In the months since Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Facebook has become a savage place. Friends on both sides have posted ugly, intolerant things. Multiple friends have posted along the lines of “If you’re voting for _________, unfriend me. I don’t want you here.” These come from the left in a ratio of about 5:1. Republicans say this is because liberals are on the whole more intolerant than conservatives; Democrats say it’s because supporting Trump isn’t just political, but also deeply personal, a vote not just for a candidate or a platform, but for Hate with a capital H.
Since 2011, I’ve been silent about politics online: no blogging about it, no social media posts. I stuck my head firmly in the sand just as I used to criticize others for doing when I began this blog during election season 2008. Then, I was a Republican activist supporting John McCain, an honorable man who disappointed me this year by giving his (albeit grudging) support to Trump, only to withdraw it after the Access Hollywood tape was released.
This year of unprecedented political ugliness, I’ve been torn between horror and hopelessness. So many times I composed a post, only to delete. What was the point? Nothing anyone writes convinces anyone else. People live in their respective echo chambers, filtering events through ideological prisms that lead them to label anyone who disagrees as ignorant, evil, or insane. Jonathan Haidt explains this better than I can in The Righteous Mind (Cliff’s Notes version in his TED talk).
Conversations offline with friends and relatives on both sides of the Trump divide left me exhausted and demoralized. Horrified by Trump, but squeamish about Hillary, I announced months ago that I would vote for Gary Johnson. To this, a Tea Party Republican relative said, “Then you’re voting for Hillary!” while a progressive Democrat relative said, “Then you’re voting for Trump!” A young millennial relative posted on Facebook late last night, “All you third party voting fucks aren’t going to do a damn thing to attempt to change the electoral process after today and you know it. Fuck you.” Last I’d heard, her mother was voting for Gary Johnson.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t know up to the moment I filled in the bubble for whom I would be voting for president. I began at the end of the ballot, with the bond initiatives and smaller races and worked my way up to the top of the ticket. When there was only that one bubble to fill, in I stood there for a long time.
Vote for Gary Johnson to protest the stranglehold two out of touch, corrupt, money-grubbing national party organizations have on American political life? Or vote for Hillary Clinton, with whose policy positions I disagree, but who was the only candidate who could defeat the most loathsome individual ever nominated by any political party in the history of American politics? As a country, we can withstand a presidency of any ideological persuasion. There is room for both a George W. Bush and a Barack Obama in American political life. Trump is different. With him, it’s not about ideology, but basic human decency. He is a crude, amoral narcissist who figured out how to tap into a great swath of working class anger and ride it to victory in the primary. I stood in the voting booth, pen poised above the ballot, thinking about how he had closed the gap recently, and how I would feel the next day if the election were close and I had helped enable him to ride that anger all the way to the White House.
So yes, like former President George H. W. Bush, I voted for Hillary.
Head-in-sand coward that I’ve become in recent years, I was going to keep this to myself, just allow everyone to assume I’d been one of those third party fucks my niece posted about. Why? Because Republicans have been my tribe for a long time, and it’s hard to have your tribe turn against you. The thing is, though, I don’t know if I can go on being a Republican after this. I was going to re-register as independent after Trump clinched the nomination, but all along I assumed he’d lose the general election and all this ugliness would subside, and I could leave my head stuck comfortably in the sand. But I can’t. Why? Not because I think I’m going to convince anyone. No one convinces anyone of anything anymore. All I’m doing is making half of my friends and relatives angry at me. Why then? I suppose because I’m tired of caring so much what other people think of me, and because as we watch President Trump govern out of anger and egotism, I want to be on the record as not being in any way responsible for the train wreck I see coming.