My mother is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from Oakland, California. My father is a lifelong Republican who hails from Omaha, Nebraska. They made it work. Both aged ninety-one, they just celebrated their seventieth anniversary.
Mom crossed party lines and joined Dad twice in her presidential voting history, casting ballots for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Dad voted for Mom’s candidate once, John F. Kennedy, in 1960, though he would later vote for JFK’s opponent that year, Richard Nixon, twice, in 1968 and 1972. Dad has been known to sit out elections because he didn’t like the choices. Mom, who grew from five- to seventeen-years-old with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in office, never.
Mom gets her news from CNN, and watches American Idol and The Voice religiously. Dad watches Fox News, sports (women’s volleyball, go figure) and oldies channels like Me-TV and Antenna TV. Mom reads novels, poetry, and historical nonfiction like David McCullough’s John Adams. Dad digs quirky nonfiction like Dead Mountain, Western epics like Lonesome Dove, and survivalist fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Politically speaking, a big issue for Mom is a candidate’s treatment of women. This important character trait, or failing thereof, would later diminish her admiration for JFK, as the truth about his infidelities became known. Bill Clinton is another president who disappointed her in this regard.
Dad never seemed to care much about the extramarital activities. My sense is he thought they all, or most of them, did it. He was much more interested in kitchen table issues like the economy and, as a Korean War combat veteran, the need for a strong defense against adversarial nations, and terror.
Another issue low on Dad’s priority list is race relations. Put it this way: the environment he grew up in was not conducive, and he never quite “corrected” his viewpoint. He is no fan of Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton or others whom, though he doesn’t articulate it, he clearly considers to be “race hustlers.”
My mother is just the opposite. At age nine she heard her own father, a member of the Teamsters Union, use an epithet indicating that he didn’t think much of African-Americans either. It bothered her greatly, though she loved her dad. Because she loved her dad.
My father knew how much Mom revered and admired Reverend Martin Luther King, and was careful to allow her that veneration without comment. Both parents were grievously affected by the assassinations of JFK and later, brother Robert, but Mom was particularly devastated by MLK’s horrific end. She said at the time, “He was a good man. He gave them something, someone to look up to. He gave them a leader.”
She strongly disagrees with late-term, pro-choice Democrats, especially these days. But nothing could ever persuade her to become a Republican.
As Mom reached advanced old age, the hue and cry surrounding contemporary issues and policy-making became less important. A candidate’s character, his fealty to the bonds of family, and good old Democratic Party values like strong unions and a helping hand to the disadvantaged were what she cared about as the 2008 election neared.
That year—she was eighty–unlike some of the friends in her geriatric yoga class, she never for a moment considered supporting Hillary Clinton. She was for Senator Barack Obama all the way. I knew it had a lot more to do with who he was, what he represented in terms of racial reconciliation, than anything he was promising on the campaign trail.
For eight years she wouldn’t hear a bad word about her man Obama or his wife Michelle. She was convinced “they” were out to get him because “they” couldn’t countenance a black man in the White House. Though my father privately complained about President Obama to me during football games in his basement man-cave, he was sensitive enough to respect my mother’s belief that many racial wrongs were righted by Obama’s election and reelection. It was funny, Dad must have heard obligatory line conservatives mouthed when asked if there was anything they admired about Obama. Dad would say, in clear support of Mom, “He seems to be a good family man.”
You know where this is going.
Dad loves President Trump, Mom doesn’t like Trump, at all. She doesn’t hate the president, and honestly, throughout her life, I don’t think I can cite an instance where she hated anybody. But she voted for Hillary this time, and no amount of great economic news seems able to ameliorate her harsh judgment of Mr. Trump.
Dad feels vindicated in all his belief systems by Trump’s success, while Mom has gotten it into her head that Trump has treated women badly at times, and it matters to her. Letting that issue go, I’ve tried over the last two-and-a-half years to provide a counterbalance to CNN’s relentless and groundless Russian collusion narrative, saying things like, “The idea that Donald Trump conspired and colluded with Vladimir Putin to swing an election is patently, fantastically ridiculous.” She listened, but Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, James Clapper, John Brennan, and many others kept harping, kept insinuating, kept drilling the preposterous lie into her brain. They’re still at it, but something has changed.
We are blessed. Neither parents show any signs of anything approaching dementia. That is why, when the Mueller report dropped, Mom revealed to me what she had admitted to a yoga sister, “I think Trump just won reelection.”
The response from her left-wing stretch-exercise buddy is not suitable for citation in this context.
Now, and I think this is playing out for Democrats across the nation, Mom just doesn’t want to talk about it. She knows in her heart that her political party has gone off into some wilderness. It is painful for her to process, so her mind engages elsewhere: the grandkids, the great-grandkids, and how she’s worried because Dad is losing weight, looks so old, and is moving very slow.
Mom is a Democrat, and she’s done. We all are going to give her that. We’re going to let her lifetime interest in the governance of America go.