“If we weren’t fighting all those years,” Aunt Mary says with a dismissive laugh, “what would we have done with ourselves all day, played Tiddlywinks?” I am scrubbing her dentures over the nursing home sink as my favorite aunt—dying from stomach cancer while simultaneously recovering from a broken leg—tells story after story about how she and my mother grew up in a family of fighters. “I mean, that was just normal life,” she says, putting her dentures back in, checking her charming smile in the mirror I’ve handed her. “If nobody was mad, what would we have talked about?”
Growing up in a family of fighters, in the land of gossip and grievance, of who-got-what-and-who-didn’t, is exhausting. As much as I loved my aunt, my mother, and my grandparents (all long dead), I also remember just wanting to turn it off and make them stop, and I often wonder if this is why our current president and his Twitter feed feel so sickeningly familiar. So like home.
Much like my grandfather, this president wakes up most days with a bone to pick and stays that way. Fake News! he tweets with his trademark exclamation points. Greatest witch hunt in political history! SPYGATE is in full force! No collusion! The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!
Not a day goes by without the president blatting out his every resentment. We are plumb wore out; we want to turn off the noise and go live our lives; we start to think, Jesus already, just give him what he wants and be done with it. But isn’t that, after all, his whole point?
On June 5, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles cancelled their trip to the White House.
For months, the president has been relentless in criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem (exercising their 1st Amendment rights) to bring attention to police brutality and violence against African Americans. He insists they are doing this to dishonor the flag, the military, and the anthem, that maybe they should not even be in this country—a false narrative the president refuses, all evidence to the contrary, to give up—even as he calls them sons-of-bitches.
And, as he predictably does, he took to Twitter to put them in their place. “We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M., The White House, with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus. Honoring America! NFL, no escaping to Locker Rooms!”
The same day the Eagles stayed away from the White House, police officers in Mesa, Arizona were caught on video brutally beating a black man. While responding to a domestic violence call, officers approached a man—not involved in the dispute—on an open-air balcony as he talked on this phone. At no point does the man raise his hands; he does not reach for anything; he does not approach them nor even lean in their direction. And yet, within seconds, they are on him, brutally beating him into submission.
The Mesa police department issued a statement, which read, in part, “The misconduct of these officers would have gone unnoticed if it had not been captured by surveillance.”
This is why NFL players are kneeling. The president is lying. How easy would it be for him to choose peace, to stop fighting, to call a meeting, to sit down at a table and talk with, listen to, these men? How easy would it be to shine his powerful spotlight away from himself and onto stopping unnecessary acts of violence?
And yet, he does nothing but fan the fight.
Shortly after Trump won the 2016 election, “The Art of the Deal” ghostwriter Tony Schwartz told The Nation magazine what we could expect from our new president. “[He] is 100 percent self-absorbed, incapable of interest in other human beings, and completely self-referential. He viewed every event through the lens of its impact on him. Even 30 years ago, he had an incredibly short attention span. Lying was almost second nature to him; he did it as easily as most of us drink a glass of water.”
I come from a large brood. My grandparents had 9 children. I have 4 brothers and sisters and two dozen cousins. My mother is dead. Aunt Mary is dead. My grandparents are dead. And we are still fighting and exhausted and miserable, because this is all we know to do.
Our president chooses to tweet at NFL players instead of talking with them. Like my grandfather, he wakes up angry and lets us know it, working like mad to keep up his lies about patriotism to stoke the daily drama and the fights.
Why? Because fighting is all he knows. He has no interest in us. Lying is second nature. This is our new normal. And, as Aunt Mary might say with her winning, broad-toothed smile, “If he’s not fighting, what would he do all day?”