Get Your Politics Out of My AA Meeting

By Harry Healy 11/15/16

I voted for Trump. He won, and now my local AA meetings are falling apart.

People holding a sign saying "Reject President Elect"
AA Meeting?

The same political presumption and arrogance that helped defeat a presidential candidate who had the election all but sewn-up now threatens to shred the fabric of AA meetings in our more progressive environs, and AA members need to get ahold of themselves before they create permanent damage.

I’m referring to contemporary Brooklyn, provenance of the yoga mom and the satisfied dad, those creatures with the baby carriers fastened to their bosoms. Regaled in thousands of dollars worth of clothing and accessories, they queue up for fair trade coffee, their glistening Range Rovers patrol the avenues. And since my contracting corner of the world has become one more landing strip for the international money set, the majority of them are transplants from other affluent enclaves.

This election has them “shaken to the core.” I’m talking about mature people who have been sober for years and years.

These perfectly decent people preside over a subset of younger folks, no less prosperous thanks to their families, the post-collegiate who haven’t yet embarked on careers of their own. Unfortunately, they have little experience of life outside the university, where they’ve lingered too long in safe spaces, protected by trigger warnings, spoon-fed ideas that have never been called to question, ideas (and that’s all they are, ideas) that they now parrot and act out as undisputed truth. They’ve never been confronted by a different point of view, a conflicting experience of the world. What do these cross-pollinated demographics have in common? They vote in overwhelming numbers for the Democratic Party.

The voice they’re speaking in is the only voice they hear, and they’ve been dismissed, in one of a handful of clichés, as trapped in an echo chamber. They’re Snowflakes. Bubble Dwellers. I prefer to think of them as my fellow Americans.

For whatever reason, although guilt comes to mind, they feel obligated to identify with the oppressed peoples of the world: homosexuals, minorities, immigrants, etc. And they have driven a wedge between themselves and people like me—that is, white, middle-age, male, and Christian.

They may be affluent and they may be white, but they’re the good whites. No. They’re better than good. They’re superior. And those who reject their customs and their speech codes, those who do not think precisely as they do, are worse than inferior. They’re evil.

Some say it started with Bush v. Gore. Another group would have you believe it began with President Clinton’s peccadilloes. Other observers trace this development all the way back to the Vietnam era, but the hyper-politicization of our culture is by now a fact of life. But I have never seen this poison mainlined into AA meetings to the extent that I currently do.

I’ve been around New York AA for 23 years, and I’ve steeled myself against the endless outpouring of feelings. I would always rather hear about what people are doing (i.e. their experience) than about how they feel, from a member who is trying to contribute to the discussion, as opposed to someone who just “needed to get my hand up. To say something for me.”

Feelings-based sobriety travels a darkening path, and the route abruptly closes. There’s not a lot of room for suggestion or correction when all a member wants to do is assert her feelings. What response can there be? Your feelings are wrong?

It gets even trickier, more fraught. These are well-educated, intelligent people, many of whom have been in therapy for years, and they are expert at articulating their feelings. As a body at rest tends to stay at rest, a navel gazer tends to stare at his navel.

Now throw politics into the mix. Politics have more to do with emotion and feelings, than they do with reason, and it is futile to combat emotion with reason.

For virtually an entire year, I’ve had to endure someone’s callow political opinions, and to the member, they were all opposed to the candidacy of Donald Trump. As his improbable rise grew more potent, as his message seemed to land with sharper accuracy, it was met with an increasing level of anxiety and hatred, hatred for anybody who might have thought differently, in blatant violations of several of AA’s Twelve Traditions. Hammered out on the anvil of excruciating experience when the Fellowship was new, our AA forbearers were trying to keep the organization from breaking apart.

The members in full flood on their viewpoints seemed to have no knowledge of these Traditions, what they were doing up there on the window shade, or why. Worse, they knew and disregarded the fact that the traditions speak to our precise moment.

I squirmed and I sighed. I gritted my teeth, and kept my mouth shut. My role is to act as if I know better than to slug it out along the lines of ideology. But I wanted to tell them that Donald Trump, or someone very much like him, has been coming for several political seasons. And that they themselves went a long way toward explaining him.

This past Christmas, I was invited to a friend’s home, along with my family, for dinner. I hadn’t brought up the topic because I’m too polite for that, but I did muse that Trump could actually have an outside shot at the presidency. Another guest, a woman I had never met, became so distraught I was afraid she was going to have a stroke. In the presence of my family, she shrieked at me, neck veins bulging, for giving voice to such a despicable thought, then declared the conversation “over.” She had spoken.

And then late in the campaign season, Hillary Clinton, running for the highest office in the land, summed up the attitude of those who would defile themselves with a Trump vote: “You could put half of Trump’s voters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. They are irredeemable.”

Wait just a minute here. I’m none of those things. I’d like to think of myself, like most of us I suppose, as an intelligent man, loving, compassionate, whose situation in life is not lost on him, a man who is grateful for everything he has. To be characterized as irredeemable is a direct insult to my faith.

Exactly one generation (my parents’) stands between me and a coal mine. Through work, those people did okay. But because I was stupid, I started out behind, and I’m huffing and puffing to catch up. I kick myself about the rough decade that disappeared after drinking and drugging became obvious failures, but thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous I have become a strong, capable person. Whatever success I’ve mustered in my modest life, I owe to the people and program of AA. I’m a registered Democrat, and I’m the kind of guy who used to help get them elected.

I voted for Donald Trump. There, I said it. And he won.

And then the real unhinging began.

Just about on cue and scant hours after the toothless hillbillies had had their say, and Trump had been declared the winner, the Internet was besieged by punditry of the “What will I tell my children?” variety. There’s little that’s more ridiculous than elite thumb-sucking, but I might start with this: “There was an election last night, sweetheart. Our side lost.”

In the AA meetings, there was wailing and the rending of garments. Selecting words from the safe space lexicon, they “just couldn’t get [their] heads around this.” They “felt violated.” This election, and here’s my personal favorite, has them “shaken to the core.” I’m talking about mature people who have been sober for years and years.

I get it. They just had their asses whipped and they didn’t like it. Losing is hard. Defeat is tough to swallow, and I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been beaten a lot. But if politics are the most important thing in your life, I feel sorry for you. I really do.

When the platform of one party is perceived as failing the majority, the majority—actually, in this instance the Electoral College (put in place so that the most populous states don’t dominate every election)—votes that party out of office and gives the other party a chance to govern. It’s called democracy.

Dubbed by one wag “the Snowflake Revolution,” bitter thousands took to the streets to demonstrate, as is their Constitutional right. There have been reports of violence in other places, but the New York scene has remained peaceful.

I sense grim undercurrents here. The Trumpsters could be punishing in victory, although if Trump’s subdued demeanor (some might even call it humble) during his 60 Minutes interview is any indicator, the rancor could, and should, be shoved to the side. Relax, everybody. You won.

Likewise, it’s time for the other side to accept the results of the election. There have been calls for mobilization, for education, and for strategizing. All to the good. How about admitting there are real reasons this one went the other way, not the least of which was the dismissive, tone deaf advance of your arguments?

And to my dear friends in AA, while contemplating your feelings, consider those of your fellows. Stick to your experience. And leave your political soapbox on the sidewalk.

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