My Mom's Support For Trump Divided Our Family. Then I Found The Crack In Her MAGA Armor.

The Trump presidency divided my family. The “Trump Effect,” as I called it, infected us shortly after he descended into the lobby of Trump Tower to announce his presidential candidacy. It ended seven years later, around my kitchen table, with three generations of my mother’s progeny mowing their way through Italian takeout. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My mother was a Reagan Republican and had voted along party lines since 1980. While none of her four children were fully aligned with her politically, the Trump Effect created the greatest distance between my mother and me.

We fought every time we talked. Before Trump secured the nomination, I argued that his morals were in direct conflict with those she and my father had been driving into my head for decades. Furthermore, I argued, he did not even embody conservative values. He twisted them into grotesque manipulations of what had been reasonably sound policy.

I pleaded with her not to vote for him. She wouldn’t budge. In the wake of his election, her choice took on the weight of a betrayal. Her blindness to Trump’s white nationalist tendencies was an affront to my wife, who is a proud Latina, and angered my biracial, high-school-aged children.

The more egregious Trump’s violation of social norms, the harder she dug her heels in. In Northern Idaho, her political views went largely unchallenged. It was her excursions into Eastern Washington that afforded her the opportunity to proselytize and be heard. Any poker table became her pulpit as she would expound on the virtues of the new savior of the GOP. Having earned respect with her poker skills, she changed peoples’ minds. 

At some point, after the Mueller investigation, she was so self-assured that she stopped fielding challenges or questions from folks on the left. We stopped talking about everything except cursory questions about my life and detailed reports about her current ailments. I longed for a return to our political discourse. It never came.

She voted for Trump again in 2020 but did not embrace the “big lie” that he’d won the election with anything close to enthusiasm. She did defend the honor of her chosen candidate afterward, but her Ultra MAGA armor started to crack when Trump’s attacks were directed at Republican icons like Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney and the Bush dynasty. Then Jan. 6, 2021, shook the foundation of her political fortress. The damage was considerable and lasting.

I wasn’t with my mother for the insurrection’s explosive violence that day. But our family has always been patriotic. My father served in Gen. Patton’s honor guard during the Korean War. We flew the flag, sang the anthem and respected servicemen and women. My mother and I shed patriotic tears on Jan. 6, 2021, and while admittedly from very different places, the tears ran into the same river. We both knew the America we loved was significantly diminished by the relentless attacks of a small percentage of Americans hell-bent on defining the world by their petty grievances and perceived injustices.

I didn’t reengage in political discourse with my mother, in spite of an obvious opening for a kill shot. The sadness that surrounded her settled in like a dense fog. Surprisingly, her depressed mood was less about Trump’s defeat and more about her own foolishness in the certainty that Trump was a hero and savior. As for me, I couldn’t even muster an “I told you so.”

Sixteen months later, I was having dinner with my mother and some Trump news flashed on the screen. She shook her head in mild disgust. I hadn’t planned what happened next, although I had fantasized about this “intervention” countless times.

Taking a deep breath, I gathered my courage and started talking. “Mom, I am going to ask you a huge favor, something that may be jolting at first, but please, sit with it.” She started to speak, but I raised a finger, pleading with her to hear me out.

My voice was shaky and weak as I began, but grew confident as the memory of each Trump atrocity was replayed in my mind ― his near-constant appeal to our worst instincts, his undisguised racism and Islamophobia, and his blaming of anyone and anything besides himself. I was hot when I reached the point of my diatribe, asking what I believe to be the single most important question I will ever ask my mom: “Will you please apologize to my children for voting for Trump?”

I continued: “My fear is that, when Trump is seen through a clear and objective lens, the support you gave him will define you.” 

A few days later, my mother, aka G-Ma and Grams, sat at the head of a round table. At 92, she was still larger than life and a commanding presence. She did not need to call for the attention of those gathered. At her first syllable, heads turned and phones were silenced. She would hold the room until she decided not to.

Before saying our traditional grace, she stood up, and the room came to attention. She took a moment to compose herself, and with her signature confidence, said, “I want to apologize.” Looking around the table, she did not falter. “I made a horrible mistake voting for Trump. Had I known then what I know now, I never would have voted for him. I hope you will forgive me.” And it was done.

There was a collective sigh of relief as she released our attention and laughed as she said, “That wasn’t so hard.” We hugged and I whispered my thank you as we embraced. “Let’s eat,” she said. And we began, “Bless us our Lord and these Thy gifts …”

In the months that have followed, I have elected to continue the moratorium on political discourse and opted instead to explore our common ground — which, I have discovered, is fertile and vast and refreshingly friendly. Trump’s recent conviction on 34 felony counts affirmed that her divorce from MAGA and Trump was the right choice. 

My children’s wounds have started to heal. They have forgiven her, and through them, my grandchildren will as well. In the end, the “intervention” we staged was a gift, a blueprint of sorts for a divided time. She showed us how to admit you were wrong in a world where it seems everyone has to be right. That’s the real takeaway, the kernel of truth I hope will grow and thrive.

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