Victoria Jelinek


When Politics is Personal…

I grew up through the 1970’s with a small group of girls in a town on the Western coast of the USA. We went to elementary school, middle school, and high school together. A couple of us moved away, but we always kept in touch and saw each other regularly over the decades. I flew back, in fact, to spend my 50th with them just before Covid-19 hit. We have a chat group in which we talk about the banalities within our lives as well as big issues – marriage, expectations, addiction, disappointment, fears, and motherhood. I always suspected one of these friends supported Trump, but I adopted something akin to “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Then, a few days ago, in response to video I sent of peaceful protests in our home state and things, perhaps, not being as violent as they’re purported to be, she told us about her vehement support of Trump and her plans to vote for him again in November, etc.. Moreover, while she has struggled to suppress her staunch support of him in order to be friends with me, she will cut off the friendship if I have a problem with her political affiliation. I was shocked and hurt. I can understand why she may have voted for him in 2016, but after everything that has happened during the last few years stateside, for her to vote for him again left me utterly stunned.

Below, is an email I sent to another member of our ‘gang,’ and my dearest friend in the world – the sister I have never had. That said, she and I have never really discussed politics because I felt she wasn’t particularly interested. Also, I know that her parents are Trumpsters, as are other members of her family, so I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position and potentially have conflict with her (too). But, since the ‘breach,’ if you will, from the other friend, I wrote an email to her, below, because I can’t carry the confusion and unhappiness I feel about our mutual friend alone, and I feel the need to find out where she stands – to ‘lay it all bare’ and to ‘throw the dice’ (and a number of other platitudes), hoping that our friendship will bear the burden of potentially diametrical political perceptions.

I share it here because it illustrates how politics has become personal, and questions whether we can reach over (under, above) political divides to those who hold fundamentally different views from our own in our personal lives…

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“In politics, the middle way is none at all.” John Adams

Hello my dear,

I want to address what you said on the group with * and *, about beliefs and finding common ground and what-not. I absolutely agree that divisiveness and power struggles aren’t productive, and there is reason to trying to find shared values in order to collectively progress…and, actually, thinking about * and her vehement support of Trump, I find myself really evaluating how information we each look at, and the people we tend to ‘bond’ with and to hold close, generally do share our values and beliefs, and so it is like we’re all operating in a vacuum, including me, by gravitating and engaging with like-minded folks…and then, it only takes cynical would-be and actual political leaders to accentuate the natural separation between milieus…aided and abetted by targeted ads and ‘news’ stories on social media to encourage and perpetuate one’s biases.

And, I realize I was ‘indoctrinated’ by my father to certain political ideologies :).

However. As you may know :), I question things a lot. I truly try to be honest with myself, even with the ‘dark’ corners of my person. I remedy false ideas and admit when I’m wrong or don’t know enough about a subject to proffer an opinion. I also teach sociolinguistics and comparative linguistics (oh yes, the teens dig it :))

And, with my identity having undergone a seismic shift in 2018, I’ve deeply evaluated who I am and why I am and what I value most of all, etc. Add to that the very disturbing global politics and trends ‘forcing’ me to consider where I stand on political and social issues and why. Perhaps current events have done this for a lot of us?

The following points are not in an effort to persuade you to a certain view, but are offered, instead, as proof that I have thought carefully about my view of Trump and this current administration. That my dislike of him is not a ‘leftist’ ‘knee-jerk’ response to him or his party, but carefully considered reasoning.

While I do tend to favor newspapers and magazines that share my general sensibilities, I actually read a lot of information from ‘both sides of the aisle’ regularly. So, while I get a regular influx of “Harpers” Magazine and “Foreign Affairs” and “The Guardian” newspaper and “Le Monde” and “Mother Jones” (left leaning intellectual bias) I also regularly read Reddit, “Huffington Post,” David Brooks, “The Sun,” and Fox News (centrist & right leaning bias). Moreover, I’m quite well versed in global history and politics. Luckily, to understand literature and to teach a given book well, one must understand the context in which it’s written and so I’m forever researching and cross referencing various time periods and societal perspectives/values/expectations/political occurrences and undercurrents. And, while I concede that most things are arguable, as you note, and that even statistics, themselves, can be read and understood from different angles, there are some things that are my ‘line in the sand’ and that it would be very tough going to change my mind about. And which, consequently, leaves me in some distress as to whether I can, in fact, be friends with *, or she with me, without a degree of self-consciousness or falsehood…

So, for example, I’m a devout Social Democrat. I’m not an American type of Democrat at all, whom I see as centrist and still adhering to big business and the almighty sway of capitalism (in this, I can understand why Trumpsters are disenchanted with the system stateside. That said, I know that USA Democrats created Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and free school lunches, for example, so they are different). I believe that taxes should be paid equitably by all in order to secure the infrastructure of society. That it is our civic responsibility for our children, as well as for our neighbor’s children, and ourselves. This is not to say that I don’t believe in capitalism – I do. BUT, I think unfettered capitalism is destructive, corruptible, and will ultimately lead to hyper inequity and corporate fascism (meaning that corporations and business interests ‘own’ the governments of the world and motivate their interests and dictate their respective policies). Again, sort of like a Trumpster, I suppose, I think that it’s arguable as to whether it’s even possible to operate outside of that system anymore in the USA. I mean, for example, it takes SO much money to RUN for office – which means you’re giving favors in return for said money no matter how you look at it – that I think it’s a colossal feat to be able to operate outside these moneyed interests there…

It’s so strange to me, though, that Trumpsters see Trump as ‘outside’ the system, when he is born of it. Literally. He inherited 240 million dollars from his dad, attended private schools, did poorly in university but wasn’t flunked due to donations from his father. He’s the type of student I (hypocritically) might teach in a private school in Switzerland.

