When I watched Jennifer Gosar talk about her brother, Congressman Paul Gosar, on MSNBC, and heard Tim Gosar call his brother one of Trump’s “Fascist Footsoldiers,” who ought to be expelled from Congress, I thought of my brother Vinny.
Not that my sole-surviving brother is a Member of Congress — God forbid. Not that he graphically depicted using Samurai Swords to kill Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of NY and threatened the life of the President of the US — although, over the years, he’s wished for similar gruesome deaths for many Democrats, including me.
Like Jennifer Gosar, there was a time when, as a child, I looked up to my older brother. He was an outstanding baseball player, who could run, hit and field like the Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Famer, Al Kaline, and, like me, was a fanatical and knowledgeable New York Yankee fan.
Vinny was so bright, he skipped two grades and graduated high school at the age of 16. He ran as fast and hard as he could to catch up to our oldest brother, Michael, the apple of our mother’s eye.
As I got older and could do a spot-on imitation of Howard Cosell, my brother was so proud of my abilities he wanted me to perform for his friends at a local bar where he was frequently found — Anna Jean’s, located in a run-down strip mall in North Babylon, our working class community on Long Island’s south shore.
Family folklore was that Vinny had a genius IQ, and his earlier financial successes in businesses — first on Long Island and then in Southern California, were seen as concrete proof of his superior intelligence — to others, and to him. He put up my parents in his big home in El Toro, CA, when they moved out west, and gave my father a part-time job at the electronic parts company he headed. Then, something — or maybe several things — happened.
Whether it was his business wizardry and the whirlwind financial windfalls which dazzled a kid who grew up poor and never went to college, or a costly cocaine habit at the peak of his power, something started to come between my brother and reality. Living in Orange County, CA — then, the home of the Right Wing Extremist John Birch Society in the 1970’s and 1980’s and birthplace of conspiracy theories, didn’t help.
Despite our widening political differences, I became one of the few family members who could tolerate my brother. He was consistently mean and nasty to our sister Vera, a smart, independent woman who refused to put up with his insults. The fact that I was a white, Italian male and had an education, probably gave me some runway with him.
My mother would plead with us to avoid talking politics, but neither Vinny nor I could resist, and, in truth, we enjoyed the sparring to see who could one-up the other. I ridiculed his extremist beliefs, mocked the right wing loonies he listened to like Limbaugh and Larry Elder, and generally gave back to him as tough as he dished out. In retrospect, by engaging him, I may have actually enabled and emboldened my brother. After our mother’s death in 2007, all “guardrails” on Vinny’s behavior came down.
I struggled to look behind his intentionally outrageous, attention-getting behavior and listen to him, in a vain attempt to keep him connected to his own, and our, humanity. Sometimes it worked, but would often backfire if he felt I was getting too close, or, when his racist or homophobic rantings would set me off.
After Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, I cut off Vinny’s vicious attacks on the nation’s first black President — whom he knew I supported from early 2007 — -by snarling back at him that he hated Obama because the President’s success forced him to face his own failures, and he just couldn’t get over the fact that a Black man was smarter and more successful than he was. My brother’s response was uncharacteristic silence, and I knew I had scored a painful hit, and regretted it immediately. I detested his unbridled hatred and racism, but disliked my hurtful response almost as much. He was, after all, still my mother’s son.
As Donald Trump’s deranged “Birther” campaign grew, and meanness, hatred and lies became normalized on Fox News — the only network my brother watched — Vinny’s views became more and more extreme. As a Nevada resident, he owned a legally registered gun, and kept it handy, in case the “illegals” tried to break into his apartment. Ironically, if any did — and they saw how little he had — they’d have left a contribution.
Finally, in 2016, after it was clear it would be Hillary
Clinton vs. Trump for the Presidency, I told Vinny I was going to North Carolina — a key, swing state with 15 electoral votes — to do voter protection, since NC was an open-carry State, and I was not easily intimidated. Furious, he wished I would be shot, and then when he saw that threat wouldn’t dissuade me, hoped my plane would crash, and called me an anti-Semitic slur, knowing I converted to Judaism some 36 years earlier, and my wife and son were Jewish.
I wasn’t as offended by his death wish for me as I was by his expressed hatred against Jews — eventhose in his own family. For me, it was the last straw. I told him that I was done with him, that I didn’t want such toxic hate in my life, nor have my granddaughters exposed to it. That was 5 years ago, and we haven’t spoken since.
So, I understand the pain that the Gosar siblings are feeling as they watch their brother set fire to himself, and endanger others. What’s hard, is witnessing what’s happened to someone you once loved, and knowing that, in the end, much more than his own life is at risk.