It began in 2015. The earliest Republican primary debates embarrassed the U.S. in front of the entire world. At that time, I simply couldn’t fathom a large chunk of American voters being swayed by any of these people.
It continued through 2016, with GOP candidates competing to see who could be the worst. By February 2016, it was clear that Republican voters favored the worst of their possible candidates (Trump), and I suspected that moderates would stay home — giving Trump the victory.
By early October, I began cutting people out of my life. The national political debate was no longer about intangible policies but about basic human decency and the inalienable human rights upon which our Republic was founded. Racists, sexists, homophobes, theocrats, and fascists in my circles became emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric — just as media pundits had predicted they would — and I refused to ignore it. Most of them doubled down in November and proved wrong one of the most basic assumptions I’ve always held about human nature — that most people are basically good.
This had lasting implications through 2017.
Strained relationships with close family members. Losing new friends I’d just re-gained. An overwhelming sense of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness. Like all emotions, these are physical in nature and have physical effects — fatigue, loss of energy and focus, sleep issues, etc. Unlike most emotions, these lasted throughout the year for me.
What you don’t know is that most of my struggle on this topic was silent, or remanded to private conversations with my wife. We shook our heads at each other in silent awe as each news story unfolded. The thousands of lies. GOP attacks on the environment. Republicans’ consistent anti-Muslim bigotry. The asinine Muslim ban, which didn’t target a single country terrorists come from. Conservatives’ concerted barrage against a free press. Republicans coming to the defense of Nazis and other white supremacists.
We wept quietly together after mind-boggling tragedies like the Las Vegas shooting and the church shooting in Texas. And we choked back anger when Republicans suggested the best response to these shootings was “thoughts and prayers” or — even worse — saying to bring more guns to church.
Yes, I had a choice. I could bury my head in the sand and just stay away from news altogether. I could pretend I don’t have regressive family members who cheer the Confederate flag or fully support cops who murder black people. I could ignore that both my state’s senators fully supported Roy “I’m The Worst” Moore. I could have laughed off open bigotry in the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court. I could live in Imaginary Land — where a Republican-controlled congress allowed Merrick Garland to stand for a confirmation vote, voted on “no” on dozens of insanely bad cabinet nominees, and refused to consider the tax giveaway to billionaires.
But when has ignorance ever solved anything? When has pretending things are okay ever made things okay?
And, despite my own personal white male privilege, I do not have that luxury with my family. I am the only white person in my household; the rest are people of color. It is my duty to protect and defend them. And to better do so, I need to be informed.
I no longer have religious privilege, being a member of the least-trusted religious minority (you can’t tell from looking at me), but even if I did I would still stand up for marginalized groups. (Don’t misunderstand. Advocating against mistreatment of Muslims is NOT equal to agreeing with all behaviors by all Muslims.)
I won’t use the word woke to describe myself, but I like to think I’m getting there. I looked deep into myself and my past and saw my own mistakes — and intentional wrong actions. I have apologized for some and will continue to do so when appropriate. I have pledged to defend those weaker than myself, to stand with targets of bigotry, to no longer look the other way when the loud-mouthed cretin regressives spew their vileness.
2017 has changed me as a person. Fully aware of the misdeeds of my past, I vowed to be a force for positive change, even if it might be small.
Feel free to keep using your religion or political views as an excuse to be a dick. I will use my reason and empathy as an excuse to be kind.