Lifting my memory back to the writer’s table, I am recalling a conversation with a group of campers that I have had an opportunity to learn a lesson about what happens when an old English professor makes political jokes. The campers are creative writers, and we have been writing, talking about writing, and authentically sharing our thoughts and feelings about everything from writing to, well, Mr. Donald Trump.
Around the table, I am not Dr. Ramona L. Hyman, the professor, the author, the speaker. I am simply Ms. Ramona, the writer, whose thinking about politics and political people was challenged one morning. This is what I love about this writers’ room and the writers’ table. Between the ages of nine and fifteen, these young writers are intensely creative and extremely critically engaged. They have very specific opinions about all things, including The Donald, i.e., Trump that is.
The story: We are around the table. I share my running joke: “Donald Trump is my cousin,” I announce as we dine on Oatmeal and toast. I did not expect a response. After all, the writers will not be involved in the voting process for another three to eight years. I was wrong. These young American writers have an opinion: “Seriously Ms. Ramona, seriously.”
I chuckle. “Yes, seriously. Trump is my cousin.”
The young writers began to shoot questions/comments at me: “Don’t you know he is a racists. Don’t you realize he wants to build a wall? Seriously. Ms. Ramona, you are black! — In my imagination I hear, BLACK! YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY HAVE A RELATIVE IN YOUR FAMILY LIKE DONALD TRUMP! FIRE HIM! YOU CAN”T HAVE A REALITVE IN YOUR FAMILY WHO MIGHT BE LOUD OR ILL OR RICH OR WHITE OR (you fill in the blank). Your relatives—those who hold the same United States Citizenship as yourself) must think, be and act like you.
I felt the room changing. It seemed Dr. Hyman/Ms. Ramona/ needed psychological intervention, possibly a lobotomy.
Later that morning, I heard this whisper “Is she really voting for Donald Trump?”
That whisper required self-reflection.
That evening I went home and thought about—well my joke. I love humor—though mine is often dry. I thought about an earlier conversation I had with students in my literary theory class in the spring about Trump. They, too, could not understand why I would call Trump, the man who swears he will “make America great again,” my cousin. After all, why would I want a cousin who is a vocally loud “racist” and whose desire is to build “a wall across the southern border,” and who says, “A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation: Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.” Why should I claim as a relative a man who believes that a nation should have laws: “Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.” (https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform). Why would I claim as a relative a man who would question the citizenship of the President who is my “brother”, the Present who, in American’s recent history, is the best model of political and personal morality.
I am thankful for the gift of reflection. Do I like the behavior of all my American relatives—no I don’t. Does America need to be made “great again.” To my “cousin” Donald Trump, I politely answer, no. That cliché is not needed in this presidential season. America is already a great nation. America needs to be a kinder nation; it needs to be a model nation whose citizens understand they are tied by the blood of citizenship. Therefore, if we are all to prosper, we need to have poetically driven conversations around tables where the listening heart and the compassionate eye are at its center. Feeling and seeing pictures drive poetry. Maybe we need to have the conversations that writers experience around poetically driven tables; we need to listen to our hearts; to hear our humanity. We also need to realize that sometimes relatives don’t think alike, and yet, we can still be relatives and therefore respect and love each other as such. We may not like each other; however, we must love each other.
A great American during a time when I was struggling to understand what it meant to call myself American in a country that killed people like Viola Liuzzo and Mr. Vernon Dahmer, Sr. because they fought for the voting rights of all Americans told me in a conversation that changed my own thinking: “Ramona, we are all Americans; we must [work together] to figure this out.” If we don’t, the enemies of our country will come in (while we are having meaningless family feuds) and destroy us.
Note to self: I may not like some of the thoughts of Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton– for that matter; however, I do know this: Fellow Americans are running to lead my country. In honor of people like Viola Liuzzo, Vernon Dahmer, Sr., and Raymond and Annie Hyman, I will vote for one of them.
Note to Mr. Trump: There is no more time for TRASH TALK about Mrs. Clinton, the other party, the sitting president. Six of the most creative and thoughtful young people I know are watching you along with some 20 million young people between the ages of 15 and 19. During this election, young people don’t need Trash Talk; they need to be critically engaged. They don’t need superficial bickering or needless noise. I encourage you to sit quietly Mr. Trump. As you speak during the Republican convention, look into the eyes of your own grandchildren, then into the eyes of your grandchildren’s friends. Move from their eyes and imagine the hearts of 18-year-old voters (Trump and Clinton supporters) before you speak. Then, and only then, when you speak, speak as a man who envisions himself as, possibly, the president of all Americans. I am sure Mrs. Hilary Clinton will do the same. Our young people need to hear the presidential candidates objective views concerning the issues facing America. Trash Talk mangles the conversation. Please delete it!
Note to six brilliant young writers who attend Camp Smart: Thanks for your thoughts into the morning; they compel me to think!