All of the views expressed in this post belong to the author and not to Political Union as an organization.
Though my word alone means very little in this format, I think it’s important to mention that I would not consider myself easy to surprise. Easy to anger, sure. Easy to upset, absolutely. (I cried four separate times during the first act of Phantom alone.) Easy to please – alright well, I wouldn’t call myself that either, but I can say without a doubt in my mind that I’m not easily surprised. I can count on one hand the times I’ve been properly surprised in my life, and most have been during mystery-themed board games.
It’s not because I’m psychic, or even particularly prescient. It’s rather that I do my best not to base my expectations on a lack of information. So, it’s not like I knew that Jon Snow and Khaleesi were going to hook up. It’s more that I never assumed they wouldn’t, because who was I to say? The exception to my years of abstention from assumption-making has taken place right here in Evanston, Illinois. Y’all really had me in the first half.
The expectation I had for the bright, young minds of Northwestern University and the residents of this so proudly liberal town was that people here would not assume that the entire country is walking around living the exact same life. Time and again, however, I’ve been made a fool. The sentiment that bounces back and forth across the walls of our classrooms and of the restaurant in which I work is one of such unfounded confidence in the shared sensibilities of our nation’s citizenry. That sentiment is as follows: there’s no way Americans could still vote for another four years of President Trump “after all this.”
On campus, it’s a bit easier to understand. One of the beauties of college life is the sparkling and giddy confidence in the rush of new experiences and knowledge we’re accumulating. It gives us the liberty to draw connections we wouldn’t have had the guts to draw in high school. It gives us the energy to fuel new explorations and activism. It also gives us tunnel vision. Many of us have only ever lived in one place before coming here, if we didn’t grow up in the area. Many came to a school full of people in the same income bracket as themselves, with parents of the same level of education. So, let’s face it, students do not have the best sense of the country’s thoughts and feelings. I am more taken aback by the optimism of local adults. My coworkers and my customers are eager to make known how appalled they are by the latest news from the White House, but they are less eager to discuss the reality that it’s not just America vs Trump.
If Trump’s voters were willing to ignore his faults before, they can do it again. There is nothing President Trump has done since his election that was not heavily alluded to in his first campaign. The pussy tape didn’t change their minds. The wall didn’t change their minds. COVID-19 is not changing their minds. They are not looking for the same justifications you think they need to sleep at night. They are sleeping fine, because they have not been raised on the same conversations you had in your household. They do not trust the same people you trust. They have long-standing relationships with people you will never meet built on experiences you’ve never had. They have built their priorities and values over time through these relationships.
The idiom of the day is not “XXX incident surely must be the straw to break the camel’s back.” It’s “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.” Please trust me when I say that America’s age is showing if you take a moment to look.
I’m from Dallas, Texas. Before I came to Northwestern, I considered Dallas to be quite liberal in the context of the broader South. I believed this because when I confronted a classmate who once wore a Trump flag as a cape to school about his views on immigration, I knew a handful of people in my junior year English class that would support me. I believed this because I knew what deep conservatism looked like; I have family in Floribama and in small-town Texas. I believed this because I only knew a few people that believed fully in birtherism. I believed this because I only heard a few people say overtly racist things at school. But after a few years living away, these experiences seem outlandish. The fact that my great uncle, a successful man who is considered by my entire family to be very intelligent, still insists that former President Obama was born in Kenya seems like something out of a nightmare. The same girl I once heard say that she hated Mexicans and regularly used the n-slur publicly was one of the more popular people in my class, yet, here in Evanston, class discussions tell me that the new racism is systemic as if the old racism no longer exists.
What seems absurd to many Evanstonians is commonplace in one of the ten largest urban centers in this country. Nothing has changed in the three years since I started going to school here. We do not change our minds easily, especially when it means coming to the conclusion that we did something wrong. If you spend more than five minutes searching for them, you will find folks like the ones from my hometown saying, “Trump may have done this or that, but what’s the alternative?” They’re saying that those at risk of getting sick aren’t worth “limiting our freedoms.” They believe the whole world is calling them racist and that the only thing they can do to fix it is to vote red. When you believe the whole world is calling you racist, you do not seek out productive conversations with those you think are yelling at you. Instead, you dig your heels into the communities you know and trust. The graphics floating around our Instagram feeds saying that it’s cool to reflect and graciously change your mind 1) are not reaching the people for which they are intended, and 2) would most certainly not be received well if they were.
I still hear people rationalizing through the 2016 election. They talk about poor voter turnout. They blame the moderates. They blame the Electoral College. This makes it easier to process, I understand. Voter turnout fluctuates somewhat. Maybe it will be better this year. The moderates are speaking out against Trump. Maybe they’ll vote against him, too. We won the popular vote, right? Maybe it won’t be that close again. What they don’t talk about is the fact that he won because real people voted for him.
Four years ago, many Americans were already calling Hillary President Clinton. The polls told them to, just like they’re telling us the Democrats have this thing in the bag today. We slept through the last election and we were loud about waking up. Being loud can be tiring, and we’ve fallen asleep again. I will not be surprised when the real people that voted for Trump last time are awake.
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