This primary season’s excesses and carnival atmosphere have led me to examine the histories and beliefs of family and friends living in North Florida who voted for Donald Trump. They are not white supremacists. They are not racists. They are not haters. It’s easy for me to project those beliefs onto them as a simple answer for why they’ve supported a clown of a millionaire turned politician whose rhetoric attracts white supremacists, racists, and haters to his cause. But, it’s not what they are. They are afraid. They fear terrorists, they fear “unrest”, they fear anger directed at law enforcement, and they fear the very social changes that I embrace as advancements in human rights and justice.
This is Part 1 of a series of articles I will post this month.
It was June 10, 2014. Since moving to California several years ago, I had somewhat gratefully let the family ties grow loose. As a social and political liberal and an agnostic, the Bible Belt had never been a comfortable place for me, and I had long ago grown tired of holding my thoughts and words in check around my family for the sake of peace – my peace – and not being the focus of untold hours worth of inexorable, sweetly spoken arguments and apologetics. I seldom initiated contact even by phone except on major holidays. I had eventually dropped the habit of flying back to Florida more than once a year, and that was slowly stretching out to every two years. Eventually, I expected the visits to stretch even further until the ties attenuated to nearly nothing.
When the phone rang and I recognized my mother’s voice, I knew it would be bad news. From experience, I also knew that she would have to work her way around to the news chronologically, from whatever point in the past she felt was the starting point.
This time, the starting point was two years earlier, and she began with an explanation that my Dad had made her promise not to share this info, but now she had to tell me (and my siblings) despite his wishes. When my mom calls bearing bad news, there is usually a resigned, “God’s will”, and a comforting tone, even to the point of prefacing her soliloquy with a reassuring “She is doing ok for now” or “He isn’t in bad pain”. That tone and reassurance were absent. As she began the litany and laid out the timeline, I could tell the news was bad and I wanted so much to demand that my mother cut to the chase, but something about the fear and self-justification stopped me. My mom hated relating this information. No, she hated the information itself. Having to share it was bad, but wasn’t the worst part.
Twenty minutes later I had the full picture, or most of it. My dad had been diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. And he had gone from doing major repair projects around the house to being too weak to walk in less than a week. It was the news about this inactive cancer that my dad hadn’t wanted us to know. It’s a non-hereditary form of leukemia, and aside from twice a year checkups and lab work to be sure it was still inactive, my dad wasn’t being treated for it.
June in California can be hot, but it’s usually a pleasant heat, compared to the Florida Junes I remember from childhood through college. I booked a flight for the following week and began packing and making preparations for being away from my own home for an indeterminate length of time: shorts, capris, sandals, a vest-of-many-pockets, laptop, tablet, smartphone, chargers, and toiletries. It was an odd assortment of belongings to take across the country. I had no idea at the time, but it was the core of my kit for surviving the next six months, most of them summer months, in Florida.