For quite some time I have watched with dismay as the United States has sunk under the morass of the GOP/Trump administration. I’ve held off on commenting, partly because no matter how low the bar has sunk, we still don’t seem to have reached bottom. Where that will leave us, I shudder to think. I’ve also been following the unfolding story with a mixture of shock and alarm. I hope I can look back on these times and feel that sense of relief one has when narrowly missing disaster. Even so, it will take a long, long time for the nation to recover. It is worse than Watergate; at least then you could count on Congress to do the right thing. Now they are just as complicit as the president in destroying the idea of being governed by laws.

But as bad as all this is (he typed, hoping that the upcoming November midterms will offer up some relief), it’s not what I wanted to talk about. It’s how this bigger story of a county that is falling from within is played out in microcosm as a story between two people. One is myself, and the other is friend of mine of over forty years acquaintance. I was not much of a political person when I was young, which is not uncommon. It’s only in later years that I began to take a stronger interest. I’ve always been a keen newshound, however. I mentioned Watergate at the beginning; I grew up reading about it as it happened. I didn’t understand much about it at the time, but since then I’ve come to know more about what it was and what it meant. I find myself at this point in my life as someone who casts a critical eye over proceedings as a Liberal as well as an atheist. Certainly some people’s idea of their worst nightmare.

The other person in this story (let’s call her ‘Cheryl’ to avoid having to say ‘my friend’ every time I refer to her. Not her real name, obviously.), is as I said, someone I’ve known for many decades. As is common for long-term friendships, we’ve had times when we were very tight and times when years would pass with little real communication. But the shared links and bonds were always there. If I had to describe Cheryl to someone, I would say, ‘Trippy Hippy Chick’; we were first brought together because of our common love of music (specifically, music of the 60’s). She was conservative in her manners, but always seemed to embody the ideas of peace and love that partially defined that era in the mid-20th Century. She didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs, but she was still ‘groovy’, if outwardly square, to use the lingo of those times.

After many years and adventures together off and on, Cheryl eventually married, moved a thousand miles away into the hills of Appalachia, and settled into a job, having a child and living a middle-class life. We wrote, but only managed to get together once in person after that. I met her child, then we settled into a pattern of Xmas cards and the occasional letter or email. Like many friends, she was there, but tucked into a box in my mind. She divorced, remarried, her first husband passed away early, she was estranged from her child for a time, and such is life. Her child is now grown and married to a seemingly good person. Cheryl’s second husband (‘Barry’) is no longer able to work for medical reasons, and seems an angry, bitter man who thinks Christmas is too commercial (but he’s not religious). So much so that he won’t allow Cheryl to have a Xmas tree or any decorations during the holiday season. Her excuse for all this is that ‘he hates clutter’. Draw your own conclusions.

Cheryl uses a computer at her job, and therefore has said to me more than once that she doesn’t like to use one at home. Which means emails have always been rare (I assume they have a toilet at work too, but that doesn’t stop her from using one at home, I would hope). So at the beginning of this year, I decided to sit down and write her a letter, print it out and mail it to her. Cheryl and I have a long history of writing letters back and forth that predate the Internet; it’s not a difficult thing to do, but it’s not something I do much of any more. Anyway, it’s easy enough to embed photos and images as well, making it more than just a wall of dry text. I ended up with seven pages of Word-generated content and mailed it off to her up in the hills where she lives.

Some months later, much to my surprise and delight, I received four pages, filled front and back with her loopy handwriting that I know so well. It was chock-a-bloc with comments and observations about the things I had said, discussion about shared interests in music and television, and updates on what she’s been doing recently. Just the kind of thing you’d expect in a letter from an old friend. So far so good.

But there were also difficult parts. The last two pages she even prefaced by saying I wasn’t going to like what she had to say. And boy, was she right. The upshot is that my trippy hippy chick friend has turned into a diehard Republican conservative. She thinks that Trump is doing a great job (although she’s not happy about his tweets). The recently-passed GOP tax ‘cut’ has put more money into people’s pockets, Trump’s policies have been an economic boom for her area and ‘Obamacare’ has caused Medicaid to send premiums skyrocketing. It pains me to even write this nonsense. Long ago, Cheryl got a degree in journalism which she never put to good use. But I would assume that even back then, they taught ‘ethics’ as part of what a professional journalist must know. So it was a literal shock to read that she thinks the media are ‘hush-hushing’ all the good Trump is doing – because they don’t like him! If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, you might as well stop reading now.

