stranger to insults to my intelligence. Hearing things like this from strangers, acquaintances, even friends, is one thing. Having it shouted at you by a Drill Instructor is one thing. Hearing it from your dad, who drove you to ballet class four times a week for 10 years, who drove you to school every morning, who showed up to every play and awards ceremony and dance recital, who has loved you with every inch of him for all your life and whom you have loved in return, is entirely another.
I lost my mind. I don’t remember a lot of what I said, but I know I shouted. I know I called him a hypocrite. I know I swore. I felt detached from my body; my hands were buzzing. And the whole while, however long it lasted, he simply sat there, hands folded in his lap, not looking at me, but with a private little smile on his face. He didn’t respond — he didn’t need to. He knew he had won.
Afterward, I stood in the middle of my bedroom, fists clenched, chest heaving, and cried. Dad had known exactly which thread to pull to unravel me, and he had pulled it without hesitation. We were not father and daughter in that moment; we were political opponents. And in his mind, I was the enemy.
I have a front-row seat to the mindset and behavior of the classic Trump supporter, and I am alarmed by what I see.
If you have at any point argued with a Trump supporter, especially if you are young, you will know that this is the pattern. The goal is not to win with facts or logical arguments. The goal is to twist and turn and obfuscate, striking vulnerable areas with escalating ad hominem until the opponent cracks with frustration or, in my case, hurt. And, the moment that happens — the moment you respond emotionally or show that you are frustrated — you have lost.
The next morning, my dad came into my room and sat on my bed before I had gotten up. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Okay, I’m sorry. Bad choice of words. It was a bad choice of words. I’m sorry. Okay? Yeah? I love you.”
Yes, I accepted the apology. He of course entirely missed the point, but by then I had already resolved that restarting the argument would do nothing but harm. I knew — and at his core, I think he knows as well — that the issue, in the end, wasn’t that he hadn’t raised someone who could think for herself. The issue was that he had, and she doesn’t agree with him.