A bad EDM remix was blaring over the speakers, the alcohol was nonexistent and still, my head was already pounding by the time he looked at me from across the dance floor. That’s where I met him, in a sweaty jumble of bodies. He was cute in a blonde-suburban-white-boy-next-door kind of way. He looked like his name was Brian or maybe Cole (it wasn’t), like he grew up by the beach (he didn’t).
He was from Texas, which concerned me for the precise reason that I’m from California, and gay and — despite my conservative upbringing — very liberal. So, on the first date, I popped the question, the one you’re not supposed to ask on first dates.
“Who did you vote for?”
He gave a long meandering answer about libertarianism, about being socially liberal, fiscally conservative, about voting for Carly Fiorina because she was “business-savvy,” about not voting in the general election. And I gave a long-winded response about how it’s not always easy to delineate between fiscal and social issues, about how it was better to pick the lesser of two evils than to not vote at all.
I sipped my water to fill the awkward silence that followed. I once told myself I couldn’t ever date a conservative. Maybe it’s because they remind me of my father. So I ran a quick calculation in my head. Cute minus libertarian plus “didn’t vote for Trump” ended up positive. The fatal flaw in my calculus was that one variable wasn’t true. We started sleeping together, we dated, we took car rides into the hills, we watched horror movies, we argued over healthcare, we lamented the end of summer.
And as summer ended, things fell apart. “Tell me something you’ve never told me before,” I said during a lull in post-coital conversation. We were laying on my twin Ikea bed; fitting us both was always a difficult act of contortionism.
He paused, a strained look on his face. “You’re not going to like it,” he said with a nervous giggle. He had voted for Trump, twice actually, in the primary and general election.
“Oh… this is pretty bad,” I remember saying in a collected and detached monotone. I don’t remember what I said after that, just that he should probably leave and that I would have to seriously reconsider if I wanted to see him again. Then I resolutely shut the door to my apartment.
This was a situation I never imagined I’d be in, so I didn’t have a preconceived exit strategy, and it was far too late to just walk away. I felt like a complete phony. How could I claim to criticize Trump if I was sleeping with one of his supporters? I wasn’t sure if I was complacent with all of Trump’s transphobia and racism or if, in sleeping with him, I was implicitly condoning it. Plus, I was angry, I had been angry since the election and I took that out on him in our constant arguments. I picked those fights, I egged him on. I can admit to that. It wasn’t a healthy relationship, mostly because of me. I can admit that too.
It used to be common to date across political lines. And that’s great, don’t get me wrong, but that was then and not now and who can we blame for political polarization anyway? Both sides have ammunition aimed at the other. Inevitably people are caught in the crossfire, my own family not without bullet wounds.
I love my aunt, my grandma and my father for that matter. They’re funny, gregarious, smart and they’ve shaped who I am. I don’t, however, love that they voted for Trump, that they still support him, that they bring it up at the dinner table. I’ve learned to walk away from those moments for the sake of family harmony. But I still find it hard to reconcile. And if you’re reading this looking for an answer, stop now. I know little about solving my own problems, let alone national ones.
Once, I thought I knew the answers to polarization and the family fallout from it. I actually wrote this article almost a year ago. The file is date stamped March 5, 2018, 8:05 p.m.. That was when I made the last edits and then shoved it away in a folder on my desktop called “Ideas.” Back then I thought the answer to American politics was love. It’s a common line of thinking (“Love is all you need” as the Beatles sang) but I am less and less sure that love is really the answer.
I don’t think cutting these people off is the answer either, so I kept seeing him because I thought I could “fix” him with love or at least with affection and understanding. I dated him until the point that the fighting got so bad I said, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m sorry.”
That was over a year ago and a lot has happened since then, politically speaking. I don’t love my family any less because of what Trump does, not anymore. They’ve come around on some things too, so perhaps we shouldn’t abandon the political potential of love after all. But I can’t say I recommend dating a Trump supporter.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.