“So what if he cheated on his wife with an intern?” I asked my dad in 1998, carefully skirting the word “blowjob” that had entered our culture’s lexicon as acceptable everyday language, as “pussy” later would in Donald Trump’s America.
“It’s not like he’ll cheat on the country.”
I said it with the smug certainty and perceived sophistication of a teenager who’d voted in her first election and as such has superior knowledge of politics over her forty-something year old dad, who knew nothing. Because he was old.
He was a staunch Republican and I thought his response (“It shows his moral character and lack of integrity”) was partisan sour grapes. He hated Bill Clinton, as conservatives in that era did. He’d later hate Hillary too.
Let’s just say I disagreed. Loudly.
He was a John McCain guy, and I liked Obama. When the 2008 election was called, I rang him up, ready to gloat.
“He’s a class act, baby,” he said, throwing me for a loop. Obama was a Democrat. My dad’s guy lost a hard-fought, grueling election that exposed the raw nerves of racism. Wasn’t he supposed to disparage him? Wasn’t he mad that he lost?
The Obama Presidency played out, twice, although my dad was only alive for the few short months of his first term. I’ve wondered, often, what he would think of Donald Trump. Of course, we’re New Yorkers, so he knew Trump. I think he might have liked his brash, say-it-like-it-is speaking style, the unorthodox approach to debates and campaigns. A veteran from the Vietnam era, I have to feel he would have rolled his eyes at the bone spurs. Working class kids like my dad had no such “out” of the draft. I suspect he’d have lost some respect there.
When the Trump supporters of this generation overtook the Capitol, trampling each other, assaulting police, smearing feces on the walls and parading firearms and Stars and Stripes outfits and flags that replaced “America” with “Trump” in a misguided understanding of what the word “patriotism” means, I thought of the old man again. Now I’m forty-something, with a politically-minded kid who will vote in the next election.
And finally, I think I learned something he tried to teach me more than twenty years ago.
It’s about moral character. It’s about integrity. Without either, if you take away accountability, the country is no longer safe. This is why the “grab ‘em by the pussy” brag mattered, the cheating on his postpartum wife with a porn star mattered, the stealing from a children’s cancer charity mattered, not paying workers for their work mattered, lying mattered, insults mattered, cruelty mattered. It wasn’t separate from the inciting of riots and the five dead bodies in DC; it’s not unrelated to his inability to accept what was clearly and inarguably a free and fair election that he lost. It’s not a far jump from seeing deaths from Covid as a personal attack on his presidency, instead of the biggest challenge and responsibility of his life.
It’s about moral character. It’s a lack of integrity.
Going forward, I will use that as my barometer to elect political leaders from all parties.
I get it now, Pop.
About the author: Jaime Franchi is the former Executive Editor for the Long Island Press, and was recognized as a 2017 recipient for Writer of the Year by the New York Press Association. Jaime’s work has been published in the New York Times, Salon, and The Huffington Post, and is a contributing author to two award-winning anthologies, including “These Winter Months, The Late Orphan Project” and “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”