How politics tears families apart
The year was 2004, and a month after Barack Obama made his national debut at the Democratic National Convention, another Democrat hit the headlines at the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Georgia Democrat Zell Miller – a former governor who won with the help of longtime Democratic advisor James Carville, who in 1992 spoke nostalgic nostalgia for FDR before DNC, Truman, Kennedy and Carter who supported Bill Clinton, and George HW Bush declined – now stood on the podium of the RNC to support George W. Bush.
“A whole new generation of the Miller family has been born since I last stood there,” he said. “They are Shirley and me’s most precious possessions.”
“My family is more important than my party,” he said.
It was a powerful moment, which is hard to imagine today, when bitter partisanship and loyalty to the party threatened to replace not only our commitment to our country, but also to our families.
Nowhere is this destructive effect stronger than in right-wing politics, where loyalty to the party and especially to Donald Trump has managed to corrupt so many important democratic institutions – our elections, for example – but worse, institutions as fundamental as the family that Pope John XXIII. Called “the first essential cell of human society”.
Under and after Donald Trump’s presidency, families have become more divided, disaffected, even estranged in surprising – and in some cases very public – ways.
This weekend, three siblings of Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona penned a pointed comment on NBCnews.com criticizing their brother for a history of political atrocities ranging from birth to anti-Semitism, downplaying COVID-19 and instigating a riot in the U.S. Capitol . They got personal.
“Perhaps your lifelong, insecure need for the approval of others has led you to sacrifice your decency and integrity to please Trump and his followers in order to keep your seat,” they wrote.
You have long publicly criticized your brother and even pushed for his expulsion from Congress.
Gosar has previously responded to their complaints without much affection, telling CNN in 2018, “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are blood related to me, but like leftists everywhere, they put political ideology before family. Lenin, Mao and Kim Jung Un (sic) would be proud. “
The Gosars are hardly alone.
Conways, matriarch and former Trump adviser Kellyanne, patriarch and never-trumper George, and teen anti-Trump activist and “American Idol” candidate Claudia have been in a very public, hard-to-watch family conflict for the past two years involved . Recently Claudia said that luckily her relationship with her parents has improved.
Planning the Gaetz-Luckey wedding could be difficult as future sister-in-law of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has criticized his “strange and creepy” behavior towards women after allegations of sex crimes on social media. Gaetz’s fiancée claps back: “My estranged sister is mentally ill.”
What may previously have been kept behind closed doors is now visible to everyone, perhaps even in the hope that public shame will have a behavior-changing effect.
But even more tragic than the public banter of these public figures are the stories of average American families devastated by politics, conspiracy theories, and extremism. They are not difficult to find.
An NPR report told of a sub-Reddit group called “Q Casualties” that consisted of users who could no longer communicate with their QAnon family members – people like “Tyler”, who was discouraged when he found out his Father at the Capitol was in his RV with guns loaded on January 6th.
In another story, a woman named “Caroline” told an Iowa news agency that she “was married to a QAnon believer and lived in fear.” “QAnon destroyed my life,” she said. “I live with someone who hates me.”
There’s the story of Rosanne Boyland, whose family was concerned about their increasingly conspiratorial political ideas. She was one of five people who died in the Capitol Rebellion and sacrificed their lives for a wrong cause despite not even voting before 2020, according to her family.
COVID-19 has brought a different kind of political alienation – via masking and vaxxing. There’s the story of two Chicago sisters whose mother stopped talking to them after they resisted their request not to be vaccinated.
There are countless other stories of families torn apart by politics in recent years – the politics of Trump, the cults of conspiracy groups like QAnon, the extremism of groups like the Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, and the new politics of the masks and vaccines.
What these destructive elements have done to divide our country and turn Americans against Americans is well documented and appalling. But worse is what it has done, and continues to do, to our families, further and further isolating us from the things that matter most. If we don’t correct this soon, we have a very dark and lonely future ahead of us.
SE Cupp is hosting “SE Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.