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A Wisconsin 'Never Trumper' looks beyond politics with 'Life, Under Construction'

Doreen Wigderson

What’s it like to be a lifelong Wisconsin Republican and journalist—who supports policies like school choice, smaller government, lower taxes, and increased police funding, to have volunteered with the college Republicans in the same era as Republican former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and then to, over time, feel so alienated from your party that you describe yourself as “like a sportswriter who covers football and the team moves out on you so that there’s no one to root for?”

That describes James Wigderson in a nutshell. He’s a former editor of rightwisconsin.com, a conservative-leaning news site, and a former columnist for the Waukesha Freeman. He’s now a “never Trumper,” sounding the alarm on what could happen in a second Trump presidency. He’s also the author of a twice-weekly newsletter, Life, Under Construction. It’s a place to find musings and storytelling on life's nuances because, as Wigderson writes, “readers deserve more than a talking head with a partisan political agenda.”

“When Donald Trump came down that escalator in 2015, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a change in the trend towards the Paul Ryan and William F. Buckley conservatism that I grew up with and endorsed,’” Wigderson says. “And by the time we got to 2020, 2021, all my fears had been fulfilled… and suddenly when Jan. 6 happens, you thought maybe for a moment there’d be a course correction that the Republican Party would suddenly realize that Trumpism wasn’t the future. And then, all of a sudden, one by one, they all came right back into the fold.”

Wigderson has written op-eds in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CNN, and even has detailed his decision to vote for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes in the 2022 midterms. “Policy battles can wait while we rid ourselves of demagogues who will not accept the results of democratic elections they do not like,” he wrote.

“Does it really, ultimately, matter whether the tax rate is 25% or 26%?” Wigderson asks. “Does it really matter if we're spending one or one and a half times the GDP?... Right now, we have a political party that is not willing to accept the election results, and that is dangerous to the country in the long term.”

But Wigderson is coping, in part, with his blog, Life, Under Construction. In it, he draws upon family, religion, travel and what it’s like to send two kids off to college.

“Soon, I’m going to be an empty nester. My wife and I are going to be living on our own,” he says. “And I want to write about what that experience is like, what it's like to have parents that got old and sick, and what it was like to care for a father who has Alzheimer's.” He says those are the things that were of such immediate concern that, at times, he had to step back from writing about politics.

Wigderson has long been the owner of rescue dogs, and one of them, Charlie Chaplin Wigderson, recently passed away. Charlie was a Siberian Husky/Border Collie mix, who Wigderson says was “a complete neurotic mess for most of his life, and we loved him for it.”

Wigderson and the good boy Prince, one of Wigderson's other rescue dogs in addition to Charlie Chaplin, who wasn't too fond of sitting for photos.
Doreen Wigderson
Wigderson and the good boy Prince, one of Wigderson's other rescue dogs in addition to Charlie Chaplin, who wasn't too fond of sitting for photos.

Wigderson shares that Charlie would “immediately start howling like a lunatic when you put a leash on him” and “would spend half the day hiding underneath our bed because it was quiet under there, and it was dark.” Wigderson says he “was not fond of most people, but he loved children.”

He wrote about Charlie’s passing in Life, Under Construction, and tweeting about it helped bridge political divides.” “So, I posted on social media about Charlie and Randy Bryce, [a Democrat] who ran for Congress in the first congressional district [during the 2018 midterms]. I've written terrible things about him; Randy Bryce even reached out and said, ‘You know, I'm sorry to hear about Charlie,’” says Wigderson. “That's one of those things that we all universally have, this love of these pets that we have. And regardless of where you are in your politics, you have these common experiences in your life.”

Wigderson says focusing on these aspects of life is an antidote to polarization.

“I'm sure that if I wrote again, tomorrow, about my father, for example, having Alzheimer's, I would have Democrats and Republicans commenting on the shared experience,” he says. “The more that we share those experiences, the more we look at each other as human beings rather than these awful people that once criticized us or once was a candidate for office, the more that we'll see each other as human beings and maybe not be so terrible to each other.”

And as for his take on where we are politically in 2024? It’s mixed. “I am too much of a student of history to not be a pessimist about things. I understand how the Roman Republic fell… how the French republics fell,” he says. “On the other hand, I'm still an optimist, because this is still America, and I believe that we have a way of correcting when we need to.”

“[Former Democratic President] Woodrow Wilson used to throw his opponents in jailduring World War I, and we’ve gone through periods where we've been really divided, yet we've still managed to sort things out democratically,” he says.

He notes other countries fall apart, have riots, bloodshed and violence in the streets and descend into political chaos. He says this country has a way of finding direction for the future. “I believe we can still do that,” Wigderson says.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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