As I write, the Presidential election of 2020 is ten days away. I agree with those on both sides of the aisle that it is the most important election at least in my lifetime (which is long); I will not, however, be so hyperbolic as to include all elections since 1788 in that pronouncement. In any case, most of my life I have been (t0 a fault, perhaps) transparent and forthright about my views on all range of topics–until this year. Oh, I have spoken out about specific subjects that touch me deeply, but I have hidden my deepest thoughts and fears about the direction of politics in the United States. It has been difficult to see myself betraying the values I embraced at the University of Arizona in the early 1970s as I transformed from a naïve and conservative girl from a mining town in the West to an in-your-face and almost knee-jerk liberal who went to graduate school (twice!) at that bastion of Southern liberalism in Chapel Hill. Moreover, I have been embarrassed to have to eat the words of forty-plus years and even ashamed to confess my current thinking to my friends.
However, I have recently realized that I am in good company, growing every day, with the members of the #WalkAway movement–now almost 500,000 strong. With that throng of all ages, races, creeds, and sexual orientations, I am finally willing to confess–nay, proclaim–my developing political ideology. Because I believe that the most meaningful ideas are transmitted though narrative, I am going to collect here the stories of my initially tentative self-revelations over the last two months.
I realize that what I have written is long and tortuous (but not, I hope, torturous). I don’t expect many will have the patience to get through it all . . . but I have been voting since 1972. It’s a long story!
September 2-3, 2020: Decision made–and tentatively shared
Around noon on September 2, I received via email one of the sporadic op-eds written for the local newspaper by Mary Zahran, the mother and wife of two of my colleagues in the English Department. I have usually disagreed with her conclusions, but I have always found her reasoning compelling and her writing felicitous. In this particular article, she did not deploy the razor-sharp wit with which she often presents her conservative opinions. But it was strong and persuasive in its discussion of the two very different visions of America offered by the competing Presidential campaigns.
I would probably have forgotten the article had I not only hours later heard a radio piece about public schools across the country using the 1619 Project Curriculum to guide their teaching (indoctrination) of topics ranging from history to literature to sociology based on the belief that the United States began not with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, but with the first slave ship that landed on American soil in 1619. In the words of Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.” I don’t know why I was surprised; the idea of the United States as an evil empire based on slavery, colonialism, and imperialism has gained currency on the Left for many years. But indeed I was stunned and heartbroken that this form of ideological brainwashing was being introduced into public education at all grade levels.
Then and there, sitting in my car on that hot late-summer day, I experienced my watershed moment. I decided to vote for Donald J. Trump for a second term as President of the United States of America.
The next day, I actually began to make my position known–significantly, only to people I knew would support it. My office is on a short hallway with six colleagues–three of whom I knew to be Republicans. I first went to Sam, husband of the op-ed writer, and told him that I enjoyed his wife’s article–and that I had decided to vote for Trump. I went down the hall and told his daughter, Anne, who was overjoyed. Then I went to David’s office; his wife was there, and it turns out that she has been dealing with the same crisis of conscience as I have. At that time, she was still planning not to vote at all. Finally, I went to Kevin. I wasn’t sure of his politics, but I knew him to be the most measured and reasonable thinker on our hallway–and the one I am most comfortable confiding in. He congratulated me and welcomed me to the Republican fold.
Strangely, the most difficult revelation was to my husband. He was born in Czechoslovakia and became a Canadian citizen at the age of 14–a status he retains. I have traditionally been happy that he could not vote because I considered his views reactionary and benighted. I actually stopped talking to him about politics years ago because of the anger and vituperation and name-calling I endured at his hands when I even hinted that there might be another side in the debate. He seemed both surprised and delighted when I finally got the nerve to tell him of my decision.
I have already told the rest of my story in fits and starts over the last few weeks, which I will reproduce here, with emendations only to provide clarification.
September 26, 2020: My first public confession
I received a query on Facebook Messenger this morning. It was from my first husband, Ray Lewis, who asked me, “What do you think of Trump? I don’t care about your political views. Conservative or liberal is not the question. Civil debate is healthy for our country and I welcome it. My question is what do you think of Donald Trump? Thanks.”
