January 22, 2021
On January 22, 2020, I was sitting in my liberal brother’s apartment, in a blue-as-the-deep-sea city, listening intently to his opinions about the way the world ought to be. We’d spent at least ten years estranged. Politics had a lot to do with it, because our different political views came out of the hugely different experiences he and I had growing up in the same house.
In January 2020, I was open to reassessing my views and even becoming liberal again. I wasn’t in any mood to stake my claim to conservative ideology one year ago. A Baptist seminary had fired me. I had spent years working on missions to El Salvador and assembling a cast for a play about African American history. A popular Christian radio host had turned on me over disagreements about a conference (one of those incredibly petty episodes too commonplace in church circles) and countless unsavory right-wingers had taken her side. I was tired of the right.
I spoke to my sister-in-law as the snow fell outside and we huddled close to a hot radiator. The whole scene reminded me of my liberal youth in New York City. I remembered the dreamlike idealism to which I’d clung. As a young man I held visions of a world without bigotry. “I feel like coming home to the left,” I told her. My brother may have been shocked. Ever since I was born again he’d come to assume I was a fire-breathing evangelical conservative. And my writing usually confirmed this stereotypical vision of me.
I tested the limits of my conservative friends and wrote blog posts supporting expanded health care availability, multicultural theater, and better protections for workers. Libertarians cut me off and told me I was a communist. I was centimeters away from becoming a liberal.
The next week, the Democrats impeached President Trump. While people worried about the coronavirus spreading from China to the United States, the left closed ranks with bizarre conspiracy theories involving the Ukraine. Nancy Pelosi ripped up the president’s State of the Union speech on national television.
In the alumni book club I’d joined, where we were reading lots of liberal texts by authors like Neil DeGrasse, I wanted to talk to all the lefties about literature, art, and wonderful ideas. But the people in the book club went on tangents about how wonderful Nancy Pelosi was (so brave! and so stylish!) and how disgusting, vomit-inducing, horrifying, and Hitler-like Trump was. I was outnumbered. Outmaneuvered on multiple flanks, I kept my mouth shut and waited for discussion to turn toward things that weren’t going to cause political war.
Excited about my renewed communication with my brother, I sent him articles I’d written so he could get to know me again after years of not speaking with one another. He wouldn’t respond. I realized by late summer that even my articles on innocuous topics like Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron included the occasional reference to my belief in tradition and faith, and this made him uncomfortable. So he wouldn’t respond.
My dad, a staunch Democrat, was immersed in MSNBC twenty-four hours a day and called me up to ask me things like, “isn’t Bill Barr the worst person ever? Has anyone in Texas tried to kill you lately?”
One of the actresses who’d been working with me on the African American play wrote me an email and said she had to cut all ties to me because she realized I was a public liability. My reputation as a conservative contrarian might affect her. She deleted me on Facebook. Other actors blocked me as well. The liberal church that had spoken with me about the drama projects told me they weren’t interested.
I went on a mission to El Salvador and had a marvelous time preaching in hyper-conservative churches all around the capital. Refreshed, invigorated, I came back to the United States the week that the COVID lockdowns began. All my liberal friends ranted and raved against wacko conservatives opposed to lockdowns. This hurt me personally since I’d been fired the previous December and had to survive on casual jobs; the lockdowns endangered my ability to provide for my family. The liberals in my life didn’t care.
All my conservative friends rallied to protest against the unconstitutional COVID lockdowns. I supported them. Meanwhile, my liberal friends mocked them and recounted to me the news coverage that actively branded them as terrorists. As the worries over COVID spread, I went out of my way to call my old liberal friends from various stages in my life. I wanted to see if they were okay. I also wanted to know if there was anything I could do to support them in this collective hardship America was facing.
My liberal friends were all furious about Trump and blamed him for everything bad happening. Every time I talked to them, I didn’t have the energy or will to contest any of the things they said, which I knew they got from CNN or MSNBC, and which I knew were false. Eventually I stopped talking to most of them. During several periods of quarantine, I started just taking the time to be alone with my family and not attempt to engage liberal friends, siblings, or cousins in conversation. I became closer once again to my conservative friends.
In late May the riots began. All the liberals around me reacted to scenes of left-wing violence by going on the attack. My liberal relatives assured me the violence was planted by Russia and white supremacists while the protesters were peaceful. No footage would stagger them from their claims. They went marching with Black Lives Matter literally a week after they told me the anti-lockdown protesters were dangerous antisocial idiots. As the urban violence escalated, instead of looking at their own errors, they grew more aggressive, constantly blaming Trump for creating a climate of hate. Meanwhile, they were still saying he was a Russian spy, a Ukrainian-dealing racketeer, responsible for everyone who died of coronavirus, a racist, a wrecker of the economy, and the worst person ever.
