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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Presidential politics won’t break my family ties, but what about the nation?

Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

She’s voting for him. I voted for her.

But on Wednesday morning, whichever one of us is celebrating and whichever one is mourning, we’ll still be family.

My sister, Mar Tiese Vestal Moore, is voting for Trump. I find this all but unbelievable. To my mind, there has never been a worse or more potentially destructive candidate for the presidency of the country. I would vote for a bacterium against him.

I, on the other hand, voted for Clinton. To Mar Tiese, this amounts to supporting a serial liar, a person of deep, even treasonous dishonesty and potential destruction for the country. She would probably vote for a monkey against her.

We are in our silos, my sister and I. Red and blue. She’s in Idaho, I’m in Washington. What we believe about the candidates, what we want for the future, what we think about the issues we face and the possible solutions – alternative realities. But because we are family – because we love each other more than we hate each other’s politics – we share a reality that binds us together, as well.

I wish I could say I see this as a metaphor for the country. That we will rally around common values and recognize that despite our differences we are, on a fundamental level, in it together. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like we’re in the midst of a national divorce, with a series of escalating accusations. Irreconcilable differences, papered over with a bitterly disputed parenting plan. The notion that it will improve in 24 hours feels hopelessly naive.

“I look at liberals and I think, ‘How can anybody in their right mind think that way?’ ” Mar Tiese told me recently. “And they’re on the other side thinking the exact same thing. It’s because we don’t understand each other’s way of thinking.”

Mostly, we avoid politics in my family. It’s the peacekeeping way. But Mar Tiese and I had a recent chat with the election looming, and what struck me about the conversation were two things: how different our worldviews are, and how similar our feelings of political urgency.

I’m not trying to suggest an equivalence between the candidates. I don’t think this one is even close, as a moral, factual and political decision. But many of us who disagree nevertheless share an emotional weather that is remarkably similar: The world is going to hell, other people are to blame, and if we don’t stop Candidate X, it will reflect something deeply rotten in the nature of the country. In a way, my sister’s sense of this election matches mine precisely: She doesn’t think it’s even close, as a moral, factual and political decision.

But she and I have a deep fund of experiences and connections that helps us negotiate – or perhaps just ignore – our differences. “Family first,” as she puts it. We come from a big Mormon family (not-so-Mormon anymore, for some of us) and our political views are mixed, and in that we are certainly not unusual.

Outside families, however, such personal tethers across political lines are becoming rarer. Most of us are self-selecting into ever more politically homogenous lives. A Pew Research Center survey in 2014 measured the contours of this increasingly divided political state: Significant minorities of each party consider the other a threat to the future of the nation, and a lot of us (50 percent of “consistent conservatives” and 35 percent of “consistent liberals”) say it’s important to live in a place where most people agree with them.

Mar Tiese is my older sister. She’s the one whose rock ’n’ roll records – KISS and David Bowie and the Doobie Brothers – I used to covet when I was a kid, the one whose teenage rebellion I took note of and later emulated. She now lives in Boise and works for Intermountain Machining Supply Inc. She and her husband, Troy, have a daughter, a young grandson and another grandkid on the way. We see each other at least a couple of times a year – funerals, weddings, holidays – and our phones buzz with constant messages on the family text thread.

She supports a strong military and doesn’t want to see the Supreme Court tilt leftward. Where I see a value in a social safety net and interventions to try and offset income inequality, she sees a welfare state that has overrun its purpose and a government that has become invasive.

“I’ve been a very patriotic person my whole life,” she said. “I’ve always been very proud to be an American and I have really strong feelings about what America was, how it was founded, what that meant, and what it took to make this country.”

She fears what will happen if Clinton wins. I fear what will happen if Trump wins. She’s concerned about the future for her grandchildren. I’m concerned about the future for my son – we’ll worry about grandkids later.

I think her candidate is awful. She thinks the same about mine.

On Wednesday, though – and then at Christmas and our nephew’s wedding and whenever the next one of us dies – my sister and I will remain what we always were: family. In it together.

And that’s true, to a degree, for the rest of us, too. For all of us, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

In it together. Like it or not.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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