I have been debating with myself (very civilly) how to make this decision known to my Facebook family, and I decided my answer to Ray’s question would be as good a place as any.
Something I didn’t include in my response is that civil debate in the marketplace of ideas is one of the values my once beloved Democratic Party has betrayed. Here is my response to the question I was asked:
That is such a good question, Ray–one that brings a lot of matters into even clearer focus for me during this most difficult of elections. Here is my answer, presented as it comes into my head: I HATE Trump. I generally have little love for anyone who made a lot of money in business, so that’s a starting point. I disliked him when he was “The Donald” and when he was on his TV shows (not that I ever saw a single episode). I thought he was a terrible joke when he decided to run for President, and then the joke became terrifying reality. I was ashamed of our country when he was elected in 2016. I believe he is extremely limited intellectually, and I’m sure you could predict that I deplore his lack of skill with the English language. I don’t believe he is any more dishonest or corrupt than anyone who has spent his life making money. I think he is good at heart, and I certainly think he loves our country. I do not believe he is a racist. I believe that charges against him for the severity of the pandemic and for the current state of mob violence throughout the country are ludicrous. You didn’t ask (in fact, you sort of asked me not to answer this question), but I have made one of the most difficult decisions of my life in the last few weeks. The Democratic Party, for which I have faithfully voted since 1974, has betrayed every value I hold dear. I am going to hold my nose and vote for Donald Trump on November 3.
I received several responses: The ex-husband who started it all said voting for a candidate in whom I didn’t believe “is tantamount to being a Southern apologist historian” (the worst sin we both could think of when we were briefly married). One close friend from a former workplace asked me to defend what she saw as my un-Christian choice. The most significant response was from an intelligent, clear-thinking, and articulate friend who wrote:
I must admit confusion and disappointment. How is one supposed to hold one’s nose and vote for an obviously incompetent, amoral, clearly racist serial liar, pretend religious person, that holds science in contempt? A person that clearly has only contempt for democratic traditions. A person who has surrounded himself with sycophants. A person that has the rest of the world wondering how a country could possibly continue this madness.I think holding one’s nose won’t cut it!! It frightens me how a person of obvious intellect and deep religious belief can reach a position where [she] can support such a choice. I simply can’t imagine you as part of his “base.” Biden and friends are far from perfect but …,4 more years off this mayhem? Please, your principles can’t allow you to make that decision. I realize that debates about politics and religion among friends and families are almost never a good idea. But forgive me, I can’t hold my nose.
September 27, 2020: My apologia
I responded via email as the more reasonable alternative for a 2,000-word defense:
If you have followed my Facebook presence with any regularity, you will note that I have assiduously avoided political commentary—with a few notable exceptions. For example, my blog posts, which I link on Facebook, usually contain some reference to my political viewpoints. When I read something I consider particularly egregious in the news or in someone else’s Facebook post, I have also commented from time to time. Mostly, though, I stick to cats and walking 10,000 steps and other light and inoffensive topics for Facebook. My experiences yesterday serve as a solid explanation of that reluctance to post my views. I also have a job to protect—and I am very well aware that expressing some of my most deeply held ideas in their naked form would be a death knell for my teaching career.
Let me tell you a little more about what happened yesterday—in addition to the inspiration of my ex-husband’s question and my response—on Facebook. I’m not sure what sparked my final decision to speak, but it was probably a post from a member of a group called “The Episcopal Café.” Entitled “A revival of Indifference,” it was a diatribe (yes, I recognize my own tone here) against a religious revival meeting in Orlando, Florida, as a flagrant expression of indifference toward people of color and their disproportional effects from COVID-19. (He revealed fully his views of their style of Christianity when he referred to their “full-throttle worship”). Throughout this pandemic, I have experienced an increasing frustration with my own denomination for its ultra-safe response. The diocese of North Carolina is still allowing no in-person worship services. I’m not sure about the church as a whole, but I have never been a fan of Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry since he waltzed into North Carolina interviewing for the position of bishop and refused to answer any questions about his position on the consecration of the church’s first gay bishop in 2001. His response to every question was “luuuuuv everybody”—certainly an expression of the commands of Jesus, but not much in the way of honest personal ideology. So far as I know, every denomination in North Carolina is now having some kind of in-person worship service—except the Episcopalians. The Roman Catholics are even having communion. I made a comment on this man’s post, suggesting that perhaps those worshipping at full throttle had a deeper faith than those who accused them of indifference. And the firestorm started. Within the space of three or four comments, I was accused of voting for Trump—an accusation that happened to be true but that I had not revealed and was, further, completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. By the end of the thread, I was told that I lack sense and morals, that I “defile communion,” and that I “mock the central tenets of the Christian faith.” I was also asked if I wear seatbelts when I drive, giving me the opportunity to respond that I wasn’t aware that wearing seatbelts had joined receiving Holy Communion as one of the seven sacraments.
