My family tree, split by Trump

Posted June 9

You are at the top of your family tree.

Maybe you have siblings and maybe you have saplings (or grand saplings), but at this moment you are perched on the highest branches of a bloodline Redwood. A lineage that somehow survived storms and disease, war and pestilence, love and hate, generation after generation.

You are proud of your tree.

You would fight for your tree.

But how much do you really know about your tree?

And how far down are you willing to climb?

I've been thinking about trees and bloodlines since Donald Trump won Wisconsin and America cracked in two.

Half of my Facebook feed cheered his victory and thanked God for this miraculous answer to prayer. The other half churned through the stages of grief and braced for end of the world. It was like watching the American family tree get struck by lightning, trunk alive, branches on fire.

If we are now locked in the Cold Civil War of 2017, most are firmly on either side of our not-so-Great Divide, "Make American Great Again" caps vs. pussycat hats. But I have the vantage of an American mutt, raised in constant motion.

I'm a local in small towns and big cities, a native to states red and blue, at home in the branches of so many different trees thanks to a family that broke before I could walk.

My father was a liberal, atheist homicide detective who fled Milwaukee's inner-city chaos for the serenity of the Rockies. My mother left him when I was 2, found Jesus when I was 4 and one Saturday announced over breakfast "I had a dream from God last night."

We were under Divine orders to leave Milwaukee and move to the Bible Belt, she explained, so she could pursue a career in televangelism. "Tell your Dad I'll give up alimony and child support if he lets us go. Jesus will take care of us."

A few weeks later we were headed south, modest U-Haul in tow. But God kept changing his mind. I went to 17 schools in six states as Mom followed her dreams. Literally.

She never made it as the next Billy Graham but I found myself drawn to television, starting out in tiny meatpacking towns to big cities to networks in both Sodom (Los Angeles) and Gomorrah (New York).

Life as The New Kid turned out to be great training for this gig and this moment; when neighbors are strangers, fear and loathing rules the day and the American experiment seems doomed.

If we are to survive the most divisive presidency in generations, it's up to us to climb down our family trees and better understand how we got here. It's up to us to ask fellow countrymen "Where are you from?" with a lot less fear and a lot more wonder.

Set out with Bill on his travels at "States of Change."


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