Other tidbits included some Democrat bashing: Since they’ve had control longer over the country since we were kids, why haven’t they done more to fight poverty? If you count Eisenhower, who was president when Cheryl and I were born, then up to the end of Obama’s term, Republican presidents have actually held sway longer than Democratic ones. And in comparison to what Lyndon Johnson did with his plans for a ‘Great Society’, what did Ronald Reagan do for the poor? Trickle-down economics? She seems unaware that the tax cuts she thinks so highly of are going to expire in 2025, unless you’re wealthy or a corporation; then there will be a nasty tax increase to compensate for the lack of revenue that the rich will no longer have to pay. Cheryl’s not exactly rolling in dough, with a disabled husband and a job where she’s not able to advance any further. But she’s happy to pay the taxes for billionaires and businesses? Nor does she seem to understand that the rise in Medicaid prices is because Trump tried and failed to repeal the ACA, so he and Congress started slashing anything they could instead (such as the individual mandate), and many insurers dropped out of the market because of the instability of the system.

While all of this is simple stupidity, worse was to come. She then described the plight of a group of Ethiopian refugees who were settled in her area (an area not known for ethnic diversity, I should mention). She complained about them receiving ‘unfair’ housing benefits ahead of ‘native’ residents (which is apparently a Democratic plan – hook immigrants on benefits and they’ll vote Blue ever after), then went on a diatribe about them:

“Now we have people here who want to turn this country into “Anything-But-America”, hate everything America stands for, & are working tirelessly to push agendas that divide us instead of uniting us.”

While I don’t doubt some immigrants do feel this way (as do many native citizens, unfortunately), it’s a bit of a stretch to characterize all of them as being guilty of this. She compares this to her own great-grandparents, who were (Jewish) refugees. They ‘honored’ their roots and worked towards the American dream, she says. I’m sure they were not looked upon with suspicion, or tended to associate with people of a similar background at first, just as these Ethiopians no doubt do now. I wondered if she would have felt the same way had these people been from Scotland or Norway. It’s difficult to feel that her distrust is based largely on their skin colour.

It sickens me to think that someone I’ve known so well for so long has been drinking deeply of the Fox Propaganda Kool-aid. I had mentioned to Cheryl that I was an online subscriber to both the New York Times and the Washington Post; her response was that if I:

“…indulge only in progressive publications & websites without researching the other sides, you’re just going to remain locked into your off-the-charts ideology… which sadly it sounds like you are entrenched.”

She didn’t mention how she gets her news, but I doubt it includes many “progressive publications & websites” to give her a balanced picture. But this would obviously tie into her belief that the media in general are not reporting the actual facts, since so many of them “don’t like” the president. If I’m reading them, then I must not be getting an accurate view of things. I suppose since so many media outlets are reporting the same general stories it must mean it’s a conspiracy of some sort; luckily she’s getting news directly from an outlet that provides a more direct, unvarnished point of view – that the president is actually doing a great job.

Since receiving this letter from Cheryl, I’ve had to spend a great deal of time mulling over what she’s saying to me. I’m obviously stunned to discover that she really does think like this. I’m sad, angry, confused and feel somehow let down. We are both children of the Sixties and I don’t understand how you get from Love is all you need to Make America Great Again. I find now that when I peruse my “progressive publications” and there are comments along the lines of “How can people continue to support this?”, I feel a wound being reopened, again and again. I know someone like this. How can this happen?

Eventually, I started to compose a reply to Cheryl. I spoke first about my family, what we were doing, how we were. I touched upon music and TV shows we both enjoy. I talked about her child. But after all that, I had to veer into deeper waters. I spoke about Barry and how he seems to have turned into a recluse, taking his anger out on her. I went through many of the ideas she espoused to me, and explained how I felt about them; correcting factual errors in her perceived viewpoints when required. I took exception to her comments that the media at large are so biased that they would be failing to do their jobs properly, and that if anyone is ‘entrenched’ in a bizarre ideology, it’s certainly not me. I moved towards the only conclusion I could. I told Cheryl that I regretted writing to her and opening this huge can of worms in the first place. But now that what’s done is done, I’m saddened by her ignorance and her racism. I feel I don’t know who she is any more. If she felt that she did not see fit to reply any further, that would be fine with me. And then I printed the letter out and mailed it.

What will happen next, I have no idea. Will she write back or simply fade away? I’m of an age now where I know I need to prepare myself for the end of long-standing relationships on account of death. I hope when my distant friends pass away, I’m notified somehow, just as I hope my remaining friends are told when I’m gone. But to lose contact with someone I’ve known for nearly a half-century over political views is yet another casualty of the current administration. I have watched this monster attack the Constitution and the rule of law (aided by a corrupt and pathetic Congress). It has made me angry and worried for the future. But this abomination has now had a personal impact. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Cheryl and I would have reached the end of the road over someone like Donald Trump.