By July I started marking down, for my own memory, how conversations with liberals went. It was at this point that I noticed a distinct turn in social relationships with liberals. Every conversation was about Trump or laced with implicit rage directed at me for supporting Trump. My work on multiculturalism was long forgotten, the theatrical pieces no longer something they would discuss. My siblings would go long periods without replying to me, even when I wrote to them about things that had nothing to do with politics, though cousins would post lots of political content in family forums. My support for universal health care, multicultural education reform, antiracist activities, and greater protection for workers all vanished. Everything was about how I could possibly support Trump with the oceans drying up, so many people dying of COVID, and all the Black people demonstrating because of Trump’s racism.
Soon enough Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she wanted to boycott Goya foods because the company’s CEO went to the White House. As someone who’d been targeted by political mobs, I felt alarmed. The few liberals to whom I mentioned this political issue all agreed with Ocasio-Cortez. The speech that Trump gave on July 3, below Mount Rushmore, about cancel culture, prompted me to talk to loved ones about what I had personally suffered, being shut out of jobs and professions over politics. By now something had changed in liberals everywhere. They no longer made any pretenses of sympathy. They agreed with canceling people over political beliefs because “the stakes are too high” and “not all speech is free,” even as they claimed, paradoxically, that cancel culture was not real. Even when speaking to someone they knew and ostensibly loved, they sided with cold authoritarians.
By August, September, and October, I stopped talking to liberals. I couldn’t take it anymore. It jarred me to hear their distorted language and callous disregard for people hurt by policies they espoused, from the tearing down of statues to the doxing of conservatives to get their kids taken away by Child Protection Services.
Something had happened in the left. Before, there had always been room for self-doubt or introspection on the left. No more. Now there was nothing that they would ever concede as a wrong by the left. The only point of criticism they had was that “the left is not as cunning as the right wing is,” “the left doesn’t fight as hard as the right wing does,” and “the left surrenders too easily.”
The myths and fallacies exploded in the weeks before the election. Everything they stated was the inverse of things I witnessed personally. They said Facebook and Twitter were shilling for Trump, proof that he was just another corporate tyrant. They said conservatives were violent and threatening the whole country. They said the left had been peaceful, quiet, and patient, for far too long. None of this bore any resemblance to anything happening in the real world.
I realized that much of this resulted from the natural course of election season. The huge war chest of political campaigners had been put to work. Liberals had been coached to believe things that made their votes for Biden (really against Trump) as ironclad as possible. Every interaction was rhetorical, part of the political battle over the White House.
Election night came. I stayed up and saw the obvious shenanigans with the votes. Liberals escalated their rage even further, now interrupting me if any conversation turned to the election. Every sentence came with outrage, horror, and indignation at Trump supporters subverting democracy and stifling the will of the people. Twitter became insufferable. There was no talking to liberals at all, even the ones with whom I’d remained friends for decades. Everything had shut down.
Then the “insurrection” on January 6, and liberals around me sang praises to fascism. They believed that the country had survived a coup, that January 6 was the burning of the Reichstag and Trump was Hitler, something that made no sense given the history of the Reichstag fire being used as a pretext by Hitler to ban dissent and round up opponents.
“Don’t compare apples and oranges,” said a liberal friend. “Black Lives Matter didn’t target the government. They were fighting for racial justice.” This was all I got from liberals now. It was right to have children doxing their MAGA parents. The demonstration in Washington that got out of control was like the Nazis rolling through Warsaw. MAGA people should lose their jobs, lose their undergraduate degrees, be frozen out of bank accounts, disappear from Twitter, and get “named and shamed,” in order to heal from the wounds caused by Trump.
I hate the left.
There will always be some liberals I can’t hate. But “the left” as an idea and political location is something—a collective, a construction, a people group—that I truly hate. Part of that comes from the fact that I wanted to join with them and in one year they couldn’t take “yes” for an answer. They scoured for any possible way to make themselves intolerable to us. They went out of their way to give us nothing to lose, and then when we acted like people with nothing to lose, they pretended that they’d been nice for too long and we were asking for it.
There’s no doubt in my mind they rigged the elections because it is in keeping with their simultaneous sense of entitlement and their sense that they do not have to persuade the “little people” of their views. They swindled their way to the White House and Congress now. The problem with winning by scorched-earth warfare is you end up building your city on ashes and ruins that won’t grow anything. The prize for such tactics is a sterile, unhappy nation. And enemies on every side who could’ve been friends.