Midway through this vituperation on all sides, I received that message from Ray Lewis, my first husband, with whom I have had a Facebookian rapprochement. I responded with exactly the words I posted on Facebook. As you saw, the responses were mostly very tame and supportive, reflecting mostly the nature of my collection of “friends.” I also made another brief foray into politics when a friend from my days working for Social Security Disability accused Melania Trump (in jest, I realize) of killing thousands of Americans, taking away their healthcare, and spewing lies. I’m not really sure why all this arose in one day. But it made for a very disheartening and depressing day, despite having a pedicure while reading the wonderful new novel Hamnet in the midst of it all.
As I suggested on Facebook, even though we have met only briefly, I quickly developed a tremendous respect for you as a thinker and as a conversationalist. Therefore, I wanted to be honest with you about what has led me to the decision to jump into the abyss and vote for Donald Trump.
It will be a long story, beginning in 1972. That year, I was one of the beneficiaries of the 26th Amendment. I was a college sophomore in November of that year (prior to my liberal awakening) and proudly voted for Richard Nixon. I could probably make the story very short by saying that the rest of my voting history has been one long penance for that first ballot I cast. Like many of my peers, innocents reared in small towns by very conservative parents (who, in small-town Arizona, were straight-ticket Democrats), I came under the influence of teaching assistants and professors who took me under their wings (I was a rock star even at the huge University of Arizona and a good protégée to mentor) and taught me their world views. I won’t go into the reading list or the process of conversion (both secular and religious) in any detail. My primary mentor was a professor of Civil War and Reconstruction, John V. Mering, who taught a unique mixture of Marxism and consensus history, and I became his most ardent supporter in class debates. That was my junior year. Just previous to that, I had requested excommunication from the Mormon church, which I had scandalized my family by joining when I was a senior in high school. The local clergyman in our college congregation had told me that soon I would have to “decide between a career in medicine and raising a family up to the Lord.” That was too much for me, and I chose the former (but we both know how that worked out).
Back to Presidential politics. In 1976, I felt that I could not vote for a Southern Baptist, so I wrote in the name of Eugene McCarthy. For the next 8 elections, I fell into Democratic lockstep: Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama. I was never very enthusiastic about any of the elections except for 1992 and 1996. In 2008, I actually worked on my first campaign (Hillary) but could have voted for McCain had he not appointed Palin as his running mate. In 2012, I did not vote because I had already become very uncomfortable with my bedfellows who were ardent Obama supporters. In 2016, I was once again passionate about my choice and voted for the other Clinton. I was devastated when Trump won–sickened, embarrassed for our country, disgusted with even close friends who voted for Trump.
