Editor’s note: The following article is written by a Fulbright Scholar and member of the American armed forces, who has asked to use a pseudonym for security reasons.
Help me understand: Why are you voting for Donald Trump? It shakes me to my core.
I built a life around your stories, your values, and your example. Your faith, your judgment, and your wisdom were always good enough for me. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be for us—for Jews, I mean. You taught me that we should never accept authority just because it’s authoritative, but your stories convinced me that there is very little merit in joining the disaffected ranks of petulant youth who reject their fathers altogether.
I drank up every word that you passed down like it was a treasure that I had to preserve, and cherish, and love. But lately I can’t understand the words you are passing down to me, your eldest grandson. I compare what you say today—about your support for Trump—with the lifetime of treasures you left me, and I can’t reconcile the man that I knew with the man that I see today. It scares me, because I already built a life around your stories, your values, and your example.
Please, Deda. Help me understand.
When I tell people about myself, I start with your story. You’re too humble to see it, but you’re our family’s Moses. As a young Jewish man in the Soviet Union, you stood up to that horrible, totalitarian idea that everyone must either be the same or be subordinate. You were a Jew, so you could never be the same. And you would never be subordinate.
Remember that story you told me about those guys at your factory who turned on the mill when your hands were inside because you were a Jew? Remember how your neighbors literally spat on you in the street when you obtained an exit visa? Remember how you held Papa’s hand at the train station, not knowing if you were going West or East, and said to him, “Son, if I let go of your hand, you have to run as fast you can?” Do you remember what it was like to be a pariah in society because you didn’t believe what everyone around you believed?
I do. It’s in my blood, Deda. I based my life on the stories of your bravery, and I joined the American Army so that I could free people who suffered like you—people, who today, are hated and scorned and ridiculed and persecuted by cowards and tyrants. But now I question everything.
Maybe I misunderstood your reasons for escaping the Soviet Union. Maybe you were just scared for your life, like the other Jews in the Soviet Union. Maybe you’re scared for your life now, like every person on earth. You say you wish I would shoot the wives and children of terrorists rather than risk my life and the lives of my fellow soldiers to save innocents; I know you can’t help but worry for the safety of your children and grandchildren.
But I also know that your instinct for self-preservation is not why you did the things you did. Remember when they told you it would just be safer for you to join the Communist Party? Remember when they told you it would be safer to surrender your children to the care of the State so that the children couldn’t be brainwashed by foreign ideas like capitalism? You would never believe that some man in power could keep your children safer than you could.
No, I don’t believe you ever made the safe decision. You always made the noblest, hardest, scariest, and, in the end, rightest decision. You took your family out of the Soviet Union because intellectual dignity, spiritual integrity, and moral bravery were more precious to you than life itself.
Did something change, Deda? Is the world scarier now than it was back then? And if it is, when did it become OK for us to hide from the things that scare us? When did it become OK for us to say and do horrible, nasty, and immoral things just because we’re scared? You never believed in the Soviet myth that people need a controlling tyrant to save them from themselves. Why do you seem to believe it now?
Help me understand.
You fell in love with America when you landed there as an immigrant refugee fleeing from violent political and religious persecution. Do you know what they said about you when you got to America? They said you were a Jew from a communist country coming to sabotage Christian capitalist America. They said you would never integrate. Were they right? Did we do anything but pour our heart, soul, money, tears, and sweat into our new country?
I grew up on the first piece of land you ever owned, just some miles outside New York City. Do you remember how you used to drive up there, in the winter, and straighten out crooked nails with a hammer because you couldn’t afford new nails with which to build our home? My best childhood memories are of playing in the home that you built with your own two hands.
Do you remember the businesses you started and closed? I remember the repair business, the vitamin business, and the rental business. I remember these businesses because they put Papa through school and put clothes on our back and put Hanukkah gelt in my pocket and paid taxes to the American government and gave money to veterans and bought new books for the synagogue.
Then, when you retired, you wrote novels, Deda. I mean, we all cherished the poems you wrote for us on our birthdays, but now the world would value your stories! In the author’s forward of your first novel, you ask readers to look at your heroes through the prism of goodness and suffering, so that your readers might come to see that even the most crude and filthy characters can, if they desire, find within themselves a deeply hidden purity and kindness.
Do you not believe that anymore, Deda? Help me understand.
You were always a man of deeds, but you also continue to live an admirable life of the mind. The novels were just the icing on the cake. I cherished our vigorous debates at dinner about the relative merits of Mayakovsky. “Yes, Mayakovsky was a charlatan,” you would say, “but oh my god was he a poet, and I don’t care what anyone says!” We would talk for hours about the value of the art you hung on your wall. “So what if I took it out of the garbage can—they were stupid for throwing it out!” And you put all your children through music school even though you could never play a note.
It was you who taught me that beauty and taste and culture has inherent value, and something that is willfully and purposely tasteless, cultureless, and ugly should be scorned. It was you who taught me that intelligence is not just about what you know or what kind of schooling you have. It’s about being willing to learn. I love quoting your joke that “an idiot who knows he is an idiot is no longer an idiot.”
But above all, you taught me that there should never be a disconnect between a man’s words and his actions. And that’s why, after agonizing over every word you’ve ever told me all my life, I still can’t understand.
Please, Deda, help me understand why you plan to vote for Donald Trump, whose entire campaign embodies the exact opposite of what you’ve instilled in me.
With all my love, respect, and gratitude,
Previous: Trump Watch [Tablet series]