Anyway.

I believe in universal healthcare. I don’t see it as those paying taxes taking care of those who don’t or who are lazy, etc., and the odd sense of exceptionalism and individualism and personal convenience in disdain for universal healthcare. I see it as a mark of a collectively oriented society. A civilized society. The Trump administration is hell bent on rolling back even the ‘kind-of, sort-of universal healthcare’ the Obama admin. enacted.

I believe in a strong public education system, with heavy investment in teachers, schools, administrators and students. This goes for elementary through university. I believe that a solid, democratic, functioning society comes from investment in public education and the possibility that anyone who has merit and interest can go to school and not pay for it for their rest of their lives. It’s the long view, not short-term planning. I find it saddening and appalling that in the USA, for example, more is spent on maintaining a single prisoner in a penitentiary than on a single student. The current Secretary of Education stateside has never worked in education, donated 30 million dollars to the Trump campaign in 2016, and is an advocate of charter schools and private faith-based schools. Despite what American founding fathers said about the separation of church and state in order to have true religious freedom and to avoid a conflict of interests.

I do not believe that anyone should be prejudiced against because of the color of his or her skin. And in the USA, blacks have been actively and systematically repressed since their arrival as slaves over two hundred years ago. The Trump administration has commended white supremacists, invited them to the White House for visits, and has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as created the narrative that Antifa is a “terrorist” organization even as the KKK is not.

I believe women are equal to men. Different, but equal. I also believe women have a right to make choices about their bodies, and this means birth control and abortion. Trump has openly insulted women, bullied female congressional leaders, incited his followers to violence against female political leaders who disagree with him, has had numerous harassment cases against him, paid off a call girl during his admin., and speaks in a sexualized manner about his own daughter. What HE has said is what I’m going by, not what others have said about him. His administration has made it difficult for women to have reproductive care covered by their insurance, even as sexual ‘aids’ (sic) are now available to men under general insurance policies.

I believe that global treaties are necessary to avoid world war. Again. This administration has condemned NATO, the EU commission, and pulled out of the Paris Agreement. It has actively antagonized China and Africa, at the same time that it has openly invited foreign intervention in the USA federal elections. Again, I’m going on what HE says and what a tribunal in the USA found, as well as what various INTEL agencies in the USA and the UK have said. I understand the USA has given a TON of money to these organizations, bolstering them up, and led them, but it’s spending a nickel to save a dime if history is anything to go by, and it is.

I believe that climate change is real and that there is a new future possible in clean energy and sustainable practices. It’s economically viable to boot. The Trump admin has, again, pandered to fossil fuel interests and the agricultural industry in order to ensure campaign donations and practical support. Meanwhile, bolstering rhetoric to working class souls who rely on these jobs in fossil fuels. BUT, they could be retrained with a modicum of investment and then have jobs that are more secure. But we go back to economic interests.

I believe vaccinations are a godsend, so to speak, but it’s not faith based at all. Science has eradicated polio, measles, and mumps — made it possible not to die of pneumonia or an infection, for example. Not to vaccinate your child is willful ignorance and negligence for the rest of society as well as your child. Any ‘research’ on the possibility of autism with any vaccine has been repeatedly debunked through extensive quantitative research. Similarly, not to wear a mask or maintain a distance during a virus pandemic will hurt those around you. Yet, the Trump administration has repeatedly berated and ridiculed “experts” and “scientists,” long before Covid-19 came to visit. Why? Because a lot of education is not the profile of his base.

I don’t think Trump believes even half of what he says. I think he says whatever he needs to say to please the 36% of Americans who believe in him. To them he says Mexicans are rapists and drug addicts (let us not get into the historical creation and political interests of drug cartels in South America). To them, he calls the press ‘the left wing media,’ when he knows that without the media he wouldn’t have gotten the office AND the majority of the news outlets/radio/TV stateside are corporate owned, so they like Trump in office ‘cause he’s giving their owners tax cuts and profit-making incentives, and he, simply, SELLS newspapers/magazines, etc. He makes them money any way you look at it.

Always follow the money for answers, no? It’s the same everywhere. While I can understand/it’s logical that many people support Trump ‘cause he has cut taxes exponentially for the wealthiest and he operates in the interests of business, I do not understand why poor, working class Americans support this man.

So, while I agree with you that we need to find shared ideas and values to make peace and progress, I’m not sure how we do this now when there are such spectacular divides… I’ve lived abroad a long time (and some USA admins were harder than others to live through here with my Yankee accent) but in 20-odd years, I have never seen the fear, pity, and contempt that Europeans appear to feel about America and Americans now. It breaks my heart. It’s like watching a fatal car crash in slow motion. To them, it’s the inevitable fall of yet another empire that begs the question of who will fill that vacuum?

