What’s it like knowing firsthand the vile thoughts and feelings being had about you upon ‘coming out’ to friends and family as a conservative? How does it feel once you know that they know your deep, dark secret: that you have violated the oath of loyalty to the left, betrayed the tribe, and joined with ‘the enemy’? I’d like to start by being brutally honest about how I used to feel, and what I used to think and say about conservatives (pre-Trump times) and “Trump supporters” when I was a leftist. Acknowledging this ugly truth helps me relate to the people who are slandering me right now and find forgiveness in my heart for them. This is not going to be flattering to my past self. I am ashamed of the way I used to think and speak about the so-called “other side”. Considering the extreme polarization threatening our country and dividing us in this historic moment, I think it is an important story, and something to which others may relate.
When I was on the left in the pre-Trump era, I thought Republicans/conservatives were less intelligent than liberals; they were too dumb to see they were voting against their own interests. I thought they had the blood of children on their hands due to their stance on guns and gun control. I thought they were racist, sexist, and heartless to poor people who needed help. Mind you, this was how I thought pre-Trump. When Trump won the Republican nomination, these feelings intensified tenfold. I was horrified at the people who voted for him, and I believed, strongly, that everyone who voted for him was either stupid or had bigoted intentions. When Obama was criticized for saying of conservatives, “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them”, I cheered. I believed his statement was self-evident, that he was just speaking the plain truth. When Hillary Clinton made the comment about “deplorables”, I thought the same. Trump was, to me, the worst of the very, very bad Republicans and made Mitt Romney, (who horrified me years earlier) look quaint.
As embarrassing as it is to write my former internal thoughts (and conversations with other leftists), it is important to speak honestly about the way leftists talk about and think about ‘the other side’. Knowing my own and my fellow leftists opinions on conservatives (and God forbid, Trump supporters!), probably kept me from noticing the inconsistencies within leftism for a long time. Social pressure is like that. You are snugly nestled within your tribe, you are bound together by shared ideas and values. But what happens when you slowly begin to suspect that your political beliefs do not, in fact, align with your deepest values? Do you try to squelch the sinking feeling that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, or do you investigate it, damn the consequences?
I chose the latter. But that’s what I do. I have a history of investigating uncomfortable doubts and following them to their end result, and somehow am unable to suppress them. It’s not really a choice. I’ve always been this way. I’ve been asked by several friends and family members “why are you doing this?”, “is it really worth losing all your friends and family?”, and “are you happier now that you have no one left?” I was told by my closest friend, “I feel like you are betraying our tribe, like you are betraying our friendship”. A close family member, in response to me arguing the importance of freedom from lockdowns and liberty to choose whether or not to wear a mask, quoted the Eagles song, Desperado, in response, “Freedom, oh freedom, that’s just some people talking, your prison is walking through this world all alone.” Ouch. As someone who loves the Eagles and the song Desperado as much as Elaine’s boyfriend in the famous Desperado episode, that cut deep.
The worst thing, by far though, that has happened since ‘coming out’ is my precious dead grandmother being drug back from the grave in an attempt to shame me into submission, when I know without a doubt that she would be proud of me for doing what I know in my heart is right. That particular blow will be hard to forgive, but I know I need to forgive it. I am trying my best to keep my heart open during this painful process, not allowing myself to get angry and burn bridges when loved ones hit below the belt, partially because I used to be on their side, and I know that I probably would have reacted similarly if it had been another family member who had apostatized from the left instead of me.
None of these reactions have been surprising to me, however. The religious zeal with which most (there are exceptions, thankfully) of my family and friends hold their leftist political beliefs is more akin to a cult than to anything else. The punishment for questioning leftist sacred cows is similar to the punishment for leaving a cult. Shock, disbelief, grief, anger, banishment, name-calling, and vicious gossip are some of the reactions one faces when apostatizing from the leftist tribe. I knew from the very beginning of questioning my political beliefs that this is exactly what would happen if I allowed myself to follow those trains of thought. My internal voice warned me, as my doubts crept in, that entertaining those doubts would come at a high price, if I wanted to maintain my place in the tribe, I needed to shut them down and not allow myself to follow certain questions to their logical conclusions.
Something in my personality does not allow me to heed those warnings. As soon as I hear my internal voice saying things like “you’re not allowed to ask that question”, my rebellious spirit kicks in and makes it impossible not to follow those dangerous questions to their inevitable ends. This is how I’ve been trying to answer desperate pleas from family of “why are you doing this?”. It is not a choice. I can’t not investigate those questions. This is how I’m able to not allow myself to feel shamed by the lyrics to Desperado being quoted at me. I cannot pretend to believe things I don’t believe to be true to keep my place in the tribe. It just isn’t in my nature. I believe truth is the highest virtue. I believe in freedom of thought, speech, and expression. When someone tells me what questions I’m not allowed to ask, or what thoughts are forbidden to be thought, it causes a backlash within me because it conflicts so strongly with my core principles of freedom, authenticity, and truth.
I have the conviction of my beliefs behind me and truth as my guiding light. I obviously do not want to lose my loved ones, nor do I want to “walk through this world all alone“. I am not breaking those relationships. I simply refuse to be disrespected and called offensive and slanderous slurs. All I want is for my loved ones to accept me as I am, understanding that I am still the same person with the same values, it’s just that I realized that the left doesn’t share those values like I thought they did, and I discovered (much to my surprise) that the right (broadly, with obvious exceptions) reflects them much more closely. I am joining with people who share my values. I am working with those who share my vision for the direction our country needs to go for the good of our children and grandchildren. This does not mean I am rejecting anyone in my personal life on the left. I just ask for mutual respect, common decency, and the acceptance of our differences.
I should not have to conform to the beliefs of my loved ones to have their love and acceptance. Love should be unconditional; it shouldn’t depend on shared views or tribal allegiances. I know I am not the only one going through these kinds of issues. We have to find a way to bridge the divide in our culture. We must have the freedom to fight for our values and the future we want without being vilified by ‘the other side’. Love is the only thing that can cross this deep divide. We must not give up on the power of love to keep our families and our country from splitting apart. I love my family with all my heart, and I refuse to fall into the trap of making the same mistake I made when on the left of painting everyone on the ‘other side’ as evil with bad intentions.