There were liberals when I was growing up.
They were the type of people who said curse words and wore uncentered outdoor brands like Eddie Bauer and J.Crew. They were the types who drove small cars instead of trucks, who had careers in law instead of plumbing. They were less utilitarian but they could function in non-city environments. They watched foreign films. They didn’t attend church all the time. These were liberals and my parents hated them.
Specifically my father. My mother worked at a small town dinner theatre on a military installation as a stage manager and properties mistress, helping run theatrical productions behind the scenes. Theatres attract liberals, they attract outsiders and those who are a little freer than the norm. My parents aren’t necessarily ultra conservative but they represent the Republican clinging to political relevance, the type at the edge of party lines, fighting to be heard but often left out as they too are confused where they stand. So when these liberals entered their world via the theatre, my father would always smile and nod and be a good sport, in person, and decompress on the ride home in his truck, the words of Rush Limbaugh washing over him like an emergency conservative shower. He’d grumble at home, calling these people names for being “flighty,” aligning them with the “chuckleheads” who don’t quite have an understanding of reality. This was a battle between the salt of the earth and the fleur de sel of the earth: they were the same, packaged differently, organized away from each other and toward different cultures.
A lot of this has to do with education. My parents are very smart and worked their lives to make sure that my siblings and I got through school. Higher education was never not an option. We had to go to college. No, they couldn’t support us through it or dump a Hollywood type bucket of cash to fund any of it but it was the only option: as an imigrant military family with parental units who were first generation college attendees, the job of their children was to attend school, to learn, to make something beyond the modest upbringing they had. We all secured scholarship money and took out loans, doing whatever we could to get the best education available. We sought the challenges that our parents were proudly intimidated by, the “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” from their own life left unpursued. Our role as children is to evolve beyond our parents, to carry on a way of thinking into the world at large. Whether we succeed or not is our choice but our job is to learn and grow more than they did, to be the taller flowers in the garden.
My siblings and I did that. Save for a younger brother who opted to go direct-to-military, my siblings and I have oodles of degrees and education. I somehow ended up in media, writing and producing, after pursuing something called acting. I worked in reality television for years. I moved into social media. I got into news producing. I now work for an issues driven media company writing stories and creating videos intended to educate people on the issues of the world. That was how I evolved past my parents.
Along the way, I became the liberal. Like many young adults who pursue higher education, at a certain point you find yourself, realizing your priorities as it relates to the way you were raised, cuting and pasting parts of life to assemble yourself. “Finding yourself” isn’t the same as knowing what your career is or fitting in: “finding yourself” is securing a point of view, to say “No, I don’t find any benefit from going to church every week anymore.” and “Yes, I do believe that women should be able to have an abortion, if they like.” Finding yourself is to land your point of view and, often, that means framing your life by a set of political beliefs.
My outlook now is clearly extremely liberal Democrat. My role in the world is to share what aligns with the point of view of forward thinking Americans. A lot of that has to do with education. A lot of that has to do with constantly learning, with always being plugged in. Yes, I work in an industry where an ear is always pressed to the radio but my doing what I do is a ripple left in my family’s pond, of being raised to reach for something outside of the box. Democrat or not, I would seek to learn because that is what my parents raised me to do. That is the liberal I am and, for many like me, that explains why we are the liberals that we are.
This is why it is so difficult to understand President-elect Donald Trump. This is why it has taken me nearly a week to sit down to write, to unpack my feelings, to understand where we, me, and whoever went wrong. Or did we go wrong? Could we have diverted the American cruiselines anywhere else than Trump? Is the ship going to sink or will it just get dinged up? These questions are to be answered by us all, not just him and not just our parents. Now is a time to come together, to understand each other, to have these conversations like the smart adults that we are.
This past week was hard because it was invalidating. Not just because someone as beloved as Hillary Clinton lost: she, like all of us, realized that what we were trained to become is laughed at. The “liberal elite” are the joke of America, the smart vocal minority that is as annoying as it is valuable. There’s a reason Donald Trump called Elizabeth Warren “Pocohantas“: it was a rebuffing of liberal fluff, of her claiming minority status in the name of freedom fighting and identity politics. The entire nation was my father driving home from a theatre soothing his nerves with Rush Limbaugh. Instead of being silenced, he was heard.
I enjoy my PBS media working life of fancy affordable wines and student loans. I love being able to speak openly and candidly about my experiences as a gay man-ish person. I take full advantage of the freedoms of being American. Now is the time to take it to the next level though, to do the work: me and you and everyone I know have to connect with those who don’t get us. We have to understand each other because we aren’t connecting with them and they aren’t connecting with us, instead securing a loop of one group calling the other “deplorable” into infinity. Yes, Clinton’s loss made me lose faith in the Internet. Yes, Clinton’s loss made me understand and fully realize why and how artists like Ricardo Villalobos refused to engage with the United States when George Bush was president. Yes, Clinton’s loss has brought about so much loss.
We will move beyond this, though. We have to. And step one of that is reaching out to help others understand where you are coming from, to talk to the people like my father who have always thought liberals were “chucklehead” fluff. They, the conservatives among us, have to understanding how devastating Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s election is for people like us. This is more than getting mad: it’s about reaching out, beyond the liberals that we are.