The definition of family

Both the Democratic and Republican conventions showcased what each party views as a “family”.

If you watched the Democratic and Republican Conventions last week, you probably noticed the emphasis on family from both candidates. Joe Biden noted that he had brought Kamala Harris into his family while Donald Trump included his wife and several of his children as speakers. These represent two different approaches to the definition of who is family and who is not.

Family is defined by “Miriam-Webster” in various ways: Definition #1: “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children, also :any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family— a single-parent family” and another definition of family, which is defined as: “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation”.

As you can see, there are differing views of what makes up a family. These differing views can be explosive in our era.

When Biden bought Kamala Harris into his “family”, he was taking the second definition— “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation”. He was being inclusive, while Trump’s view seems to be based upon blood or marriage. He is thinking exclusively.

This issue of the definition of family is reflected in my own childhood. My parents were told they couldn’t have any children. They adopted two boys—my two older brothers. I came along later as a “surprise”. My parents’ families had two differing views of who was family and who was not. My mother’s family was inclusive; her siblings adopted six children. My father’s side, on the other hand, held the view that if you weren’t a blood relation, you really weren’t part of the family. My aunts and uncles were nice to my older brothers, but they didn’t have the same connection to them as they did to me.

Of course, my brothers picked up on this preference for me over them (all kids pick up these attitudes). They resented me as a result. To this day, I am close to neither of my siblings, something I deeply regret.

These same attitudes of inclusivity and exclusivity can be observed among the two major American political parties. Democrats are more inclusive, while Republicans tend to be more exclusive.

Immigration is an area where Democrats and Republicans differ. Democrats want to include everybody as part of the American family. Democrats have set up sanctuary cities to protect illegal immigrants from the searching eyes and grip of the government, while Republicans tend to view immigrants as aliens. They are not welcomed; instead they are viewed as people who have come to this country uninvited. Closing the door to immigration is an example of this sense of exclusivity.

The question of race is also part of these inclusive/exclusive attitudes. Democrats are actively trying to end racism in this country. Memories and monuments of the Civil War that still survive have been either banned as in the case of the Confederate flag or banished as in the case of statues and busts. The Black Lives Matter movement represents the desire to be treated as equals.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, has emphasized retaining the past. Their term for expressing exclusivity is to accuse the Democrats of fostering a “cancel culture”. President Trump’s appeals to racism and his “birther” questioning of Kamala Harris’ immigrant ancestry and birthplace reflect what many of his supporters agree with. Trump brought up these same issues about Barack Obama, even though there was ample proof that Obama was born in this country.

A third issue deals with whether the LGBTQ community is part of the American family. Democrats say a fervent yes, while many Republicans reject this argument. President Trump has largely rejected LGBTQs, in great part to appeal to his conservative religious base.

The definition of “family” has become an area of conflict in modern America today. Two differing views battle in the arena of public opinion for control. This coming election will determine which definition will dominate. I favor the more inclusive perspective. My parents preferring and favoring me over my two older brothers did not engender a sense of unity or harmony that I deeply desired. Preferring one race or group over others in the nation only brings more disunity and conflict. That’s not an outcome any of us really desire.


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Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
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