My mother and stepfather have always been conservative Republicans. But once Trump started his campaign in 2016, my stepfather got on board. Really on board. My mother, well… she was always so/so with Trump. But over the past four years, my step dad has gone further and further into Trumpism, while my mother has stayed where she was to begin with, a conservative.
At the beginning of 2016, this didn’t sound like all that big of a divide. But by 2020, it has started to feel like they are both living in two different countries, and that divide became particularly apparent in March, as the U.S. began shutting down due to COVID-19.
Both of them are in their mid to late 60s, and my mother has a heart condition. Both are retired, but as my mother stayed home, my stepdad went about his business, mask free — going out for coffee each day, or to meet with friends, or to go shooting, or golfing, or whatever. According to my stepdad, in early 2020 it was all a hoax, then it was an overreaction, and finally, it was not any worse than the flu, and the COVID death count was a huge over-calculation.
All the while, my mother argued with him to stay home so he didn’t bring COVID home to her. And when I say “argued,” I have to admit, my mother isn’t one to plead with someone. She’s the kind of woman to yell, and I have no doubt that their neighbors could easily have heard their COVID arguments — her asking him to stay home and stay safe, while he shouted back that she was caught up in fake news.
You might have predicted from the title of this article that in late November, just before Thanksgiving, it happened. My stepdad got COVID. Who knows exactly where it came from? It could have been from the shooting range, or the lowbrow café where he gets coffee most days, or perhaps the hardware store. And who knows how long he had it, and how many places he went to before getting tested, and how many other people he infected along the way? What I do know for sure is that he gave it to my mother.
I don’t want to make a broad generalization about marriage, but let me tell you one thing I’ve learned: If your spouse tells you not to do something because something will happen, and you do it anyway, and that thing happens, well… that might be one of the greatest marital sins. Yes, she was livid with him. Beyond livid. They both got very sick, with fevers, and coughs, and pale skin — and considering their age, and my mother’s heart condition, the whole family lost a lot of sleep. They live in central Utah, where the pandemic is raging, and ICU beds are close to being rationed. There was a very real fear that if they did end up in the hospital, there might not be enough available medical staff to care for them effectively.
It would be wrong of me to not say that what my stepfather did was beyond selfish, because it was. But at the same time, I can’t put it all on him. I can’t help but also blame many other decisions he made over the past year on the deeply conservative media he ingests all day, every day, and the rhetoric of our president. I’ve known that man for almost 20 years, and he’s a good guy. He loves his family, and cares for his neighbors. In a lot of ways, he was a father to me when my father wasn’t.
This is the situation so many people are finding themselves in right here, and right now. We are faced with looking at family members who have been so twisted by Trumpism, and deeply conservative talk show hosts — pushing the narrative that this very deadly disease is a hoax, or no worse than the flu, or an overreaction, and trying to decide if they are still the same person they were before COVID. It’s putting family members at risk, while changing our opinions of friends and families who — up until 2020 — were genuinely good people. In fact, they might still be, but they are making bad decisions based on bad information, and in the situation of my mother and stepfather, it put their lives at risk and their marriage in jeopardy.
I am happy to report that both of my parents are on their way to making a full recovery after contracting COVID. I was chatting with a good friend about the situation, and he asked if I thought their diagnoses would change my stepdad’s opinions on COVID. After thinking about it for a moment, I had this realization: Unless one of them ends up in the hospital or worse, I doubt it. He will say, “I got it, and I got better, so obviously I was right to believe that it’s no worse than a cold.”
Frankly, having one or both of my parents in the hospital, or worse, because of COVID is not worth changing one man’s opinion. At least not to me. And the fact that it would take that level of severity for him to change his outlook on a disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in less than a year, gives me serious pause.
But when it comes to having conservative parents, sadly, I think a lot of Americans are looking at a very similar reality.
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