My family member is pinned to my wall, like an insect.
It’s a bit clinical, perhaps, but it’s apt. Ever since Donald Trump shocked the world, and rode a wave of white resentment and rage into the Oval Office, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relative. He used to be a Canadian, and normal. But now he lives somewhere in the United States, and he doesn’t seem very normal anymore.
And he is a devoted supporter of Donald Trump.
So I have figuratively put him up there: him the bug, me the entomologist. I watch him – “pinned and wriggling to the wall,” in that celebrated T.S. Eliot stanza – and try and understand him, and those like him.
When he was still a Canadian, he was a Liberal and a liberal. He was well-educated; he was urban, urbane. Agnostic, caustic. He was funny and smart. He was born in Montreal, like most of our Irish Catholics family was, and then he ended up in Ottawa. A public servant. A bureaucrat.
The usual stuff happened: divorces, kids, job changes, upheaval. Life’s curveballs. He changed, a bit.
I’d run into him in bars in and around Ottawa. His appearance, his look, was different. He seemed angry, really angry. He was particularly angry about women, and he’d say things about women that actually shocked me. He’d say what he wanted to do to women, not with women. “Locker room talk,” Trump calls it. It was uncomfortable, so I started avoiding him.
And then, he slipped into some Bermuda Triangle, and we all lost track of him. He was in Europe, or something. Next thing I knew, he was living in the States – a battleground state – and he was married with kids. His wife wasn’t white. They went to church regularly, I heard, and he strongly disapproved of popular culture and progressive values.
He read Mark Steyn and the like. He called himself a Republican, but he was on the outer fringes of that once-great party. When I saw him at a wedding, once, he told me what a relief it was not be a Canadian anymore, and to not have to worry about Quebec separatists or multiculturalism or any of the trivialities that preoccupy us up here.
Still seemed angry, though. It was still there, his suburban middle-America reverie notwithstanding.
A year or so ago, we all heard he had gone full Trump. He was even working for Trump. So, I silently re-committed to avoiding him. I did not want my kids exposed to someone who supported someone who was a sexist, racist lunatic with fascistic leanings.
My wife and I started volunteering for Hillary Clinton whenever we were in the U.S. We worked for her in three states, knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, doing whatever was needed.
We all thought she was going to win. We never thought Donald Trump would, not for a minute.
Since his electoral college victory, of course, things have gotten just as bad as you’d expect. Trump’s transition to power is in chaos. He’s been on the line with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin before he’s talked to his NATO allies. He’s made a white supremacist and anti-Semite his most senior advisor. He’s scoffed at conflicts of interest. He says he will eradicate Roe v. Wade, and a woman’s right to choose. He says he will round up and deport three million people. He’s surrounded himself with conspiracy nuts. He’s going to tear up trade deals, and target Canadian exports. He has gone back on Twitter to say that “professional protestors” have been “incited by the media” against him.
And, in just a single week, the U.S. bond markets have lost a trillion dollars in value. Hate crimes have exploded, with hundreds being reported by the independent Southern Poverty Law Centre – and with attacks on Muslims up some 70 per cent. And that woman who, as a 13-year-old, says that she was raped by Trump? She dropped her case against him, because she was getting too many death threats.
I reflect on all of this, and more, as I peer at my relative on the wall. I don’t understand him, at all. But I need to, if I want to prevent something like Trump from happening again. Even up here, in the form of Kellie Leitch or someone else.
Was it anger? Racism? Sexism? Populism? What propelled a member of my own family into the arms of a monster like Donald Trump?
Reflecting on all that, it occurs to me that it isn’t my relative who is pinned to the wall, now.