So now we’re in 2020. Actually, I have to step back to 2017, when Harvey Weinstein’s name was plastered everywhere and #MeToo became the watchword of the day. I had then and continue to have revulsion for the entire carnival staged by a bunch of women who were quite happy to benefit from the sexual favors they proffered in exchange for plum roles—and who then convinced a entire generation of girls and women that they bear no responsibility for the decisions they make and later regret. I won’t accept the accusation that I “blame the victim” precisely because I don’t see a girl who gets drunk at a frat party, gets laid, and then has morning-after second thoughts as in any way a victim. Nor can I support the corollary (and worse) assumption of these people that men accused of sexual assault and rape are not protected by the presumption of innocence, one of the bedrocks of our system of jurisprudence. I can’t remember exactly when my first rebellion occurred, but it was over the constant #MeToo harangues that I stopped listening to NPR, which I had been doing on my various long daily commutes since the 1980s. I also cancelled my long-term membership as a “sustainer” of the local public radio station, WUNC. My timeline is confused, I realize, but another issue contributed heavily to my decision was LGBTQ “rights.” Coincidentally, when I returned to church after a 23-year hiatus, I chose the Episcopal Church because of its liberal views on homosexuality and abortion. However, believing that people have the right to do whatever they want in the bedroom does not mean that I believe they ought to be bishops. Nor does it mean that I recognize the existence of something called “gender” as opposed to sex. Nor do I believe that the religious or civil institution of marriage should be extended to gay and lesbian couples. (This is the first time I have ever come right out and said that—to anyone, least of all someone I am trying to impress with my reasonableness.) It was those two issues that led me to cancel my decades-long subscription to The New Yorker. I just couldn’t stand it any more—even though I still miss the cartoons.
I can’t believe I have omitted so far the issue that trumps them all in my current Trumpward path: the First Amendment. (I realize I am extrapolating in that the Constitution doesn’t actually apply in all these areas, but its principles certainly do.) In my position as a college instructor, I see every day the erosion of academic freedom for both faculty and students. I see “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” not as abstractions in articles in The Atlantic, but as daily realities. And I am shocked beyond comprehension that places such as UC Berkeley, bastion of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, allow mob violence to ban or “disinvite” speakers with whom the mob disagrees.
The other issue (as if this could be the last?) that has influenced me greatly is identity politics, which of course includes many of the ideas I have mentioned before, as well as Black Lives Matter and intersectionality and whatever jargon has been created to divide us and make us hate each other because of the color of our skin or whom we fuck or how we worship. The goal when I was at university was . . .
I’m going to stop this particular section here. I’m sure you get the idea. I simply want to tell you how I finally reached the decision a couple of weeks ago that I will vote for Trump.
At some point before February (I know it was then because I took this action when I renewed my driver’s license), I decided to switch my voter registration from Democratic to unaffiliated. During the long season leading up to the primaries, I was strongly hoping Biden would be chosen as the party nominee. Frankly, if I were voting my convictions honestly, I would probably choose Bernie Sanders, but I am pretty certain a self-identified socialist could never win a US election. I saw Biden as a middle-of-the-road non-ideologue whom I could willingly support. However, then I came to realize how much he owes to the factions I not only disagree with, but find terrifying. Although my unaffiliated status allowed me to vote in the primary of one party, I chose not to vote. That was my next decision for the general election as well. I simply did not feel I could support either candidate.
Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from school when I heard of a new school curriculum adopted by California. I can’t remember all the details, but it teaches the substance of the 1619 Project and presents the United States as an evil empire from its foundations. That moment was my red line. I know—I was taught by that mentor with whom I stayed in contact until his death in 2009—that the capitalist system of the United States relied heavily on the institution of slavery from its inception. However, I still believe that the founders of this country—the best men of their time—created one of the greatest countries ever to exist, based on enduring belief in the rights of man that slowly came to fruition during the two centuries-plus of our history. I cannot bear to see statues torn down and names taken off buildings in the mistaken idea that these men should have been 21st-century liberals.
I realize that this moment of awakening had exactly nothing to do with the Presidential election. It was simply the exact instant when I realized that I cannot support a party that has betrayed every value it once held. Nor can I stand by idly and watch them win.
If you live long enough to finish reading this message, I hope to hear your ideas in response. At the very least, I hope you realize that this is not a decision I have taken lightly.
In the ensuing weeks, I have engaged in much more discussion of these issues, but the substance has not changed. I even went to a Pence rally last week and learned that contrary to my beliefs gathered second hand from the media, he is an intelligent and thoughtful man, a strong and polished speaker, and a moral and patriotic American.
I guess I didn’t exactly walk away. It has been one long slouch, but I am finally confident in the decisions I have made, and I will be proud to cast my vote for the Trump/Pence ticket on November 3.