Politics cause awkward holiday moments, but principles never let you down

Families everywhere will gather in coming days to share meals, exchange gifts and celebrate holidays together.

I love our big family gatherings. I’m the youngest of 12 kids and we all get along. Our devoutly Catholic parents raised us in the suburbs during the golden age of middle class prosperity.

Large groups are bound to feature people of differing views. No one wants to argue politics. I think everyone tries to avoid saying anything that might offend another. But in this partisan era the potential exists for awkward moments when people of principle stand their ground.

I experienced such a moment during a recent family gathering. Someone mentioned the Cubs, knowing I was a big fan of Chicago’s North Side baseball team since the 1970s. I had to tell them I no longer supported the Cubs.

The Cubs have changed since the Ricketts family bought the team from the Tribune Co. for $845 million in 2009, I said. The 2016 World Series win that ended the team’s 108-year championship drought ended a lot of the allure of being a long-suffering Cubs fan.

Moreover, the family’s $500 million makeover of Wrigley Field turned the ballpark into a destination that reminded me of Disney World. I knew upgrades were needed, but I was nostalgic for the run down but friendly confines captured in the 1977 play, “Bleacher Bums.”

The main reason I stopped supporting the Cubs, I said, was because team co-owner Todd Ricketts was finance chair of the Republican National Committee for nearly four years, until late 2021.

Awkward silence ensued. No one raised their voice or offered a counterpoint. After a brief pause the conversation resumed on a different topic.

I don’t try to convert relatives or persuade them to change their views. I fully support everyone’s right to believe whatever they want to believe. I merely stated that for me, Ricketts’ role in raising money to support the antics of Donald Trump created a line I was no longer willing to cross.

This week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol held its final public hearing and released a report documenting its findings. The committee’s work, along with numerous other investigations into Trump’s conduct and the failure of his endorsed candidates to win midterm elections, has caused support for Trump to crater.

One of the frustrating things for people of principle during the Trump era was how so many fine people stood by Trump no matter what. Whether he was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, or degrading and bullying people, there was always an excuse for his conduct.

From the moment Trump descended the escalator in 2015 and announced his presidential bid, many saw Trump as a con man, shyster, carnival barker and opportunist. People of principle were shocked, then dismayed by how his apologists defended his behavior.

“Count me out, enough is enough,” Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during an impassioned speech on the Senate floor following the Jan. 6 riot.

Everybody has a breaking point when it comes to Trump. Some haven’t reached it yet, but many have. Trump has announced his presidential candidacy for 2024, and when pressed some reluctantly admit that if Trump wins the GOP nomination they will support him.

The question everyone must ask at some point is, where is the line? Short-term political calculations rather than principles seemed to matter more to Senate Republicans when they twice failed to convict Trump during his two impeachment trials.

For most of our history, character has been an important consideration when choosing elected officials. Voters expected candidates to embrace truth, integrity, transparency, accountability and other shared values, regardless of party affiliation.

That changed during the Trump era. Trump showed everyone how little he valued truth on the first day of his administration when he sent press secretary Sean Spicer out to falsely tell the public that Trump drew the largest crowd to ever witness an inauguration.

I was very worried at that moment. Trump’s brazen distortion of reality was disorienting. It is little surprise that nearly six years later, in late 2022, Merriam-Webster announced its word of the year was gaslighting, behavior that is mind manipulating, grossly misleading and downright deceitful.

Sacrificing principles for political gain came at a price. The cost was not immediately apparent but eventually it revealed itself in the dismal 2022 midterm performance when a red wave was expected.

Conversations with family and close friends who hold differing political views have indicated a growing sense of regret about supporting Trump.

Some remain defiant, quick to say that politicians on both sides tell lies or care more about political power than public service. They seem more frustrated that Trump seemed to cause Republicans to lose winnable midterm races than by the former president’s conduct or his apologists.

One good friend recently admitted Trump was divisive but insisted his predecessor, Barack Obama, was more divisive. I did not argue, but I listened and tried to understand his perspective.

Others seem to be gradually coming to terms with an awareness that something needs to change. A family member who has long championed the Republican Party’s stance on abortion recently shook his head about the party’s inability to address gun violence.

“It’s not good,” he said.

Guns recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children, The New York Times reported. How can a movement that purports to value life so vehemently resist efforts to address gun violence?

I feel bad for family and friends who fell prey to the ways of Trump and his enablers. The Republican Party showed the depth of its decay when it disowned member Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming for acting on their principles.

“The Republican Party used to believe in a big tent, which welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breath free,” Kinzinger said last week during his farewell address on the House floor. “Now we shelter the ignorant, the racists, who only stoke anger and hatred to those that are different from us.”

Kinzinger said he could sleep well at night knowing he stood up for the truth.

“Unfortunately, we now live in a world where lies trump truth,” he said. “Where democracy is being challenged by authoritarianism. If we, America’s elected leaders, do not search within ourselves for a way out, I fear that this great experiment will fall into the ash heap of history.”

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com



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