The Heart of America Versus the Purple Heart of Donald Trump

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I trust Elaine Soloway to have a considered view of things. (Yes, the “my daughter based Transparent on my life” Elaine Soloway.) So when she posted to Facebook a New York Times article from a Donald Trump contemporary who also managed to evade the Vietnam draft, I read it. The author’s point: those who made sure they didn’t get shipped off to war are the ones who owe the most respect to those who actually served. It brought back memories I definitely didn’t expect.

My family is from the same southeast Queens that Trump’s family is from. Just a few blocks separated along Hillside Avenue. One side of the Jamaica neighborhood, and the other. My brother and sister (now of blessed memory) were both two decades older than me. I remember their friends coming back from Vietnam in the early seventies—in particular how completely destroyed they were psychologically and emotionally. In my mid-forties, I’ve still never forgotten Lenny Texter begging me not to walk behind him while three-year-old me decorated the Christmas tree, because he couldn’t stop himself from reacting violently and out of sheer terror to noises from behind. Or other friends of theirs who fought their demons by descending into alcoholism and drug addiction.

Some of them could easily have been Donald Trump’s high school classmates before serving. He may have known some of them. This week, watching Trump joke about “always wanting” to receive a Purple Heart and how much easier it was to just have one gifted to him was disgusting enough to anyone with a sense of decency or respect for military friends and family. (For example, my siblings’ father, my awesome ex-Army niece, my awesome ex-Navy nephew.) But the article really drove home something more for me about Trump. If the damage to friends and family from serving our country in troubled times could be evident to a three-year-old and still echo for that former child forty-three years later (and current family members didn’t get off easily, either), how does someone who four times dodged the same draft and inescapably must have watched his own damaged friends come home—or never come home—joke about it? Even now?

I’m a Democrat. But I’m not in the camp that thinks Democrats can do no wrong, Hillary Clinton—or any political candidate anywhere ever—is perfect, or all Republicans are like the racist, sexist, homophobes at the core of Trump’s supporters. In fact, I think the media and political observers this election are giving Republicans—not Republican politicians, but the regular people who could be my neighbors—very, very little credit. I think whatever side of the aisle you’re on, it has been a very troubling several years since the Great Recession, and economic struggle, hardship, and fear has left no one and no family untouched. I get how easy it can be to channel that stress and strain into blame, party unity, and objectifying the other side’s candidate. Pretty much, that’s politics. No surprise there, no matter how Trump’s hearty riffing off of those stresses and strains may surprise the talking heads.

Yet, I think Democrat or Republican, we’re similar in more ways than our pain. We’re similar in our family values as well. No, really. Beyond the secular-vs-Christian religious culture wars in which we inflict so much harm on each other, we all still have family and friends whom we love. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, lifelong friends. We know the respect they deserve from others—because they deserve it from us, and simply because they’re human, just like us. We’ve had their back and defended them many times. They matter that much to us. Yes, some of them are different than we are—maybe different races or ethnicities or sexual orientations—and some of that gets in the way for us. Sometimes a lot. But for the less politically extreme, middle-of-the-road among us—which I believe is the majority of us—based on our own human values and our own personal relationships, we know people who deserve love, honor, and respect when we see them.

I think that’s what Donald Trump misses. He misses it about many, many Republicans. And unless his campaign behavior is all a cleverly managed act, maybe he misses that—literally—in himself. He may believe that no one and nothing is off-limits. But in their hearts, I believe the American people abide by different, higher values. I definitely believe most Republicans abide by higher values. Even if party loyalty or simple inertia makes it hard for rank-and-file Republicans to voice it publicly, there is no human way for them or anyone else not to feel the sting of Trump’s attacks on veterans, immigrants, women, mourning parents, or any other group his campaign has put in the cross-hairs. Because when you put all those groups together, what you pretty much end up with is the average American family, their extended family, and their friends.

Every time Donald Trump lashes out at someone or some group that isn’t like him, he completely misses the fact that he’s attempting to wound someone or some group that is very much like some of the people loved—in some cases deeply loved—by the on-the-fence Republicans and Independents whose votes he would need to win the White House.

And I give them the credit for feeling it and knowing it. I give them the credit for feeling the urge to defend those near and dear to them every time Trump aims his scattershot mouth. I give Republicans the credit of pausing in their heart about their candidate, over and over again. I give them the credit of knowing better than Donald Trump what it’s like to be an American family in 2016.

I give them the credit of being troubled at the idea of a president they could easily picture calling their mother a dog, or their daughter a whore, or their best friend a rapist. Over and over again.

I don’t have an easy answer for them. I’m troubled right along with them. I wish they had a candidate with a bigger heart. But I will definitely give them credit for their own hearts, even if Donald Trump won’t.

Especially this November.

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