Editor’s Note: Richard L. Eldredge is a contributing editor at Atlanta magazine and the founder and editor in chief of the digital arts magazine, Eldredge ATL. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
“Was it worth it?” That was the poignant and wise question a family member posed on Facebook after Joe Biden became President-elect. It’s a question I’ve grappled with for four years now. More specifically: Was your blind loyalty to President Donald Trump, a person you’ve never met, worth burning our family to the ground?
Like so many across the country since the election of the 45th President, our family has been splintered. While these disagreements could previously be contained by setting sensible “No Politics Allowed!” ground rules for family gatherings (my mom first had to institute this during the Ronald Reagan administration), in the age of social media, these arguments now routinely spill into our online lives.
Mirroring our real-life relationships, Facebook connections among our family members ended suddenly after Trump’s inauguration. We disagreed sharply when it was reported that Melania Trump would remain with the couple’s young son in New York City to finish out the school year instead of moving with him to Washington DC. The additional costs for Secret Service protection in New York were significant.
We argued about it on Facebook until I wrote these two sentences: “If Michelle Obama had announced she was going to remain in Chicago with Sasha and Malia while running up the tab on the taxpayer-paid Secret Service protection, all the while charging them rent, I would have heard you bellowing all the way down here in Atlanta. You’re a hypocrite.”
The last thing I remember was the top of your head figuratively coming off, IN ALL CAPS as you fired off an incendiary reply. As I hit reply on my response, I received a message from Facebook informing me my comment wouldn’t load. That’s when I realized you had “unfriended” me.
As it turns out, you weren’t alone. Family birthday greetings, anniversary celebrations and graduation photos eventually disappeared from my timeline as other family members used social media to take sides. When I typed the names of relatives I’ve known and loved all my life into the Facebook search box, profiles popped up, along with the phrase “Add Friend.” Or in extreme cases, you vanished completely after blocking me.
How did we get here?
One of you asked me to be the ring bearer in your wedding. As a kid, I spent summers at your house, swimming in your pool. You introduced me to Barbra Streisand LPs. For decades after mom’s death, I brought her prized pineapple cheesecake as we honored her together at family gatherings. I thought you were a goddess.
Another of you asked me to be the best man in your wedding. As kids, we played hundreds of games of Wiffle ball in my backyard until dark. After the death of my older brother, you lovingly, instinctively took over the role. You introduced me to The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and R.E.M. I thought you were a god.
I no longer do. I now realize you are all too human.
The invitations to your holiday gatherings stopped coming. Your daughter got married and I wasn’t invited. We haven’t spoken since 2017.
Over our love-filled 50-year bond, you chose a hate-filled New York millionaire who has never spent a moment with you, cried with one of you when your dad died, hugged another of you at your mom’s funeral or otherwise cared about you.
I know his supporters, you included, see the version of Trump he claims to be. Here is who I see. A man under seemingly constant investigation while in office. A man who brags about grabbing women by their genitals. A man who – though he denies it – others say calls members of our military “losers” and “suckers.” A morally bankrupt, impeached and now lame duck President.
A man who refers to members of the press – my chosen profession for the past three decades – as “enemies of the people.” A man who mocks the disabled, who basks in the adoration of a crowd chanting his name as he engages in cruelty.
That’s not who you are. That’s not who you have ever been.
Yet, you supported a President who knowingly lied to the American people about the dangers of a pandemic, who has turned his back on over 230,000 dead Americans. A man who blatantly ignored science and public health experts and said a highly infectious novel coronavirus would go away without a plan to treat it or contain it.
A man whose public utterances reflect that of a racist, a misogynist and a bigot whose administration attacks the rights of the LGBTQ community.
In 2016, you voted for all of that. And, after four years of insults, bullying, hundreds of heinous tweets and thousands of documented lies, I know from other relatives that you doubled down and voted for that again.
Even after four years of this person putting his character on daily display for the world to see, you decided he best represents the character and the values of this country. You decided he best represents your character and your values.
To be clear, this was never about a difference of political opinion. We’ve gotten through that before. This was about a fundamental difference in morality, integrity and decency and a person who exemplifies none of those things.
I went slack-jawed in June when The Washington Post ran a story about Post reporter Mary Jordan’s upcoming new book “The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump.” In it, Jordan reports that in 2016, the wife of the new President-elect used her move to the White House as a bargaining chip to renegotiate her pre-nup. (Melania Trump released a statement saying the book “belongs in the fiction genre.”) I grieved our lost relationship all over again. The argument that had severed a half-century relationship arose over an aggrieved wife’s acute business acumen in allegedly securing a bigger payday.
We had allowed a complete stranger to vaporize our family. A bond that spans The Beatles and swing sets, Frisbee tournaments in the street, sitting front row together at “E.T.,” late-night cruises in your car while blasting Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album and me nervously pinning on your boutonniere on the day of your wedding.
So, here we are now, on the series finale of “The Apprentice: White House Edition,” after millions of citizens in the single largest election in American history have united to say, “You’re Fired.” As he now shuffles his sad shell off the national stage, what happens to us and our family?
The question remains: “Was it worth it?”
I don’t know. You’re the only ones who can answer that. I also don’t know what the future holds for us or even if we have one. You were the person who closed the door on our relationship – and you hold the key to reopening it.
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I just know this: A resolution and reconciliation can’t begin until you can say the words, “I hear you and I’m sorry” and most importantly, “that’s not who I am.”
Then and only then, will we be able to begin to heal our relationship.
Whatever you ultimately decide, please know this – I love you. After everything else he’s taken from us, he doesn’t get to claim my love for you. That’s forever.