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illustration by ashley holt for the boston globe

With enough political buttons strewn about for our apartment to pass as Democratic headquarters, I assumed my 35-year-old nephew was teasing at a recent Sunday brunch when he volunteered, “Donald Trump is the best candidate.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked, expecting he’d snicker.

“Because he’ll surround himself with good people” was his answer.

“Like Chris Christie?” I scoffed. “Or David Duke?” How could I be hearing this from the adorable, dimpled nephew whose every birthday, graduation, and marathon I’d taped? I realized I’d just served hand-sliced smoked salmon at $29.98 a pound to a Trump fan.

The rest of us banded into a unit of nova-noshing Navy Seals charged with saving our country from a threat. I’d been the first to deploy, but my son, a 32-year-old attorney, parachuted in to ask, “Have you considered what he could do to the Supreme Court?” The nephew shrugged as if that were not an issue. My son continued, “Look, even if you have problems with Hillary, you have to admit she’s the most qualified.” The nephew remained quiet, which prompted my son to point out, “If you don’t care about women’s rights, you should.” His reward was approving smiles from his wife and me.

Politics have always been important to me. When I met my future husband, Jimmy Carter was in office. Before we did anything that might transmit germs, I made sure he was a liberal. I wasn’t about to share a bed, or the TV remote, let alone raise a child, with a Republican. My husband’s entire family, like mine, was solidly Democratic, but my nephew’s stance was evidence that genetics guarantees nothing.

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Desperate to understand how my nephew had been seduced, I messaged a relative in Florida who’d “liked” the Donald J. Trump page on Facebook: “You have no problem voting for a man who was praised by Louis Farrakhan for not accepting money from the Jews?” Maybe she’d be more explicit and articulate.

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“OK,” she replied, “here goes. Hillary, she was in the White House for four years. What did she do?”

So much for that plan. I restrained myself from pointing out that Hillary was there for eight years and her role was as the first plus-one. All politics is local, so I decided to question people I encountered as I roamed around. I took my listening tour to different parts of the city, bringing up the election at every opportunity. A man sitting next to me on a bus said, “He’s the only one who gives me hope.”

A tourist asking for directions insisted that the billionaire is unafraid, perceiving Trump as an alpha leader capable of reinvigorating the country. I imagined there were many who confused brashness and bragging with strength.

In my dentist’s waiting room, a woman getting an implant was convinced the man whose Chicago hotel minibar includes a $25 bottle of water will make America great again. My teeth clenched, making it almost impossible for the dental hygienist to clean them; she repeatedly pleaded, “Can you open any wider?”

Someone working in a bakery who’d moved here from Guatemala admitted she hoped Trump would win because he tells it like it is. “You don’t care that he’s anti immigrants?” I asked.

“Not Guatemalans,” was her response. “It’s Mexicans he hates.”

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The survey didn’t help me come to terms with my nephew’s position, but other family events were coming up and I was eager to get back the warm relationship I’ve always had with him. (In fact, I’m still hoping he’ll agree not to vote for a Republican in return for the anonymity I’m giving him here.) Though I’d failed to figure out what he saw in Trump, maybe I could at least understand why he’d made that announcement to us. He had to know it would be provocative.

Psychologists attribute many personality traits to birth order. From what I read, it was conceivable my nephew had “middle child syndrome.” Sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling, he may have felt invisible or neglected. (Maybe I was even partly responsible. Had I played enough games with him as a child?) His brunch declaration may have given him a moment as speaker of the house . . . even if it was only his aunt and uncle’s house.

These realizations (rationalizations?) allowed me to stop conflating the candidate and his follower. I could loathe one and love the other. Respectful, sensitive, and kind, my nephew is nothing like the Donald. And I’m sure he’d happily show me his tax returns. I wonder how Paul Ryan’s aunt is handling her nephew’s endorsement.

Sybil Sage is a writer and artist in New York. Send comments to connections@globe.com.


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