Help! My Twin Brother is a Very Polite Trumper! Can I still Confront Him?
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I know people have asked you about how to get along with friends and family who have fallen into Q-Anon or become crazed Trump backers. I have a (literally) related, but quite different problem.
My brother (my fraternal twin) and I have always been extremely close. In some ways, we still are the best friends we were when we were little. (We’re 35 now). He was the first person I came out to as gay when we were both 11. Michael (not his real name) got suspended from 8th grade for beating up a bully who called me a dyke. Our dad died several years ago, and when I married my wife in 2016, my brother walked me down the aisle.
Michael voted for Trump twice. We both voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary, but after that, something changed for him, and he swung way hard to the right. He has been to some Trump rallies, and was part of the anti-mask protests in Huntington Beach last summer.
The thing is, I found out about all this madness second-hand. Michael is very quiet on his Facebook; his social media is still mostly pics of his dogs, his girlfriend, and camping trips. He no longer brings up politics with his family, especially my wife and me. A friend of ours sent me a screenshot from a news video of Michael rallying for Trump last summer, and I confronted my brother. Michael said he knew that I disagreed with him politically, and he didn’t want to argue.
“I support you even when I don’t understand you,” he said, “I hope you’ll do the same for me. But we never have to fight about it.”
I’ve got friends whose family members have gone batshit crazy over this stuff. I suppose I should be grateful that Michael is being such a discreet Trumper, if such a thing exists. I had to press him to admit he supported Trump’s family separation policy. He wears a mask when I see him, but I find out he only does that to avoid a fight; when he’s not around us, he’s careless and says COVID is no worse than the flu.
Hugo, I know you’re conflict-avoidant and very polite, so I know you can relate to the kind of man my brother is!
My problem is that I cannot respect the man my brother has become. I feel like he pretends to be one thing with me to keep the peace, while in his “real life” he believes toxic, vile, evil things. How do I stay close to my own twin when I know he willfully ignores science? How do I cope with knowing he believes that the parents who sobbed when their children were taking from them have only themselves to blame for trying to cross the border? He told a mutual friend that antifa was behind the Capitol attack, not the right – and he says he doesn’t want to talk to me about any of it, because he never wants to upset me.
My brother is part of me, and I’m part of him, but I hate that he’s got this whole other side of him that is so dark. But it seems so unfair at the same time to cut him off. My wife says I can only set boundaries with someone else’s behavior, not their beliefs. But I’m still stuck.
- Tormented Twin in Torrance
Dear Triple T,
In one way, you’re asking a question that goes to the heart of WASP manners. “The thoughts are free” was the subject of a newsletter a few weeks back, in which I made the case that we have the right to set expectations for people’s public behavior, but we don’t get to intrude into the sanctuary of their private beliefs. Manners are partly about getting the “form” right in order not to upset those around you, and it seems your brother has good form with his family.
Of course, it’s not just your brother’s beliefs that are at issue. He is taking part in Trump protests, and he is deliberately violating mask ordinances – just doing it without throwing it in your face, as it were. On the one hand, I do honor the way he understands that sometimes we keep a part of our life concealed in order not to upset anyone unnecessarily. A quiet and polite Trumper is an apparent rarity, and I honor Michael’s attempt to be one.
But as you say, he’s not a distant cousin. He’s your twin and lifelong best friend. When someone that close to you adopts a belief or a lifestyle that seems incomprehensible to you, it will always feel like a bit of a betrayal. It’s worse when what he now believes is a cause of real harm. To believe that masks don’t help is to ignore science; to believe that immigrant children deserve to be taken from their parents is to ignore the most basic requirement to be compassionate. It doesn’t matter whether he bombards you with his beliefs or not, it must be incredibly hurtful just to know that he feels this way.
(At the risk of being self-referential, one of the reasons my public fall aroused such anger was because it was so clear that my private life was at odds with my public pronouncements. I portrayed myself as both a devoted male feminist and a loyal, loving, faithful husband while I was having affairs with my much younger female students. I almost always said the right things in public – the problem was that my private behavior was very different. When people who had looked up to me found out the truth, they felt betrayed, and rightly so.)
The tricky thing with Michael is that he’s not lying to you about his beliefs. It’s not a secret life he leads, it’s just one he tries to protect you from seeing. He’s not being flagrantly dishonest – he’s just choosing to compartmentalize, and play a different part with different people. There’s a lot in what you say of his behavior that, frankly, I find admirable. He’s got the “dance of civility” down. Your wife is right that it’s much harder to set boundaries with other people’s beliefs. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t want you to bring up Trump at the barbecue,” and another altogether to say, “I don’t want you to vote for Trump in the privacy of the voting booth.” That doesn’t mean you need to suffer what feels like a betrayal in silence.
You don’t say it, but you imply that you feel that your brother’s lifelong, loving acceptance of your sexuality means that you “owe him” a pass on the subject of his politics. I don’t know if he would try that tack with you if you did confront him. The reality is that your sexuality and his politics aren’t comparable; who you love is not causing societal harm in any way; his COVID denial and support for family separation policies is.
You don’t have a right to police your brother’s private life. You do have a right to say how it makes you feel. You can start by telling him how much you appreciate his desire to avoid upsetting you. Rather than frame his reticence as dishonesty, admit that it’s sometimes very much the thing to try to protect your loved ones from things that will upset them. You can be glad he’s not spamming your Facebook wall with Q-Anon nonsense, and you can tell him so.
Having said all that, you can tell Michael that you are deeply wounded and bewildered by his political choices. He has a right to do as he pleases in his other life, but you have every right to tell him how that makes you feel. There’s an important distinction between demanding someone change on the one hand, and on the other, letting them know how their refusal to change makes you feel.
It’s okay not to know how this will affect your relationship with your brother in the long run. You don’t need to give him an ultimatum, because there isn’t really one you can give justly give him. He has been your best friend all your life, though, so he deserves to hear your truth.