Friends Across the Aisle: Part 2

This is part 2 of a multipart series about cross-political friendships. For part one, click here

By: Ellison Wade

James voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2016, he voted for Trump. How does he make the leap? James attributes his liberal past to an innate desire toward rebellion against his rural, blue collar background. He describes his parents as “casually conservative” but generally “apolitical.”

“I hadn’t done the research, quite frankly,” he says. James and I both were heavily into underground hip hop, punk rock, and experimental art films. With interests like these, a liberal point of view might as well be a mandatory accessory. What’s interesting to me is that James outright says liberalism was never anything he had a “strong conviction” to. Trying to argue liberal politics against conservatives in the Marine Corps, for James, was a means for his budding conservatism fully blossom. “I got into a lot of arguments where I was arguing based entirely on feeling.” Liberalism was always about identity for James.

But James likes making off-color jokes many would find offensive. If I’m being honest, so do I. He feels the left has essentially gone off the deep end and seeks to censor anything they find offensive. While I have my issues with some of the tactics of the left, I don’t see it as a reason to abandon my values. Were James’ values the same as mine, I imagine he’d still be a liberal. But James, a self-described “free speech absolutist” now views liberals as the biggest threat to his pet cause. Point to the recent Net Neutrality repeal or Trump’s crusades against the free press and James is indifferent. “Once he actively begins to censor people, then I’ll have a serious problem with it.” So far, in his opinion, that hasn’t happened.

He would disagree with me vehemently on this, but I have always associated his slide to the right with the Gamergate controversy. If you’re unfamiliar with Gamergate the first thing to know is, it’s basically dead and over. It essentially boiled down to two sides: One side feels women are deeply underrepresented in gaming culture, and the other side (gamers) feels they are being slandered by the media as sexist. I won’t comment on Gamergate, because quite frankly, I’m not a gamer. James swears Gamergate had very little to do with why he supported Trump, but I can only go on what I’ve observed. Before Gamergate, James was a generally liberal person, never to my memory taking issue with feminism. Post Gamergate, I began noticing sentences coming from him I never thought I’d hear. Sentences like “feminism has no place in western society.” How does that happen?

Simply put, James grew up a nerdy white kid and a gamer, as did many other friends of mine. He didn’t like being called sexist. He didn’t like assertions by “the radical left” that he had never known struggle. He felt his personal plights were minimized by feminists who wanted to assure him, their struggles were worse. James responded by rejecting their ideologies outright. He sought out sources which would delegitimize feminist claims and feminism as a whole. And with echo-chamber online forums validating every bit of his anger, sources weren’t hard to find. The internet has “credible sources” for any ideology a person can possibly hold.

The sexual harassment and discrimination women deal with, both in and out of the workplace, is something I will never understand in any meaningful way, but I certainly acknowledge it exists. Does it mean I haven’t had struggles of my own? Of course not. Everyone struggles, and everyone’s struggle is tough. I grew up in poverty to a single mother, sharing a single bedroom with her and my sister for years. The bullying and alienation I experienced will be affecting me in negative ways until the day I die, period. However factual, statistics which assure me other groups are facing worse struggles than I am, will never fade my personal emotional scars. Only empathy, kindness, and understanding will. And even then, only through introspection, will I decide how I wish to move forward. As it happens, my personal struggle has run parallel with some wonderfully kind people, and a lot of compassion. As such, I’ve been introspective and broken away from most of my previous tendencies toward sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and every other element perpetuating the necrosis currently spreading across the land I call home.

Donald Trump spoke to people from backgrounds just like mine. He spoke to white people south of a decent income, looking for anywhere to blame their anger and emotional struggles. Gamergate and Donald Trump were a perfect storm to find conservatives an unlikely infantry of loyal, disaffected young men, and tell them their anger is in no way displaced; welcome to the party of validation.

As someone who is constantly questioning my own views, my last question for James was “I believe it’s important to question yourself. Do you ever wonder if you’re wrong? Do you ever doubt yourself?” He answers in the negative. “My values are what they are and they don’t really require a lot of introspection.” I had genuinely expected and hoped for a different answer, but it was in this answer I finally found the understanding I have long been seeking.

Ellison Wade is a freelance writer from the foothills of western North Carolina. He writes creative fiction, political columns, and hosts a popular movie podcast called The Video Store, which can be found on YouTube

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