In 1998 when Bill Clinton was impeached, I was a 22-year-old republican who read The Drudge Report and Fox News websites religiously, listened to Rush Limbaugh when I could, believed without doubt that there was a liberal bias to the media, and wrote college newspaper editorials about how hard it was for middle class white males to get college financial aid. They say you get more conservative as you get older, and the chance for that was very high with me. I was prime for recruitment and I thank god every day that the infrastructure wasn’t in place like it is now to convert me or I could have easily gone alt-right.
Instead, I left my hometown and moved to New York City then to Ann Arbor. Along the way I still canvassed for republican candidates, still drove a car with a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on it, and still attended evangelical churches that were deeply tied to right-wing thoughts and beliefs, but I also widened my circle of influences. I met liberal Christians and Christians with degrees from Ivy League institutions instead of just the unaccredited Bible college graduates I’d been exposed to.
My major was English with a focus on rhetoric and composition and one of my minors was political science, so I was training myself to think and write critically, especially about politics, conservative politics more specifically like William F. Buckley and Jonah Goldberg did. I believed (and still believe) that you can have a good discussion about the pros and cons of liberal versus conservative policies regarding the role and size of government, the role and size of taxes, and states right versus federal rights, but I found that eventually, these arguments were replaced by partisan hypocrisy and a blood lust for not just winning, but thoroughly crushing the other side.
I still voted in the primaries for republicans, first for McCain then for Romney, but couldn’t bring myself to vote for them in the general election when they both picked running mates who represented what I saw as the absolute worst of the party I’d been involved in. I voted reluctantly for Barack Obama in 2008, but by the time I voted for him in 2012 it was with enthusiasm. When I voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016, it was the first time I felt genuinely excited about voting and saw a wonderful future ahead for our country. To say I was crushed by Donald Trump’s election would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Even though I was trained to think and write critically about politics, I’ve generally shied away from it as I’ve gotten older because I’m ashamed of my past and a LOT of my friends and family are still hardcore Always Trump conservatives. I’ve always seen myself as more of a human interest and lifestyle writer better at home in the Living or Metro sections rather than OpEd, but every once in a while I either get so worked up about a topic, or a topic saturates the culture so much that it would be silly for me not to write about it. With Donald Trump and his likely impeachment, we have both.
During Clinton’s impeachment, I believed (and still do, I think) that he lied under oath and that he should have been punished for that. I also think the whole thing was nonsense and should have never been brought up in the first place though. And the more I read about Newt Gingrich and what he and the republicans were doing to the party, our government, and the country while I was still supporting them, the more disgusted I become in them and myself. Bill Clinton in general brings up some very conflicted emotions for me because I want to support him and his good policies, but I also have to acknowledge that he was likely a serial sexual predator and should have been punished for it. It also makes me realize that I’m still in a weird space with almost everyone I know. To my conservative friends and family, I’m a liberal pseudo-communist, but to my progressive friends I’m not fiery enough.
I saw a lot of this in my private reactions to how the House has handled Trump. From the day he was elected I’ve been absolutely convinced he is a despicable human being, and the single worst person we’ve ever had in that office, but I also wasn’t really behind impeaching him for every single bad thing he did because I could easily see it backfiring and as bad as four years of Trump has been for our country, I believe eight years worth of damage would be mostly irreversible. I thought a lot of folks overreacted to every little thing and made some ill-advised comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust. I understand why they did it, but I wasn’t on board.
I used to think I understood why my conservative family and friends believed what they do, but time has shown me that they all fall into one of two camps. First, there are those who love Trump because he gives them an excuse to fully indulge in the racism, sexism, homophobia and aggression they felt they had to suppress under Obama, these are mostly men. The other group, mostly women, aren’t overtly as racist or sexist or discriminatory as the others, they are kind to all when they meet them in person, and will claim the love of Jesus for everyone, but support terrible policies of racism and sexism and discrimination. Rather than seeking out right wing media to bolster their beliefs, they consume media in their limited bubble and fall prey to propaganda and the mind fucks of right-wing media. I used to feel bad for the second group and tried to make excuses for them, but no more. It should be obvious to even the most casual observer that Donald Trump has no business being an accepted member of society, let alone the leader of our country.
This is very hard for me to say because the group of folks that support Trump includes my parents, my sister, my in-laws, all of my dad’s side of the family, several on my mom’s side, and kids I grew up with from elementary and middle school. I’m depressed and exhausted by it all and don’t see a way out that doesn’t decimate our country. I’m still afraid he’ll win in 2020, not because he’s the better candidate or even because more people vote for him, but because our system is so rigged and biased that it’s easy for a conman like him to bend it to his will. He’s already done the worst damage by installing two supreme court justices that will make fixing the damage done to our country almost impossible. I still think the bigger enemy is not Trump but the GOP as a whole who has emboldened this nasty strain of the party and will make life difficult for whatever party wins in 2020.
In 1998, I was filled with hope. I believed conservatives had the best interest of our country in mind and it was only a matter of time before the ship was righted. In 2019, I see the flaming ruins of our Constitution and our republic and find it so much harder to find hope. I know the only way out is for the entire country to get pissed and revolt. The only way to overcome the massive imbalance of our current election system is to have unprecedented voter turnout, but I also believe this is probably the hardest time in our country’s history to try and get us all to work together. I’ve had a good life born of privilege due to my race and my gender and I want my kids to have a good life. I’m doing what I can to help, but I have to hope their generation is better at it than we were.