Getting this off my chest.

This morning, I woke up in a piss-poor mood. It was humid and hazy, and I grumbled about living in a swamp as I took the dogs outside. I picked up my medication at the pharmacy and wondered if I could afford counseling or if I would have to let that idea go. Once I got to the office, I scanned the headlines and my friends’ posts on social media before starting work. And I felt bitter. There was something bothering me — the same thing that’s bothered me for months and years now.

See, for the past thirty years, members of my family and people I’ve called friends have watched news channels and listened to radio programs that made them feel good about themselves. As have many of the people in the states I’ve lived in. It’s understandable, and it seemed harmless at first. But now these people, who claim to love me, look at me with a combination of wariness and pity. Our topics of conversation are limited, and they’ll sometimes start to say something — in a way that sounds like a challenge — and then drop it. Or chuckle and move to safer ground.

It wasn’t always this way! I used to enjoy talking politics with my uncles, cousins and friends, even when we disagreed. It was an honest debate. I respected them — and felt respected by them. Sadly, apart from a few who lean conservative but never went full Tea Party, that’s not true of those folks anymore.

Now, the voices in their ears and the feelings in their heart tell them I’m a radical socialist. I’m a “Lib.” And as a Lib, I’m hateful and amoral. I’m both hopelessly naive and sinister, with an agenda that would dismantle the freedoms we hold dear in this country.

What a shame that I’ve turned out this way…

The values they hold onto — of family, patriotism, and faith — are values I don’t share, according to them. And that makes me misguided at best — and a threat to their way of life at worst.

Sometimes they wonder if they’ll have to take up arms against people like me. People like me and people like my friends, the students I’ve taught, the people around the world I’ve learned from.

All sorts of things get them going and plunk coins in their outrage machine: mask mandates, Biden, the rights of trans people, Black Lives Matter, Biden, Afghans who might have Covid, Mexicans at the border, the things teachers might say in classrooms, the junk that might be in that vaccine, cancel culture, criminals who destroy Democrat-run cities, Biden. Oh, and their unshakable conviction that I’m just dying to take away their guns and start a class war. Just like a typical Marxist.

I guess they think I’d rather sponge off the government than work hard — even though they’ve known me my whole life, and they surely know that I’ve worked steadily since age 16, just like they have. I guess they think that the things I’ve learned in school and abroad, or the values I’ve gained as an educator and a writer, make me weird. Uncomfortably unknowable. Not … (hopefully) more compassionate or wiser. Just … a snowflake. Feminazi. Leftist. Lib.

Am I being paranoid? Sensitive? Maybe. But I live here. I’ve been around these folks all my life. I’ve listened to the things they say and I’ve noted the way they’ve changed.

Sometimes they say to me, wow your [sic] brave, with a look in their eyes that betrays what they really think. They’ll earnestly say to me that Obama is a secret Muslim and blink at me when I disagree. They’ll freely call young Black men thugs, they’ll laugh when I express a pro-immigrant or pro-LGBTQ+ or pro-choice point of view, and they’ll bemoan aloud, usually after asserting a Hannity talking point or blatant untruth, that people like me always make everything political.

And I am so tired. I feel this sad bitterness when I read their Facebook comments and learn about the conspiracies they believe in. Thinking about making small talk with them over the holidays and doing my best to understand where they’re coming from exhausts me. Because it’s in no way reciprocated.

This is the despair of watching your fellow Americans slide from honest values and heartfelt Christianity to … something else. Something that looks and feels like a death cult.

I’m still hesitant to say the word fascism. And I’m not equating my countrymen and women with Nazis. But I will say this: I understand a little better how trapped and helpless so many people in Germany must have felt as their democratic experiment descended into dictatorship. As their neighbors and family members happily ignored the cruelty and waved red and black flags.