Once, when we were 5 years old, my twin brother jumped off a seesaw we were riding at the precise moment that we had been told never to do that. I was in the air, and he was on the ground, and when he made his move I came crashing rapidly and horrifically down.
I still remember the short burst of terror I felt, and the body-shaking thud that followed. But I also remember that the crash hurt him more than it hurt me. I wasn’t injured. His guilt was so great that nearly four decades later, he still gets upset when I tell this story.
We are best friends, my twin and I. Our relationship predates our actual lives, and except for the seesaw incident, we have never been on opposite sides of anything that could hurt one of us — until recently.
He believes that Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are the biggest threats to our ailing democracy, that Donald Trump is doing a fine job — maybe not great, but definitely not terrible — and that the mainstream media (of which I am a part) is biased in its coverage of the president.
I don’t just disagree with these views, I find them unfathomable. I think that Donald Trump is a liar, a racist, an authoritarian and a criminal. I think he’s a disgrace to the office he holds and to the nation at large, and I’m worried that American democracy would not survive another four years of his leadership. I also think that the entire Republican Party is complicit in his ascension and so bears responsibility for the broader national crisis we are now facing.
My brother and I have tried talking through this divide, but we get too angry too quickly. We have tried not discussing the situation at all, but it keeps bubbling up in text messages and our weekly catch-up sessions. (We make it a point to talk every Saturday, at least.)
I know that we’re not alone in our predicament, that so many people around the country are going through some version of this with their family members. But the loss of common ground between him and me feels singular, sharp and surprisingly devastating given that it does not involve an actual death.
I mean, he is my twin.
I keep trying to understand how we got here. Our parents are lifelong Democrats. Our father was a garment worker, in a union whose roots ran back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. (He still carries his own father’s union card in his wallet.) In the mid-1990s, though, that union was decimated. The bosses closed the garment factories and shipped the work down to Mexico, and our father, who was in his mid-50s, never found steady employment again. We lost our home to a bank foreclosure in the wake of that shift. We were still teenagers.
I don’t think it ever occurred to our parents to blame the Democratic Party — or President Bill Clinton, or his disastrous trade policies — for what befell us. The way they saw it, the party had fought for the unions that protected them for so long, and for the safety net that helped sustain them when those unions failed.
They had also spent their lives steeped in the notion that hard work and decency were enough to make a good life, and so when hard times came they assumed that the corollary was also true: that if they had failed to maintain their good life, they must not have worked hard enough or lived decently enough. They internalized their failure, in other words. They absorbed it deep into their bones, until it hobbled them.
My siblings and I were too consumed by the sudden challenges of getting by to think much about the larger forces shaping our lives. My brother worked a few odd jobs before becoming a landscaper. I clawed my way through college and graduate school, and eventually became a journalist.
These paths have never felt all that disparate to me. We both love what we do and take great pride in our work; “Do it right, or don’t do it at all,” our father would say. We have both worked long hours for low pay, and we both worry obsessively about maintaining the financial ground we have gained since those times. And who can blame us after what we went through as teenagers?
But lately it seems our differences have become greater than our similarities. I’m a city dweller who spends her days in front of the computer and occasionally travels abroad for work. He’s a suburban homeowner who earns his living through physical labor.
The Democratic Party has kept me, but lost him.
What I still see as the party of labor unions, health insurance and tax policies that favor the middle class, he sees as the party of elitist liberals, out of touch with working-class folks like him. Part of the problem, a part we both acknowledge, is that our information comes from very different places. I read newspapers; he listens to conservative talk shows and watches cable news — and algorithms ensure that our internet searches never subject us to divergent viewpoints.
But the other problem runs deeper than that: The political norms of the moment compel everyone to pick a side and to then refuse to hear the other side out, on anything.
For liberals, that means that all Trump supporters are at best complete fools who vote against their own interests out of sheer stupidity, and at worst virulent racists not to be engaged with on any level. On one hand, I get those feelings. I have a hard time understanding how anyone could come down on the side of Mr. Trump’s Republicans.
On the other, though, we are talking about a substantial portion of the country — about our friends and neighbors and our own kin.
And while I think my brother is wrong about quite a lot, I know he is not wrong about everything. After decades of politicians talking, he still doesn’t have health insurance; he earns too much to qualify for an Obamacare subsidy but too little to afford his own comprehensive coverage. He worries, rightly, about what liberal immigration policies, minimum-wage laws and health insurance mandates will do to the small business where he works, and he is anxious about tax increases of any kind and what they would do to his own monthly balance sheet.
He has heaved himself from a life of mere subsistence into the middle class, bought a home and built a life, through the sheer force of his own will. And he is terrified of losing that.
In the past two weeks, I’ve read a deluge of stories about friendships dissolving over political differences, about people disowning their flesh and blood. I can’t bear the thought of that. I still send my twin articles, including ones my colleagues have written, about Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, which I think makes us less safe in the world, about his grift and graft, and about how his tax policies favor the very rich at the expense of people like us.
In turn, he has sent me podcasts and web videos denouncing Joe Biden’s connections to China and Hunter Biden’s doings in Ukraine. We aren’t penetrating each other’s realities. But we haven’t fully lost each other yet, either. In our last call before election night, we screamed about who was selling who out to which foreign country, in one breathless exchange. In the next, I reminded him to order eyeglasses and he begged me to stay safe if I ventured out after dark.
I’m not sure how we get through this moment, but I don’t think it will end when the election is called, or when the new year begins, or when the next president is sworn in. I have prayed as hard as a person can these past few months that Democrats will win in big sweeping landslides and that American democracy will prevail.
But I’ve known for much longer than that — for my entire life, in fact — that I can never truly win anything if it means losing my twin. I don’t know where that leaves us. I only know that he is my brother, and I love him.
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