There and Back Again: The political evolution of a white guy

JAMIE CHEN / AGGIE

I almost took the path to Trump. Here’s how — and what stopped me.

I almost voted for Donald Trump.

Not in the physical, cast-your-ballot sense. I proudly cast my real vote for Hillary Clinton on that fateful November day last year.

Following her election loss, I was angry at my neighbors for voting Trump into office. I was angry with overhyped email scandals and character defamations. I hated how the Trump camp offered a conciliatory hand to Clinton supporters and pulled it back once the confetti had settled.

It was obvious how, instead of bringing the country together, Donald Trump was accelerating its divide.

But my anger did not go away after the election shock had worn off. It changed forms instead. I began feeling besieged by what pundits think is mandatory for understanding Trump’s victory — scrutinizing disaffected white people.

Trump rode the waves of angry white voters. I somehow felt implicated, even though I’d voted for Clinton.

My anger morphed into the dubious haze of white, masculine grievance — the mindset that analysts generally ascribe to the huge section of flyover America that pushed Trump to the presidency. I am white, and I felt blamed.

In the weeks following the election, I began searching for answers about being white and male in America. I don’t fully know why I couldn’t extinguish these thoughts instead of fuelling them — but down the abyss I went.

My descent toward Trump had all the features of an angry white guy.

The online world helped fan the flames. I listened to bullies like Ben Shapiro who firebomb the feminist movement, LGBT community and minority groups with insults and intimidation. I tried to critically assess what I heard, but I failed. I didn’t fawn over these ideas. But I didn’t reject them, either.

In fact, I felt strangely validated when I found opinions online that countered my conventionally liberal values. A new world was opening up for me, and I couldn’t pull my eyes away.

The nadir of my downfall was the Milo Yiannopoulos rally here in January. At first, I was just curious to see the spectacle. That curiosity, however, slowly morphed into quiet indifference — even acceptance — for a man who didn’t seem to care if others thought he was bigoted and hateful. By this point, I’m ashamed to admit, I was almost ensnared by the vileness of Trumpism.

Looking back, this seems odd. The values I grew up with — and currently hold — are antithetical to everything Trump and his supporters represent.

Yet I was ready to cast my metaphorical vote for a man who had bragged about groping women, insulted disabled reporters, revitalized the racist birther movement and received a glowing endorsement from white supremacists.

I wish I knew exactly why I nearly took the path to Trumpism. My support for Clinton never really wavered throughout the whole ordeal. It’s as if I was drawn by the simple idea that one man’s victory doesn’t mean defeat for the nation.

Maybe it’s natural to buckle down and get defensive when arguments blasting Trump elicit the whiteness of America. Perhaps it was because I attend a university with students who abhor Trump, as if I could balance the ideological seesaw by myself. Boy, was I wrong.

In any case, that same university helped set me straight. UC Davis’ intellectual campus environment has the power to refute Trump’s close-mindedness. Professors teach, of course, but they also discuss and provoke. Students don’t just ask questions — they challenge conventional answers.

In such a place, bigotry and selfishness yield to critical thinking and compassion. At a place like UC Davis — and many other institutions of higher learning — Trump’s odious brand of politics is justly grilled and skewered.

Exposure to the diversity on campus — of people, of ideas, of future career paths, of backgrounds — stopped my descent into political and personal chaos. This school helped me refute the silly (and scary) idea that Donald Trump could be sincere and vaguely presidential.

I was able to come to my senses. I managed to reclaim the person I always was.

What worries me is how easy it is to fall prey to Trump’s dogma. I almost did, even as a Clinton supporter.

There is still a large segment of America that loves this man. Trump’s diehards will prod and prick our proper sensibilities until America’s true greatness fades away.

Leaders like Donald Trump tap into anger and malice. They unleash anchors of doubt and frustration into the minds of otherwise good people. And there are good people out there. Sometimes they just need a little help to figure it all out for themselves.

 

Written by: Nick Irvin — ntirvin@ucdavis.edu

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