The year was 2004, and a month after Barack Obama would make his national debut at the Democratic National Convention, another Democrat made news — at the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Georgia Democrat Zell Miller — a former governor who won with the help of longtime Democratic adviser James Carville, who had addressed the 1992 DNC waxing nostalgic for FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Carter, who endorsed Bill Clinton and opposed George H.W. Bush — was now standing at the podium at the Republican National Convention, about to endorse George W. Bush.
“Since I last stood in this spot, a whole new generation of the Miller family has been born,” he said. “They are my and Shirley’s most precious possessions.”
As he explained it, “My family is more important than my party.”
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It was a powerful moment, and one that seems nearly impossible to imagine today, when bitter partisanship and party loyalty threatens to supersede our not only our commitment to our country, but to our families.
Nowhere is this corrosive effect more acute than inside right-wing politics, where loyalty to party and, more specifically, to Donald Trump, have managed to corrupt so many important democratic institutions — our elections, for one — but worse, institutions as fundamental as the family, what Pope John XXIII called “the first essential cell of human society.”
Under the presidency and post-presidency of Donald Trump, families have found themselves more divided, disaffected, even estranged, in some startling — and in some cases, very public — ways.
This weekend, three siblings of Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar penned a pointed op-ed at NBCnews.com slamming their brother for a history of political abominations, from birtherism to anti-Semitism, and from downplaying COVID-19 to inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They got personal.
“Maybe your lifelong, insecure need for the approval of others caused you to sacrifice your common decency and integrity to satisfy Trump and his followers in order to keep your seat,” they wrote.
They’ve long been publicly critical of their brother, even pushing for his expulsion from Congress.
Gosar has previously responded to their laments without much affection, telling CNN in 2018, “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related by blood to me but like leftists everywhere, they put political ideology before family. Lenin, Mao and Kim Jung Un (sic) would be proud.”
The Gosars are hardly alone.
The Conways, matriarch and former Trump adviser Kellyanne, patriarch and Never-Trumper George, and teenage anti-Trump activist and “American Idol” contestant Claudia have been embroiled in a very public, hard-to-watch family conflict for the past two years. Recently Claudia has said her relationship with her parents has improved, thankfully.
Planning for the Gaetz-Luckey wedding might be difficult, as the future sister-in-law of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has taken to social media to slam his “weird and creepy” behavior with women in the wake of allegations of sex crimes. Gaetz’s fiancée has clapped back, “My estranged sister is mentally unwell.”
What once might have been kept behind closed doors is now being aired out for all to see, perhaps even in the hopes that public shaming will have some kind of behavior-changing effect.
But more tragic than these public figures’ public spats are the stories of average American families devastated by politics, conspiracy theories, and extremism. They’re not hard to find.
One NPR report recounts a sub-Reddit group called “Q Casualties,” made up of users who could no longer communicate with their QAnon family members — people like “Tyler,” who was despondent when he learned his dad had gone to the Capitol on Jan. 6 with loaded guns in his camper.
In another story, a woman going by “Caroline” told an Iowa news outlet that she was “married to a QAnon believer and lived in fear.” “QAnon has destroyed my life,” she said. “I live with someone who hates me.”
There’s the story of Rosanne Boyland, whose family was worried by her increasingly conspiratorial political ideas. She was one of five people who died at the Capitol insurrection, effectively giving her life for a false cause despite, according to her family, never even voting before 2020.
COVID-19 has brought another kind of political estrangement — over masking and vaxxing. There’s the story of two Chicago sisters whose mother stopped speaking to them after they defied her wishes not to get vaccinated.
There are countless more stories of families torn apart by politics in the last few years — by the politics of Trump, the cults of conspiracy groups like QAnon, the extremism of groups like the Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, and the new politics of masks and vaccines.
What these destructive elements have done to divide our country and turn American against American is well-documented and horrific. But even worse is what it has done, and is still doing, to our families, isolating us further and further from the things that matter most. If we don’t correct this soon, we’re in for a very dark and lonely future.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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