And, I’m actually very confused about maintaining a relationship with *. I love her, I respect her. I know her to be practical, wise, kind, and funny – qualities I admire and hold to be ‘true’. I trust her in a way that I don’t most. Perhaps in a way that you can only trust someone because you’ve grown up together?

But. Too much is at risk today and politics is personal for me. Particularly with such an explosively divisive man in office in the USA (and, again, I don’t for ONE second think that HE is the problem – only the lightning rod – for what has been happening to a great extent since the inception of the USA, and in an acute sense for the last fifty years). What he represents and what he does and says is abhorrent to me and I truly fear for the world if Americans don’t vote him out in November.

Yet * has said she will vote for him. Again. That he’s the “best candidate.” (Keep in mind, I get that Biden is no great shakes – yet another old, white, rich dude – but he won’t do what Trump has done in terms of all mentioned above and the attitude – and actions – of being ‘above the law’). She has been my friend since I was seven-years-old. We haven’t kept in close touch consistently over the years, but I always saw her when I’d go back and I hold her very dear. And our group chats through this terrible time, through the confinement especially, has been the MOST comforting thing for me truly (thank you). It’s very confusing and I’m very sad. I also know that I’m a ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight’ person and find it easiest to not confront…to ‘simply’ withdraw and have yet another piece of pain and confusion and disappointment to try to unravel.

Again, I absolutely agree that divisiveness and power struggles aren’t productive, and there is reason and logic in trying to find shared values in order to collectively progress…and I am – even more in the last 48 hours –evaluating the information I look at, and the type of people I tend to ‘bond’ with and hold close, and who generally share my values and ‘beliefs,’ and so it IS like I’m operating in a vacuum…and this violates the truest definition of what it is to be ‘liberal,’ which I consider myself to be…

Know that I’m considering it all. And I’m sorry for such a loooooonnnnnngggg missive (damn Home Ec class taught me to type quickly). And, I apologize if I have unwittingly offended you in any way with this note. Please forgive me if so. I did not write this to you to incite, to convince, to cajole, to persuade or any other number of verbs for manipulation. I simply wrote it to share my confusion and the intensity of my own opinions with YOU. I feel as though it may seem ‘preachy’ to you, but I want to illustrate to you that I HAVE thought about each-and-every element of why I find Trump loathsome – and, again, that it’s not a knee-jerk thoughtless “Trump sucks” kind-of thing from the “left” side of the playing field without consideration for WHY he might be appealing to many.

Thank you for ‘listening.’

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X: Call Me Old Fashioned

An excerpt from a letter to a friend today:

Prawn & avocado cocktailThank you my dear. Always.

I remember a friend who is a public defender in my home state (another thankless, hard job) telling me that he felt that it often feels like you’re rolling a boulder up a hill over-and-over again in an effort to help humanity, or at least to stave off its inevitable decline. However, if you CAN roll the boulder up the hill, you have a moral obligation to do so.

Which reminds me, I watched Macron give a (long) speech in response to the Yellow Vest protests and at the conclusion of a two-month series of ‘national debates’ in which he had been traveling around France meeting people in small towns in order to hear their views and complaints. I felt like weeping: his grasp of the complicated conceptual elements that make societies function, to thrive, are astounding. And his knowledge of the tedious, practical details of governance are impressive (can you imagine Trump doing this?!). He had notes, but he would ‘go off’ on tangents, addressing each-and-every point (the growing sense that governments seem inaccessible to the general public, for example), and explaining WHY he would not fight for one thing or another (blank votes, for example). I felt like weeping because I thought that I’m so impressed and relieved that there ARE politicians out there like him that DO know something about governing (history, sociology, law, economics, geography, rhetoric, etc.), and are showing accountability by the mere fact that they’re acknowledging the grievances and worries of their citizens; that these leaders seem to be SO few-and-far between, making someone like Macron a surprise; but it should be the standard we hold ALL politicians to! And I also felt like weeping because I know that in general the French don’t like him (they think he’s arrogant and a friend of big money  because of his background) and will consequently vote him out in the next election…

I fear, too, for the upcoming European elections, where cynical far-right politicians are exploiting people’s ignorance, impotence and anger – in France, Hungary, Austria, and Italy, for example, where they are promoting anti-immigrant and euro skeptic views – and these political parties will likely gain power in the EU parliament.

Why can’t people learn from history? Or even the recent history of the USA and England and the deteriorating state they’re in culturally and practically?!

That said, Spain did NOT vote for the far-right party that was promoting guns in every household, thank goodness. Hope lives another day. (Even as the far-right party there now has access to parliamentary power – a terrifying global phenomena akin to global politics in the 1930’s).

Am going to watch some good TV programming now and pour myself a large glass of wine. Finished watching “Fleabag” season 2 last night – breathtakingly excellent!

And excellence, to me, in any realm, is like ‘god’ (for want of a better word) – a raison d’être.

Love to you, my excellent friend, v.