Flashback to post-college me: the 2004 election season was in full force. I was an adamant George W. Bush supporter to the point that I protested at a John Kerry rally in Detroit that year. I was the kind of person to be berated in a grocery store parking lot by equally passionate, but opposite thinking, college-aged activists for proudly wearing my anti-illegal immigration T-shirt. Things then were simple – viewed in black and white. This Jessica was in-your-face. There was no time for sob stories. If “snowflake” was a political dart in 2004, it would’ve been my favorite word.
I, as a 23-year-old, had all the answers. My only peace offering to the other side was to concede that, yes, even though Ann Coulter was clearly accurate in her viewpoints, her delivery was harsh. I could see how she was an annoyance to liberals. I wasn’t a fan of her antagonizing style. At least I had that going for me. Post-college me was a Class A Certified RWNJ, or “Right Wing Nut Job.”
Fast-forward 10 years: ISIS has butchered its way onto the world stage. We all watch in horror as atrocities abound, the likes of which my generation has never seen. I begin to view the world in terms of human suffering. Every time I see a family destroyed by violence, sickness, or poverty, it cuts me to my core. I have a family and children of my own now. Parenting changes a person – age, too. I’ve made a few mistakes of my own by now, have been humbled by life. I’m not as sanctimonious as I used to be, although I’m sure I have my moments.
My strong conservative foundation is still intact, but I feel empathy strongly. With the help of my faith, I start to think that maybe being a hardliner is not all it’s cracked up to be. To start, it can be exhausting. So much energy expended, and for what? Had I “turned” anyone? Had I made any kind of difference? Did feeling suspicious and angry toward my fellow citizens help me sleep better at night? I was not aware of a single occasion on which the in-your-face approach had changed a heart or a mind. But even more than that, logic kicked in and kept hounding me, “There is not a snowflake’s chance in hell that one side is correct 100% of the time, on every single issue.” I started to fall into a less judgy, more thoughtful conservatism, by way of critical thinking.
Critical thinking is the process by which one is able to arrive at seeing the world in terms of nuance, in terms of reality, and based on experience, rather than thinking in terms of abstract ideas about what the world should be like. Conservatives love to hate Bernie Sanders because of his idealistic, but unrealistic socialist Utopian viewpoints. But, some conservatives have been guilty of the same, just on the other side of the spectrum. Just as socialists don’t account for human nature in their ideas, neither do RWNJs. As an example, socialists believe people prefer to be on an equal playing field in which there are no poor and no rich. However, in practice, socialism has been shown to crush innovation, initiative, and frankly, people don’t appreciate being told what they can and cannot own. It creates at least as much resentment as being poor does. Humans enjoy independence, hence the human nature factor.
Conversely, RWNJs who demonize an illegal immigrant for cutting the line and hopping a fence to get to the US fail to consider what their own actions might be when given the same scenario. Most of us would break a poorly enforced law if we and our children were in danger or faced with a hopeless cycle of poverty. Human nature says “survive and thrive.” It does not say “live in despair and fear.” We place blame on the people who are in a hopeless or desperate situation standing next to an open exit instead of the government for failing to set a boundary or for rewarding unlawful behavior. (Yes, there are bad actors to whom none of these scenarios apply. Fault them all you want.)
Idealistic thinking vs critical thinking. Fanciful thinking vs. realistic thinking. Black and white thinking vs nuanced thinking. The latter kinds of thinking are hard. They force you to look inward and examine where you were wrong. Nobody wants to do that. In current times, people don’t even care to hear an opinion that doesn’t reinforce their own, let alone entertain that opinion. So, we get the Megyn Kellys and Charlie Sykeses of the world. Smart minds, eloquent speakers, thoughtful platforms – yet, set adrift, into the land of Your Opinion Sucks.
12 years have gone by since I wore my anti-illegal immigrant T-shirt to the grocery store in 2004. My evolution of thought has continued. The past two years have been ripe with lessons. I have not gone seeking the lessons as much as they have been forced upon me. We are living in Trump’s America. It feels somewhat as though there has been an earthquake. I am standing on the same piece of earth I started on, but the earth has cracked and rearranged itself. I’m no longer standing at the same coordinates I was, and neither is anyone else.
The people I once admired float by me on disintegrating earth, but it’s strange – they are laughing! I’m not laughing. I’m alarmed that they haven’t noticed their foundation crumbling. Yes, it is me who has stopped shaking my fists at the Mexicans. It is me who has miserably failed to support the GOP nominee. This, to be sure, is a break from the norm. I am seen as a traitor to my (former) party. But what I am NOT, is a traitor to my nation. I have not picked a racial side. I have not, in any way, justified unpresidential behavior (something post-college me would not have done, either). I have not expected the law to be applied differently to people who think like me. I have never ceased to defend America’s servicemen and women. I haven’t turned my back on the principles Reagan stood for. And most of all, I am not guilty of disregarding our Constitution on behalf of a man who has never read it. No, I am not guilty of that and will never be.
I have left these transgressions to the RWNJs of 2017. They’ve “evolved.” Then again, so have I.