I’m not embarrassed to admit I cry.
I cried on the day Donald Trump was elected. At the time I was working in downtown Austin. I didn’t have much to do (I rarely did. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling or demanding work), which was fortunate, because I was having a hard time feeling anything but depressed. A protest had begun not far from my building. They were marching north up Congress Avenue toward the Texas Capitol. When they were close, I left my office and walked the few blocks to watch them pass. I didn’t join, but I empathized far more with them than with the winners of that election.
I cried because Donald Trump had hurt a lot of people to get to the White House. He’d insulted and bullied his way to the top. He stoked fear and rage over imaginary foes. He placed himself – a cowardly, unfaithful, narcissistic, perpetual liar – as some sort of savior of hard-working, honest, God-fearing America.
My grandfathers fought in World War II and the Korean War. One was in the Navy. His boat was torpedoed and sunk in the Pacific. The other was in the Marines. He flew bombing runs over North Korea and miraculously survived a plane crash when a wingmate’s plane exploded. After nearly giving their lives for their country, each came home to serve their families and communities. With my grandmothers, they taught their children, my parents, to be some of the best people I will ever know.
Those men, and their wives, sacrificed for and preserved institutions that I fervently believe in – a representative democratic government, religion, and family. I believe in those institutions because I believe that they are the best means of preserving all that mankind has accomplished and passing it on to the next generation. I grew up conservative, believing that conserving these institutions was a great cause. I saw liberals as a threat – they were part of a movement that wanted to burn it all down. Perhaps their intentions were good – I certainly understood that things were broken – but without the framework these institutions had provided, things were bound to fall apart. A movement couldn’t replace an institution.
I voted accordingly in 2008 and 2012. I saw John McCain and Mitt Romney as a bulwark against some of the more radical ideas Obama campaigned on. I did start seeing some of the warning signs in 2012. As a politically-curious law student, I thought I’d like to get involved in Romney’s campaign. As I listened to his primary messaging, however, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but I knew I didn’t want to associate myself that closely with it.
2016 changed everything. I happened to be in the room when a family member watched Trump’s announcement speech. He parroted ideas that my conservative education at home, church, and at BYU had taught me were little more than lies. I told myself at the time that no one would take this seriously.
I was wrong and it hurt. It still hurts. Trump harnessed and created a movement. A movement that, as I see it, is antithetical to nearly everything I was taught. I was taught to be kind. I was taught to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and do good to all men. I couldn’t reconcile those teachings with Trump’s movement. It mystified me, and still does, how people with the same upbringing as me, who were taught the same articles of faith, could embrace that movement, or at least tolerate it.
The next 4 years were a trial in many ways. No need to repeat them here. Then, we experienced January 6. There certainly has been some conspiracy theory mongering and exaggerated rhetoric around that day. But it also was certainly not a “tourist trip.” It was a dangerous and embarrassing day for our country. It was the day that lay bare for all the world to see that Trump’s movement had one endpoint (intentional or not) – burning down our institutions.
I want January 6 to be the low point of American democracy and American Christianity. I had some hope on January 7 that enough other people felt the same way that we could turn the corner. A lot of those hopes have been dashed in the last year.
I still don’t get it. In conversations over the last couple years it’s been implied, if not expressly said, that I am the problem, that my questions are a threat to other’s faith, that my efforts to seek compassion are a pathway for evil influences. I’ve been called worse than the devil.
I’m tempted to disengage, to just shut up. In many ways I have. I post on Facebook far less often. This blog has been quieter.
I know I don’t have all the answers. I am just as susceptible to the pull of the Algorithmic Narrative as everyone else. But I’d like to think that my questions and thoughts add something to the conversation.
I still believe in the promise of America – the idea that a diverse community of people can cooperatively govern themselves. I still believe in the promise of Christianity – that the children of God can, through faith in Christ, build a beloved community that cares for everyone. I still believe that I can and must teach these values to my children. But I feel far less optimistic about the survival of these institutions than before.
I’m not shutting up. Not completely. And I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is. I suppose it’s simply a way to process some of my feelings and a hope that it may help those who read it process their feelings.
I don’t really think of myself as a liberal. I’d lean toward calling myself an institutionalist. But if you need anything to fill your cup of tears, I’ll lend them.