Grandpa Would've Voted for Trump

Wait, what happened? Oh God...

For five hours yesterday, I was fine.

That's not the time I spent sleeping: my dreams have not been fine, and whenever I wake up (and being a 55-year-old man, that happens at least a couple of times a night), getting back to sleep has been a challenge, as my toss-and-turn thoughts are even more frightening than my dreams.

It's not the time I spent trying to lose myself in entertainment: the meandering, unsatisfying pilot for an Amazon reboot of The Tick, the Jane the Virgin episode I couldn't stay awake for, the video games I play on my phone, all of it feeling futile.

And while talking with colleagues, my principal, and family members felt important, necessary, and affirming, it also did nothing to pull me out of the despair that's constantly invading my consciousness.

The one thing that made it better was the children. For the few hours I was able to engage with my students, I was able not to think about the national tragedy that began with Donald Trump's announcement he would run for President on the Bigoted Demagogue ticket. For all the time I was in the presence of the children of Byrom Elementary School, I was able to clear my mental desktop of fear, anger, recrimination, and be completely and utterly in the moment. It wasn't all good: two of the nine classes I taught were dominated by autistic children having meltdowns, and their classmates not always reacting in positive ways; but even in crisis management, I was completely present with the children, no part of me even remotely thinking about the four words that have dominated every other waking  and dreaming moment:

President Elect Donald Trump.

I think those words, and find my eyes tearing up. My mind races from one pole to another: the slap in the face to persons of color, women, immigrants, people who believe in science, who value honesty and common sense, who absolutely have to be in the majority of Americans, and yet somehow couldn't muster a large enough plurality of votes outside of the West Coast and the Northeast to keep this from happening; the unavoidable speculation of what it means to the global community that the most powerful country in the world is going to stop honoring trade agreements and treaties, will pull out of alliances, will react to international crises with hostility rather than diplomacy; the sinking feeling that the working poor of this country are going to find it even harder to pay their bills, provide for their children, obtain medical care; the deep fear that climate change is going to continue to escalate, unchecked, as larger and larger portions of the planet are immersed in typhoons, hurricanes, and floods; the knowledge that all three branches of government will be dominated by a party that cares nothing for environmental or social responsibility, and that one of those branches may be so dominated for the rest of my life; the deep grief that whatever gains have been made for equity and justice under the leadership of a decent, intelligent, and inspiring President are going to be erased by the selfish know-nothing lazy narcissist who will take his place, rather than extended and enhanced by the brilliant and supremely competent stateswoman who could even now be making progressive history...

That list could go on. In fact, it has gone on all day long, well into the night, in my dreams, and in the thoughts that will not permit me to return to dreaming whenever I awaken.

I sat at the breakfast table this morning at 5 a.m. (I'd been awake since 3:45, and finally gave up when Clyde, realizing I was awake, began rubbing his furry head against me, hoping for kibble), listening to more podcast prognostication about how and why this has happened and what it means for the future, wiped the tears from my eyes several times, and had a sudden insight:

My grandfather would've been a Trump voter.

Frank Richard was a New England Canuck, descended from Acadians who settled in New Hampshire. Most of his family spoke French at home. He was something of a rebel: he left Catholicism to become a Baptist, was deeply involved in Masonry, and after the death of his first wife, abruptly moved his daughters to California where he was briefly married a second time before settling down with a third wife who was with him until his death in 1985. He was a skilled laborer and hard worker, a tree surgeon, carpenter, and ultimately a crafter of small parts for Boeing.

I didn't see much of my grandfather. His visits were rare and often contentious. I remember him arguing with my parents about their liberal approach to parenting and their far more progressive politics. I remember him talking about keeping a gun in his glove compartment to protect himself from the African-Americans (he used a different word for them that I will not repeat here) in Seattle, where he lived during his Boeing years. I remember the huge mounted buck head that was always hanging in his home (and, when I was 6 and we visited, wondering how its body fit into the wall behind it). I think we visited his "cabin" (a fairly modern home he had built, and retired to, at Silver Lake) just once, and were gruffly told not to sit on certain pieces of furniture. On that visit, he taught me how to fish, and when I landed a large catfish, he expressed the only pride I ever felt from him as he took it off the hook for me, then clubbed it with a monkey wrench. In later years, he developed Parkinson's Disease, had several strokes, and finished out his life at a Masonic Home.

He voted twice for Nixon, and was loyal to him to the end, insisting to my parents that it was all a misunderstanding, a Democratic plot to bring down a great man.

And he would have voted for Trump. When I was in New Hampshire in August, laying my father's ashes to rest, I saw plenty of Trump signs there, sensed the angry vibe of working class New Englanders. The global economy has left them behind. My grandfather was of that class. He would've wanted to "make America great again."

My brothers and I have, for the most part, taken after the other side of our family. We are all university educated, many of us with graduate degrees. Our paternal grandparents were New Deal Democrats who believed in the principles of the Social Gospel: civil rights, universal suffrage, global interdependence. I'm proud to embrace that heritage.

It's important, though, that I also acknowledge the fear and uncertainty of people like my other grandfather, who feel themselves being left behind by a country and world they no longer recognize.

Because I, and people like me, are about to find themselves exactly where they were just a year ago. I don't recognize the America that elected Donald Trump, and a year from now, this nation will not in any way resemble the country I hoped it could become.

Comments