Well, that was embarrassing.
Reckoning with how close I became to being the people I’ve grown to hate.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve been on this planet for over 32 years and have made a meaningful impact of any kind for, if I’m being generous, four or five of them. It doesn’t mean I was walking around in a state of constant sorrow letting life go by without any purpose of meaning. It’s more that my purpose and meaning was just not there. From 2007, the year I graduated from high school, to 2013, the year I went to culinary school, my daily life was a constant loop of dropping in and out of community college, working a dead-end job at a since-closed grocery store, spending my time online while halfheartedly watching movies, learning one of several instruments I bought throughout the years, and whatever else I needed to do to, as I know now, distract my mind from a constant state of raging anxiety. When it came to politics, that seemed like a step too far.
I’m never shy about my conservative upbringing. The journey out was relatively easy and painless. While my differences in politics now are drastic, I don’t really think my home life shaped my politics as much as my life in church and at a Christian school. You know that thing conservatives like to claim about colleges programming people to be Marxists? It’s not true by their definition, but it’s got some truth to it in ways that are less about programming radical ideology and more about deprogramming the regressive ideology you’re spoonfed for your first 18 years on earth.
When you grow up learning about this country built on faith, freedom, and ample opportunity, it does not take much effort to actually change your views on things.
Learning that systemic racism did not, in fact, end in the 1960s with the death of Martin Luther King (Christians love a good martyrdom narrative) wasn’t all that surprising. Furthermore, accepting that poor people in this country are not lazy slobs, but living, breathing person who was often dealt a bad hand made more sense than the Ronald Reagan welfare wet dream that still haunts us today.
I was never programmed to the left in college. In many ways, I was deprogrammed after a high school experience full of mostly white, male teachers and religious leaders who cared more about what teenage girls were wearing that made upstanding and godly men like them stumble, preserving this American Myth of a land built in God’s image, and painting “liberals” as a strawman that’s responsible for everything from the fall of Christianity to hearing the most offensive phrase imaginable, Happy Holidays, at your local Starbucks.
I had my little epiphanies here and there. Like all 19 year olds who confuse their lack of views on anything with a real, political stance, I briefly flirted with the Libertarian title as a placeholder for whatever I’d become. What I became was something different, although I still struggle to label it given how angry literally every political group makes me. If I had to credit my philosophical changes on anyone, however, it was George Zimmerman, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and the rest of these right-wing nut jobs who showed me just how crazy they were by trying to keep me to the right of common decency.
On February 26, 2012, I was doing the exact same thing that Trayvon Martin was doing across the country — sitting at home, watching the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, and probably eating and drinking something as nutritionally sound as skittles and an Arizona tea. Not long after, I heard his story. I heard about a kid who walked through a neighborhood not far from his house, grabbed some junk food for the basketball game, and ran into a nut job with a gun. This seemed like a no-brainer with an absolute villain that nobody with even a semblance of one scruple could defend. It didn’t take long to realize just how wrong I was.
While it took some time — just how long, I don’t remember — to go from a story that my online friends across the country helped me learn about to the national movement that it became, I quickly saw the dangers of the people I once looked up to for guidance and education. One scroll of the Facebook timeline saw former teachers, classmates, and church friends defending a man who chased down a teenager with a gun, called the cops on him, and ignored calls not to engage with him when he called 9–1–1. Their justification? Trayvon got physical.
Now, smarter people than I have covered this at great length, so I am not going to give too much of my pasty-white analysis on the murder of Trayvon Martin. Anyone who knows me knows where I stand on his murder and a thousand other murders of Black Americans by the hands of its own citizens — many of them cops. It didn’t take a an evil liberal education at community college for me to see the dangers in allowing this to happen. In fact, I would argue that it took the empathy that the same people who were now justifying the death of a child because he fought back against a guy chasing him with a gun taught me years earlier. If you want to know why people like myself are jaded by the church, I imagine that other people my age have similar stories to tell.
For the first time since I watched 9/11 happen on live tv at 12 years old, I was utterly enthralled with a tragedy that happened in this country that I once believed was above such senseless things. Still, despite a steadfast support for what we now call Black Lives Matter, I can’t say I saw it as politics. Hell, I hate calling it that now. Politics should be about a policy, not about when it’s okay to kill anyone whose skin tone is darker than what society deemed acceptable. However, what this did wake up in me was the people who were defending.
With few exceptions, every person from my former life who was defending George Zimmerman had a specific set of politics and values. If they favored Trayvon Martin’s death, they showed their steadfastness every time a Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, or George Floyd was similarly gunned down.
It was the first time in my life that I felt like an ideological minority in the bubble I had grown to believe was the correct, Christian way to be. Those same people, pastors, teachers, and acquaintances from yesterday would go on to spout off platitudes about the dangers of gay marriage (“What’s next? Legal beastiality” is a common one), hateful rhetoric about the poor and destitute, and an insistence that while we are to uphold the teachings of Jesus Christ and trust God, that faith that good things will come tends to go away any time someone to the left of Rush Limbaugh holds office of any kind. I didn’t grow up with religious teachings — at least not in high school (elementary was mostly harmless, even on hot-button issues).
