I’m from Wisconsin. That’s right, my parents make up the 53 percent of white women and 63 percent of white men who voted for Donald Trump and helped Wisconsin turn red. They influenced the reason I saw groups of women and people of color crying and hugging each other. Their vote made LGBT+ people hold their partners a little tighter that dreary Wednesday morning. How do we handle knowing that people around us, perhaps even close to us, voted for the presidential candidate that has now instilled so much fear in people?
I grew up in a conservative household and went to grade school where Republican views were the norm. I always read books with my head in the clouds and hated conflict, so I never really gained an interest in politics. Growing up, I found myself supporting the Republican candidates only by association before I developed my own ideas about my nation’s issues.
However, my high school, in the heart of Milwaukee, was a lot more liberal. I first gained an interest in politics in my AP Government class during my junior year, which just happened to coincide with the 2012 election. At this time, trying to discuss the intelligent points from both parties during the presidential debates with my parents proved difficult. My curiosity and growing desire to discuss politics and what I learned in school wasn’t welcome at home. In particular, my dad didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. My sister, who held strong Democratic beliefs, often got into fights with my father that ended in him yelling and her crying. The negative atmosphere in my house caused my interest in politics to die out because I didn’t feel comfortable discussing pertinent issues at home, especially after Obama’s re-election.
I also found trouble discussing my beliefs because they didn’t always correlate with one party or the other. Though my home life and my school life influenced my outlook on politics, I ultimately came to my own decisions on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. I considered myself moderate. I told myself I’d vote based on economics when the time came, since that issue hit my family the hardest.
Upon starting college, I became more involved in and aware of social issues, as many college students do, and now identify as a moderate liberal. After Trump won the primary, I continually asked my parents if they would stand by him simply because he was a Republican. After some of his more sexist comments and assault accusations came out, they told me they could never support a man like that and would most likely vote third party. Although I personally consider a third party vote a wasted vote in situations like these, I knew that a third party vote was the best I could ask of them, especially because they had a deep-seeded hatred for Hillary Clinton. I accepted these two less votes for Trump as a victory.
After the Democratic National Convention, however, my parents’ distrust of Clinton grew. They ultimately voted for Trump as an anti-Hillary vote. Just as many students voted for Hillary as an anti-Trump vote even if she wasn’t their ideal candidate. When Wisconsin turned red on election night, I was shocked. I never thought that so many people might be using my parents’ logic to vote for Trump. Still, I found some solace in the fact that my own county of Milwaukee County turned out solid blue. But the fact that Wisconsin’s votes pushed Trump into the lap of the presidency meant I couldn’t avoid confronting these clashing feelings toward my parents any longer.
After the election, I attended a post-healing circle run by an interfaith initiative at Northwestern. Rather than discussing religion, we discussed the election. People expressed their thoughts at an open mic. One girl’s words truly hit home for me—How do you love people who want to take away the rights of your friends? Or in my case, how can parents with two daughters vote for a man accused of sexual assault numerous times over? I keep telling myself that my parents cast their vote as an anti-Hillary vote, not as a pro-Trump vote. Even if those both have the same result, I have to tell myself that my parents aren’t racist, sexist or pro-sexual assault. Instead, my mom simply doesn’t like Clinton, and my dad wasn’t lucky enough to get a college education to learn how to educate himself on these issues. If I break down their logic for voting for Trump in this way, I can at least momentarily stop feeling rage toward my parents.
I don’t doubt that I love my parents, but I still haven’t figured out how to have a conversation with them. My sister already told me that my dad joked about buying a “Make America Great Again” cake, and my mom tried to comfort her. My sister found this hypocritical because my mom voted for Trump too.
When I go home for Thanksgiving, I’m not sure how I can talk to them about anything without seeing them as just Trump supporters. I know my dad would say something racist and sexist out of ignorance within a second. Meanwhile, my mom would say something subtle, like “I would’ve been just as mad if Hillary won,” and I would’ve gotten equally frustrated. I even found myself being very short on the phone with my mom today. I didn’t make small talk or ask her about her day. But I couldn’t help but feel guilty about this behavior. As a white, straight, middle-class woman, I’m “lucky” enough to fall only into one of the groups that Trump loves to marginalize. Therefore, I seemingly have the safety and the opportunity, or even the obligation, to converse with my parents openly about their views.
My parents love me and would never cut me off or hurt me because of my views. But as a person who deals with anxiety, I find myself pretty anti-confrontational, especially in relationships I prioritize to keep strong. I can’t see myself ever wanting to talk about politics with my parents in the next four years, but of course the issues will come up eventually. Perhaps one of my parents will receive my attempts to rationalize with them more fully than the other, but I won’t stop trying to make both see reason in these times of confusion.