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I’d only been talking to this guy for a few weeks before I discovered he was a Trump supporter.
We met at a skatepark. He was Black, 18-years-old and from Brooklyn. This combination usually yields radical socialists such as me, who grew up going to protests like it was an after school activity. It at least yields indifferent Democrats who settle for Biden or, at worst, jokingly voted for Kanye.
But not this guy.
He was a full on Trump supporter, as in began spewing pro-Trump rhetoric when I asked if he was being deadass. As in, he consumes Fox News on a daily basis and quotes Sean Hannity level nonsense. As in, he made it clear I could not continue talking to him.
For the first time in my life, I was posed with the dilemma I’d seen so many people faced with.
No one in my immediate family supports Trump. I don’t have to see them at Thanksgiving and make the decision to defend my beliefs or hold my tongue through dessert. I knew one kid in high school who was an open Trump supporter and we argued in history class damn near every single day. I’d seen all the social media posts about how if you continue to excuse people’s bigoted views, you might as well support the views yourself. I agreed.
If your activism did not involve an honest assessment of the people surrounding you, it was nothing more than performative.
I believed it. Or at least, I thought I did.
Luckily, I hadn’t been talking to this guy long. There were other factors that turned me off from him, so asking him to politely stop talking to me, then blocking him when he continued to harass me with pro-Trump propaganda, wasn’t too difficult of a decision. But it made me wonder, what if I’d really liked him? What if he was someone else, a friend I’d known for years and never suspected of holding views so fundamentally and morally opposed to mine?
I know people for whom that was the case.
The election of Donald Trump has had a profound effect on my generation in the way it has polarized us from an extremely young age. I have Black friends in more conservative states who had to face the fact that everyone around them was racist, homophobic or both, and always had been. But up until the point, it was something most could ignore. It wasn’t at the forefront of your mind when making friends. What was once nothing more than an itch, an easily disregarded thought, became too much to bear.
While politics have always been personal, especially policies regarding human life and rights, the 2016 election took this to an entirely new level.
People who supported Donald Trump don’t just support Donald Trump. They oppose my very existence. My Black, female, LGBTQ+ existence.
Yet, I sometimes wonder if I am pushing my own ways of thinking onto others. While it is true that all these issues are far beyond political, that doesn’t mean everyone sees them that way. Is it possible for someone to be a Trump supporter but not be a morally skewed person? I don’t think so, but I wanna take a second to explore this idea anyway, just in case I’m wrong.
During my sophomore year of high school, Trevor Noah, South African comedian and host of “The Daily Show,” interviewed conservative Fox News show host Tomi Lahren on his show.
It was, of course, controversial. He was critiqued for even having her on. But anyone who has followed Trevor’s career knows he adores having conversations with people whose beliefs are radically different from his. He has advocated time and time again for everyone to have conversations and try to understand opposite points of views.
Now, this does not mean he was not HIGHLY critical of Tomi and her past statement. The interview has over 17 million views (I’ve watched it myself probably twenty times), because of how masterfully he is able to call her on her bullshit. At one point she says, “I don’t see color Trevor,” the age-old conservative defense against being called racist. Trevor comically replies, “You don’t see color? So what do you do at a traffic light?”
The audience laughs.
The air is lighthearted yet pointed at the same time.
Trevor wasn’t mean, but he did not allow her to spew any of the illogical, hate speech Fox News wholeheartedly promotes.
I decided I wanted to be more like Trevor and began having conversations with the handful of conservative kids I knew and had, up until that point, steered clear from.
In true Trevor fashion, I would keep things from getting too heated by throwing in witty jokes and making sarcastic statements. I learned a lot. I learned the reasoning behind a lot of their beliefs. A lot of it was ignorance, and a lot of it was the regurgitation of things they’d heard their conservatives family preach their entire lives. Very little of what they said was backed by fact and that brought me great comfort.
It also caused me to brush up on my own knowledge. I began reading study upon study on welfare and public assistance programs, simply so I could refute broad claims of abuse that were made. I was made to assess my beliefs and why I believed them, quickly realizing I was guilty of the same parental regurgitation. I decided I wouldn’t say anything I didn’t know to be rooted in fact, or else I was no more right than them.
The entire experience only sharpened my beliefs and made me a stronger, more educated activist.
This is the only defense I have for why it may be beneficial to keep Trump supporters in your life, and it’s not even a strong argument. There is a difference between disagreements and supporting a man who has literally cost innocent people their lives and advocated for the revoking of human rights for marginalized groups.
I don’t regret blocking the guy I discovered was a Trump supporter. He made it clear he was not the type to have thoughtful conversations with. But, I can’t help but wonder if social media has been too harsh in the call to cut off all the people in your life who disagree with your views, even if these views are deeply personal.
I don’t have a clear answer, but I know now it’s a lot more complicated than one might think.