Family Matters

A Biden Supporter Has It Out With Her Trump-Supporting Father

Because a family debate is better than a presidential one

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

“Family Matters” is GEN’s series of moderated debates between parents and children who hold opposing political views.

Paul, 57, is a libertarian Trump supporter who works as a designer in Staten Island. His 22-year-old daughter, Deborah, worked most recently as a teacher and penned a viral story for GEN in June about her relationship with her dad. In a moderated roundtable, they discussed how to bring respectful discourse back to politics.

GEN: Paul, how do you feel the Trump administration has responded to the Covid-19 outbreaks?

Paul: I don’t think in my heart of hearts that it could have been done any worse or any better, because I think it’s evolving. It’s a very fluid situation. Maybe the masks help, maybe they don’t. I do it as courtesy. It is one of those things the science is still out on. Yeah, I know he downplayed it. An argument can be made that he was trying to make less panic. And — this is the libertarian in me coming out — I don’t find any governments or administrations to be particularly effective. I really, really believe, as with the 1918 virus, this thing has just got to burn itself out; maybe that’s herd immunity, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll discover a vaccine, who knows? But I think it’s just got to run its course.

Deborah: The biggest argument that I see from those who want to defend the administration’s actions is the travel ban from China. And I look at that from the perspective of somebody who was living abroad when the ban was put in place. I was living in France, and I woke up to a Wall Street Journal headline in my inbox saying, “Trump bans travel from Europe.” I panicked. While the ban was necessary, it wasn’t instituted in an organized manner. The communication between the president and his officials abroad was simply not there. The embassy had nothing to tell us. The embassy had no idea of what to say when the travel ban was instituted. It was just pandemonium.

And it seems to me that he banned travel and then gave himself a pat on the back and said he’d saved the nation from this virus. But the virus was already here, and it was beginning to spread, and we didn’t have adequate testing, we didn’t have adequate tracking measures. It was time for the president to come up with a national strategy.

What is the biggest issue facing the country today?

Paul: In my estimation—and these are things that I’ve come up with myself—whatever, in my estimation, the greatest generation came home and gave birth to the worst generation, which is the boomer class, of which they say I’m at the tail end. I think the boomer generation sold out my daughter’s generation for immediate pleasure and handed that generation a $27 trillion bill. So, the most important issue to me is the national debt. I think you look at social issues, the Supreme Court, who’s sitting in the executive branch — none of that is gonna matter when this thing boils over. The national debt’s the most pressing issue, because, really, all this is going to go to hell.

Deborah: I’m going to take a totally different perspective. The most pressing issue, I think, is the extreme polarization of our political climate and political discourse. It’s to the point where families can’t communicate with one another. A lot of that comes from the rhetoric of the media that we consume — and that’s on both of us.

Paul: And the social media, it’s just programmed to try to emphasize your likes and dislikes; that’s why you have polarization. I think that problem really comes from what the A.I. is gearing people toward — the left loved the whole Russiagate thing, that conspiracy type of stuff.

Deborah: And as I said to him earlier, I think the Ukraine scandal is propelled by social media and A.I.

It sounds like you share that concern, Paul. So, how do we fix this problem? Do you two have civil conversations about the election at home?

Paul: We have not had an opportunity or a reason to talk about all of this —

Deborah: Oh, yeah, we have. We just don’t do it well. Up until now, I haven’t spent this much time living at home since I was like 15. Since college. I haven’t been home this much. Then I came home and, holy shit, our views don’t line up anymore. It was kind of a shock to all of us. So, we’re still in the process of learning how to speak to one another when we disagree. Up until this point, we haven’t really had that issue, because I haven’t really thought differently.

Paul: It comes out of life experience. It’s not to say that I made all the right decisions—I chose a path that works best for me.

Deborah: My dad is part of a generation that thinks life experience is kind of the end all, be all. And do you know what? When I’m 57, I might well think the same way.

Paul: I don’t think it’s the end all, be all.

Deborah: I got a degree in political science, but then when I come up against Dad’s political ideology, Dad looks at me and thinks, “She couldn’t possibly know what is going on. She hasn’t lived in the world yet.”

Paul: Well, that is very true. Life experience does circumvent anything that you’ve read in a book. That’s why I’m not all that well-read, that’s why I’m not all that well-versed — I believe more in what you say and do, not what you read. I believe what a person stands for, not what they write. I want to see what happens in practice. That’s why I hate politicians. They say one thing, they do another. I can’t stand them. They’re phonies to me.

Deborah: I think when you approach political dialogue with somebody, you have to take their expertise into account just as much as their life experience. I kind of don’t see that with people your age.

Paul: Because we know better. I’m sorry, we know people are phony.

Is there anything you can take from this conversation and apply to future discourse?

Deborah: Maybe we can be nice to each other.

Paul: Yeah. You did that, congratulations.

Ha! Thank you.

Paul: Look, it doesn’t matter what she says to me — she is everything to me, and I don’t care about the outside world. My kids are my identity. Opening up this dialogue kind of took her out of the realm of being a kid in my head. She’s still my kid, she’s still my baby. However, I think I can create some kind of a dialogue with her as a young adult. That’s always the problem for any parent, to have that kind of relationship with your kid. My parents are in their eighties and I still have that problem, and I’m 57.

Deborah: I love this. In the piece that I wrote, somebody commented, “Your dad looks at you and he will see his baby. It’s impossible not to.” There’s no way I will understand that until I have a baby of my own. There’s just no way I can understand that perspective.

Paul: After reading her article, the first thing I said to my wife was, “Well, thank God she’s writing.”

Senior Editor, GEN by Medium. Previously: Pacific Standard, Wired

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