I grew up with right-wing talking points disguised as religious teachings that stretch back as far as the first gang of rowdy murderers made their way to America. To this day, while I have some differences with my family, it’s these that I look back most at with disgust.
I haven’t even gotten to Donald Trump yet. In many ways, you could say that outside of my political leanings as a naive teenager, I was still part of the problem that put him there. I loved watching THE APPRENTICE. Watching a narcissistic jackass have to mitigate a fight between Meat Loaf and Gary Busey was, by all means, a hilarious way to spend a Sunday night. Even in the years leading up to his official campaign, the idea that a man like that could ever hold the highest office was a hilarious thing that even those I saw on social media would allow. Of course, I was wrong.
I’m not going to go over the last four years in detail. All I am going to say is that I should have seen it coming. Up until that evening on November 9, 2016, I held on to this naive notion that while everyone has their flaws, there’s just as many flaws on the other side. The other side, in this case, is doing a lot of work. Yes, I grew to loathe the LITTLE RASCALS star each time he opened his mouth. Hell, he even got me to vote for a Clinton, a family I despise more on the left than I ever did as a cosplaying conservative. That’s no small feat. However, despite everything I liked to assume that everything was going to work its way out and despite my inhibitions, Hillary would win and the standard politics I already hated would be upheld for four-to-eight more years.
That’s when the most jarring moment happened. I was perusing Facebook when I saw a link posted by a teacher I had nothing but fond memories of about why it was so important for every Christian to go out and vote for Donald Trump despite his many flaws. I saw the link several more times from people who I expected it from and people I did not want to see it from. It was a gut punch. While politically and religiously I’d fallen out of that sort of mindset, it was jarring to realize that the same people who, for better or worse, shaped me as a person, could sell all of the self-important rants about the importance of being Christian for a Charlatan who just wanted the power. As time went on, this extended to Franklin Graham and a bevy of other religious leaders that five years earlier I’d have sworn were upright people who simply had dated views.
I’ve spent the last four years in a constant state of anger. Angry at the country, angry at others, and especially angry at Christian Nationalist. That anger is justified and my only regret is how I sometimes chose to express it both to those who deserved my wrath and who did not. Of course, I’ve also spent it angry at myself. Angry at every gay joke I made in high school, every “lighthearted” attempt at Daniel Tosh humor I made throughout my life, and angry at the role I played, however small it was, in the years I spent growing up. I’m done with that. There’s many of those things I’ll always be ashamed of. Anyone who knows me now knows not to make the same types of jokes I was making years ago. That guilt often leads to intense overreaction, because while I am angry at anyone perpetuating this offensive behavior, I am actually mad that I was once a version of that person.
Today marked an end to the worst four years of my life. I’m not relieved. I’m not happy it happened. Many people’s lives will never be the same thanks to the damage that the same people who preached about love and second-chances did by voting in a true-life tyrant. However, I cannot change anything that’s happened in the past. Through all this terrible stuff I have slowly found myself, my world-views, and the things I’m truly passionate about. It’s led to a lot of anger, but it’s also led to a whole lot of growth. In the last few months alone, I’ve gone from my depressive low to the best I’ve felt in years. This has nothing to do with politics as much as the way that politics helped free me from the shackles of truths I learned as a child that I now realize aren’t kind, religious, or meaningful in many ways. Despite all of this, I’m not going to be the deranged lunatic who calls it good. It never should have happened.
As we go forward without the bane of my existence in the White House, I find myself as cynical as I was a decade earlier. Unlike the naive 21 year old who confused his lack of views as something special, however, the cynicism comes from someone who now holds some steadfast views and wants to use the negative feelings as a jump-off point for positive change.
I recently slogged through a forgettable book by Ben Howe called The Immoral Majority. Throughout it, the man who I now realize is a Lincoln Project-esque conservative talks about how immoral it was for Christians to support a man like Donald Trump. Typically, I’d never give the self-proclaimed Tea Party conservative the time of day. However, due to lack of books on the subject and a morbid curiosity to how a person from that movement would have issue with the man who represents it, I slogged through. This was not a man who hates Trump. He could write as many pages as he wants about how he is not, but at the end of the day he’s the same person as those others he’s decrying. The American Evangelical movement has successfully convinced people that their bubble is the only true reality. If anyone fights it, it’s because they hate Christians. Howe might see himself above, but every time he relates support of Trump to something that, in his mind, is similar on the other side, he falls into the same trap he’s decrying. I’m not doing that. If your religious and political views are accidentally the same as David Duke’s, all the mental gymnastics in the world aren’t going to change the fact that, when you strip away all the flowery language and platitudes about morality, it doesn’t change the fact that you hold those same worldviews, like it or not. That should be enough to harbor change, and instead so many people have used it as proof that their flaws are purer than the ones they decry so loudly from the pulpit.