Almost 18 years ago I was a liberal, vegetarian, bell-bottom-wearing college sophomore when I met my husband -- a young Republican Alex P. Keaton-type if Keaton was tall, blonde and a deer hunter. Election night 2000 stands out as an almost disastrous night in our relationship as we sat together, watching the election night returns and alternately fluctuating between elation and despair throughout the night as the outcome of the election swung back and forth.
Having learned our lesson, in the three subsequent elections we each calmly watch returns in different rooms of our home. We disclose campaign contributions to each other, always with the possibility of our joint bank account being used to fund two opposing campaigns. We never put out campaign signs (except for the occasional support of the Detroit Zoo) because, as we joke, we do not need to let the whole neighborhood in on our dysfunction. He has suggested more than once that we just stop voting so we do not spend time waiting in line just to cancel each other out, but as I get immense joy out of the experience of voting he begrudgingly shows up at the polls.
With the disclaimer that our state does not have registration by party affiliation and, even if it did, I am not sure either of us would choose to affiliation, we are an interparty marriage. Only nine percent of married couples are Republican-Democrat. But even in these divisive times, with rhetoric flying and a news cycle that seems to be accelerating faster than a boulder falling of a cliff, I love my husband and respect his right to cast his vote even if he decides to cast that vote for Donald Trump.
Suffice to say, #imwithher. But equally as importantly, I am against him. Since the reasons to be against Donald Trump have filled voluminous pages of this blog and elsewhere, I will summarize that my passion in life is improving Muslim-Jewish relations and Trump is antithetical to my understanding of my faith, my values and what it means to be an American. I think he is dangerous and bad for America. There are few superlatives that I would hesitate to use when talking about the destructiveness of Trump's candidacy. But I will not extend these superlatives to those who vote for Trump and -- in the end -- I might be married to one.
This election season, my friends, my colleagues, even my mother have come up to me with the whispered question, "Is your husband going to vote for Donald Trump?" The truthful answer: I don't know and I am not sure if he does either. Like many conservatives, he appears to be struggling between voting for a Republican candidate that does not represent his conservative political philosophies, voting for a third party candidate knowing that support may put a Democrat in the White House for another four years or just staying home, not voting and watching a rerun of South Park instead of the election returns.
When I admit that it is a possibility -- even a probability -- that my husband will vote for Trump, there is often a gasp or a head shake or a disapproving look followed by the sentiment that "I could never be married to someone that would vote for that man." And while I fully grasp revulsion at Trump's candidacy, it strikes me that when I pledged to love my husband in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer or all that other stuff, there was not an exception for the day there was a Republican candidate that I found really repulsive.
While it is beyond my abilities to explain why any person would vote for Trump, I recall back to a humiliating memory in my own life. In 2004, just weeks before the election, I was down in South Carolina at a friend's wedding. Afterwards, several of us were knocking back yet a few more cocktails and I got involved in a political conversation with a friend's boyfriend who belonged to a category of people that my closed-minded liberal self did not know existed - Gay Republicans.
I remember pressing him at length about his Republican identification. I was appalled that he could be faithful to a political party that rejected his civil rights. I questioned him not out of curiosity, but out of indignation and a false moral superiority that allowed me to weigh his conflicting values better than he could. Whether fuelled by this indignation or the cocktails, I kept going long passed the point where decency or common sense would have led me to change the topic.
In reality, the notion of thinking that my friend's boyfriend was some kind of anomaly was simply uneducated and I look back on my actions with a certain amount of shame. For many people, aspects of their political philosophies, cultural beliefs and identity may clash in a way that make choosing a candidate difficult. In 2004, 23 percent of the LGBT population voted for President Bush. This year, a poll showed that 11 percent of Muslims voted for Trump in the primaries and 14 percent of Hispanics may vote for Trump in the general election.
People are complicated and the factors that lead us to cast a vote are even more so. The coverage seems to place us neatly in boxes by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education but these are just statistics. Statistics are the business of pollsters, the lifeblood of campaigns and the source of a thousand news stories. But it is our life experience and beliefs and identity the mingle within us and help us determine which candidate to support. Just because someone comes to a different conclusion than us does not mean that there is nothing of value in that person and nothing we could have in common. In and of itself, it just means that we are casting votes for different candidates.
Every day, there are stories of people defriended over political views. While defriending in a social media context is easy enough, it is the defriending in real life that is more troubling. In this election cycle, rifts are placed in families and communities over support of a candidate. The rhetoric continues to increase in ways that do not serve our country -- from cries of locking her up to naked statutes of a candidate in parks. While we can all fingerpoint as to what has caused this political climate, the better question for each of us is whether we have become part of the problem?
To those that cannot believe that I love my conservative husband or that I could continue to do so even if he casts a vote for Donald Trump, do you really think I should get divorced because of a presidential vote? If you believe Fivethirtyeight.com (which I always do), 44.1 percent of this country will vote for Donald Trump. If you cannot fathom being married to one of them, being friends with one of them or being related to one of them, is it time to ask whether you are a part of the problem? Instead of blaming the divisiveness solely on either the Republican candidate or some amorphous "other" out there, perhaps it is time to look inside.
There is a line in The American President, "How do you have patience for people who claim they love America, but clearly can't stand Americans?" In context, this is intended as a dig at conservatives but it seems like a claim that can be levelled at all of us.
In the past 18 years, I have learned a great deal from my conservative husband. I have come to appreciate the economic philosophies that he holds paramount when choosing candidates. I have come to appreciate that sometimes his conservatism relies on an innate belief in the goodness of people whereas sometimes my liberalism can veer dangerously into paternalism. Our disagreements sometimes strengthen my own views by cutting away the surface argument and getting to the core of my beliefs while other times I have seen my beliefs moderate when faced with compelling argument from him.
If we cut out those in our lives based on a vote, we will slowly whittle our own world to an echo chamber where everyone around us simply parrots back what we assume to be true about the world. I have no doubt that this is easier. I imagine it would be fun to spend election day either rejoicing or mourning with the person that I love most in the world. I imagine that it would be nice to be in the same room on election day.
But even this year, even with these stakes, even with offense I take at Donald Trump's words and actions, even when I genuinely fear for the safety of my Muslim brothers and sisters who are facing increased violence, I will not allow myself to give in and excise from my life those who balance their competing values differently than I balance mine. I believe that Donald Trump is dangerous for America, but I believe that letting Donald Trump divide us as Americans is even more dangerous. I fell in love with my husband almost 18 years ago and, whatever happens on November 8, I will still be in love with him. But I will not watch election returns in the same room as him.