In the wake of last week’s elections results and our new president-elect, I keep scrolling through my Spotify lists to a bunch of older punk rock. Three bands have been in rotation this week– The Dead Kennedys, NOFX, and The Descendents.
These bands brought me back to a much earlier point in my life. It was 2004. I was a twenty-year-old college junior majoring in religious studies and English. I had lived in the South my whole life and grown up the son of an evangelical pastor in evangelical Protestant churches. I thought of myself as a smart intellectually sophisticated conservative. I remember voting for John McCain in the South Carolina primary that year. I remember Howard Dean came to campus and I was intrigued but didn’t go see him. I voted for George W. Bush in November.
But over the next four years a lot happened. In the spring of 2005 I read Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?” and Edward Said’s critique of it. I read Orientalism. I read Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, and bell hooks. I took classes on religion after 9/11, African women writers, and new religious movements in America. Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued. Halliburton got contracts. The NSA surveilled Americans without a warrant. I saw the photos from Abu Ghraib.
In the background of all this, NOFX played.
Dead Kennedys played.
In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama.
It’s easy to narrate my political biography as a story of higher education liberalizing someone in their twenties. But I don’t think that’s what happened, to the extent that any of us can be so self-aware. The Bush administration liberalized me. I saw the failures of Bush foreign and domestic policy. I experienced it in 2008 when I made it into graduate school just before the bubbles burst and the funding disappeared. The outcomes of the George W. Bush years pushed me toward a new view of the world and I left conservatism behind (what exactly my “conservatism” was is it’s own question that requires it’s own blog post). The failures of a conservative president taught me the failure of interventionist foreign policy, trickle down economics, and domestic surveillance. The education, both undergraduate and graduate, gave me tools for understanding these failures and constructing alternatives.
Our new president-elect is not a conservative. He’s certainly no George W. Bush. As I wrote last week, there are many Americans who are afraid right now. I am committed to doing whatever I can to fight for their rights and safety. I will continue to teach classes on race, class, colonialism, gender, and power. I will continue to make my classes safe places for them and their ideas. But I am also hopeful that there are young Trump voters out there who will learn from the failures of Trumpism in the next four years. Trump is already liberalizing me more, burning away a comfortable and complacent liberalism. This post is evidence of that.
I choose to hope that there are young white conservative men and women out there in their twenties, trying to figure out what they believe, who voted for Donald J. Trump and who will see his failures. And I hope that the classes I teach will give those young white conservative men and women the tools to recognize these failures, make sense of them, and imagine alternatives.
I hope Donald J. Trump will liberalize them.