BY MAX B. ABRAMS There is an old saying that, like so many other worn out platitudes, only carries weight when someone defies it: There are two things that should not be discussed at a dinner table — politics and religion. I don’t think my father has ever heard this saying. My father is a devout follower of Fox News. He is also an intelligent man who is excellent at discourse. He knows how to argue his opinion in a manner that is admittedly pretty convincing, even when I think he is wrong. His debating style is like a bulldozer, and any and all opposition fuels that bulldozer. He trucks on at a minimal speed when nobody opposes him, but as soon as someone does he gets faster and louder until opposing arguments are flattened beneath him.
I, on the other hand, abhor Fox News and their “no spin zones” and think they are the biggest “spinners” in the media food chain. I won’t deny the fact that, early on in the campaign, when I argued with my father I took on the quintessentially liberal air of condescension, hearing my father but not listening, taking root in the deep solipsism that I am right and he is not worthy of my full attention. I was so used to being bulldozed that I usually just kept my head down, gripping tight to my own beliefs and hoping that they would still be there when it was over.
This did not last when Trump came into the picture. I think Trump is a misogynistic demagogue, while my father thinks he’s an ingenious outsider. Our differing perspectives were just too strong and polarizing to maintain this delicate balance. I would meet him in argument, and because it took me so long to finally speak up I always started at a much more heated gear than I should have. And whenever my father, bulldozer that he is, sensed resistance he always switched to high gear and pushed back.
We spent a long and dizzying period of time going through the same cycle: rational discussions turned into heated arguments into screaming matches into weeks without talking to each other, then repeat. These arguments almost exclusively came to fruition at the dinner table, one of the only times of the day where my family sits down and talks to each other without distraction. It is a real shame that so many of these moments were ruined by our fighting. It really is amazing how quickly discussion gives way to argument, how expressing one’s opinions almost unknowingly becomes attacking another’s.
Our fighting came to a head around the time of the debates. By this time, we were both so resolute in our feelings, and both of us indignant for different reasons, we came to see each other as enemies. I would ask him point blank how he could cast his vote for someone so vulgar, so rude. He asked me how I could feel comfortable putting my faith in someone who clearly says only what I want to hear. Without fail, things escalated quickly. It wasn’t long before my father was shouting, dismissing my opinion as the spawn of corruptive professors who are unethically imposing their opinions on the young and impressionable. I would ridicule him for living in the Fox News echo chamber, somehow comforted by the malicious and manipulative “news” pedaled by Rupert Murdoch’s network. When we get like this, neither of us actually eat. My mother, who washed her hands of both candidates this year, leaves the table instead of trying to get in the way of the shrapnel. And there we are, my father and I, angry and getting less political with our comments and more personal and hurting, food getting cold.
Our biggest blow out was over the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where a hot mic captured Trump, unaware he was being recorded, bragging about molesting women without consent.
“Who cares about a tape that was recorded ten years ago? It wasn’t like he was in office at the time, or doing some interview. That’s just how men talk,” my father said, squinting at me in frustration from across the table.
“How does that make it ok? The man clearly thinks he can just do whatever he wants, take advantage of whoever he wants.”
“If someone had been following me around with a tape recorder my whole life, recording my conversations with my friends, I’m sure there would be some pretty ugly conversations on there too. It doesn’t mean that’s how I actually think, or him.”
“It clearly does! He is still just as insensitive. He is clearly an egomaniac! A misogynist who should get sent back to the 1900’s!” When I yell my sentences are short and come in quick succession and are more than a little frantic.
“Oh, this is just your P.C. bullshit trying to control how everyone talks.” He waves his hand at me, dismissing. “This is how real men talk. How hot women are, what they would do to them. Do you and your friends not talk about women? Do you not like women, son?” My dad really does ask me these questions in the midst of arguments.
And this went on, escalating in a projectable, all too familiar manner. Soon enough I was storming away from the table- this time it was me but it can go either way, who is the one to walk away. Neither of our opinions changed, and we had only hurt and frustrated each other in the process of trying, forever futilely, to sway the other.
Weeks later, when Trump finally won the election, my father reached out to me over the phone. We hadn’t spoken in more than a few days. I had been dodging his calls since the results came in. Seeing his name come up on my phone, I finally answered with dread. I expected him to gloat and bask in a victory eight years coming, to seek benediction in a cocky “I told you so” voice, but he instead showed me kindness. He told me that he knew I was devastated and he understood that this was hard for me, but he truly believed that this would make a better life for all of us. He said that for both of our sakes now, I better hope that I was wrong. And I do.
My father and I are lucky in that we love each other enough to ultimately see past our disagreements and not let it pollute the way we think of the other. Yes, we still argue often and passionately about politics, about life in general. And yes, it gets between us much more than I would like it to, but I still see my father for who he has been my whole life and will probably continue to be for as long as time allows: someone who is always there, someone who has provided for me and gotten me out of some of my toughest situations. What is most important when it really comes down to it is that we still sit down for dinner together.
Max Abrams studies English at Temple University