I was born into a clan of Republicans. My maternal grandparents so despised the New Deal that they affixed Roosevelt stamps to envelopes upside down, their waspy protest against the necessity of adorning their correspondence with his image. (There weren’t a lot of stamp choices back then.)
I was just a kid. What did I know? I found the whole stamp act shockingly disrespectful, but I accepted that, in our hearts, we knew Goldwater was right (boy, was he) and that Nixon was the one (but not in the way we thought). As a sixth grader, I gleefully participated in decorating a neighbor’s barn with a “McGovern Headquarters” banner, my parents’ idea of a practical joke. This is how tribal lore is passed generation to generation.
Around the campfire, the clan spoke of national defense (it was the Cold War, after all) and fiscal prudence, touchstones of a nearly extinct population, Rockefeller Republicans. No one was anti-science, anti-environment, anti-government, or armed to the teeth.
All tribes have a rite of passage. Ours was college, the middle-class walkabout. Off I went into the bush, armed only with my wits. There, I encountered wild ideas and strange new peoples … who became my friends.
Unlike all who went before me (OK, there was great uncle who moved to Seattle — gasp!), I never returned. I made a home in the wilderness. I liked the freedom. But the clan and I communicate from time to time with smoke signals. This week was such a time.
I wrote a piece on the 2016 election and posted it on Facebook, where my 80-year-old mother is my chief stalker (I mean fan). I expected her to read it and disagree. What I didn’t expect was the email exchange that followed.
Tribes are, by definition, closed societies. They wall themselves off from “the other.” They outlaw those who break taboos. They intermarry. Eventually, the gene pool is bound to grow stagnant, then toxic, from a lack of exchange. Mutations, which could have been buffered by hybrid vigor, proliferate through the population. (Author’s note: this analogy only works if you believe in evolution.) I have watched as my parents, free from the inoculation of extra-tribal thought (and who doesn’t want to avoid a shot?), slowly succumb to the drip, drip, drip of Fox News.
So I was pleasantly surprised when my mother wrote: Having read your post today about choosing Hillary Clinton, I thought this article might give you insight into why many people are overlooking Trump’s crassness and voting against Hillary. xxoo, Mom. She attached a piece by P. J. O’Rourke on the failure of the elite political class.
Interesting. She didn’t say “insight into why WE are overlooking Trump’s crassness.” She called Trump crass. Did I have an opening?
I wrote back, urging her to read the damning New Yorker article by Jane Mayer interviewing Trump’s Art of the Deal ghost writer, Tony Schwartz, appending the quote: I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization. I wondered if she’d read it, and, if she did, what she would think.
I was blown away when I got back: Oh my, what a damning article!!! … (Yes, three exclamation points.) … I read it out loud to your father a few minutes ago and we are both appalled. What is one to do? Hillary is horrible … (insert laundry list including “shrill” and “harridan” — no feminist, my mother) … Daddy and I can’t stand either choice. I don’t want to be responsible for voting for either of the candidates. Our country is going down the tubes and there doesn’t seem to be any hope for improvement anymore. So glad you told us about the New Yorker article. I will send it on to [your sister] and several others. xxoo, Mom.
“What is one to do?” This really was an opening.
How should I make my approach? I am no psychologist (nor do I play one on TV), but it doesn’t take a genius to realize starting from a place of agreement is usually a good ice breaker. (Future parent persuaders, take note.) I volleyed back: Here’s my take. I can’t stand Hillary either. But, given the choice between someone who is morally compromised, but … (insert list of good qualities) … and someone I truly believe is unhinged, I will go with morally compromised every time.
Then, Wow. Just Wow. The next morning I got back this heart-achingly heartening epistle: Very good reasoning. I had trouble going to sleep last night thinking of the two of them and what to do. I don’t know why I seem to think I have the whole burden of what will happen to the country on my shoulders. Daddy and I will be dying soon, but I hate to think what you, [your sister] and her family will be left with in the future. It certainly won’t be the country of freedom that we have known in the past.
I imagine our correspondence will continue.
Would I have been allowed through the gate to deliver my message if I had not borne the (albeit faded) clan tattoo of an upside down Roosevelt? Spoken the native dialect? Known the secret handshake? I think not.
So, talk to your tribe. (Or write!) They are probably well-meaning people. (Mine are.) They may think you a defector, but you have a better chance of infiltrating the compound than a stranger. At the very least, one or two might step outside the wall to parley.
May your conversations bear wholesome fruit.