January 20 we’ll all watch as Donald Trump is sworn into office, a spectacle most of us never thought would happen. For over a year we repeated the mantra of “keep calm, it won’t be Trump,” but that didn’t play out as we expected, obviously. In the midst of our astonishment we’ve been called to question much of what we’ve believed for so long, and, without doubt, I’ve had someone ask me a variation of the following at least once a day:
“I mean, didn’t we technically win? What do we do now as a movement? Should we give him a chance before judging his presidency? How will you handle things going forward?”

In reply I’ve given a slew of answers, from ideas on building a new party, to helping middle ground Democrats who are willing to meet us half-way. Maybe we stay on the right side of the aisle and be a voice of reason, or maybe we traipse over to the left and forge a new alliance. The options are endless, and everyone is walking around those options on eggshells, pondering the vast number of possibilities, and worried that they’ll choose the wrong one. However, regardless of how difficult the choice is, for so many it seems a choice must be made. They’re not content in the wilderness, and they desperately want to be a member of the tribe again.

I’ve listened to people say that, despite their refusal to vote for Trump, they must now join in the thunderous applause – “albeit reluctantly,” they’ll proclaim – of a Republican sweep until their fears are confirmed, because that’s what a good team player does. I’ve watched them cheer on Sessions, Tillerson, and Carson, despite obvious issues, simply because that’s what people on the right are doing.

As though getting behind the schoolyard bully is the only logical option, because while he’s shaken down all of the defenseless kids on the playground, it’s only reasonable to stand beside him until he shakes down the next, and then the next, and so on and so forth. They’re willing to wash, rinse, and repeat until there’s nothing left of their principles but a shell that barely tells the story of what they once were.

Many of the publications I found trustworthy have followed suit. When standing for what was right was no longer fashionable and click inducing for their mass of readers and followers, they walked over to the sewer and thrust their hand down into the sludge. Now they’ll dig in the waste, deeper and deeper as each moment passes, allowing the diseased remains of a movement that isn’t even aware of its state of decomposition to swallow them in hopes of finding a quarter.

As they pull out a disease covered bottle cap they raise it to the sky and rejoice, “We’ve found a quarter! He’s the law and order president!”  And as we point out the fault in their logic, and warn them of their hallucinations – “That’s not a quarter! He’s insane! Civil liberties will be in jeopardy!” – they label us ”traitors” to sooth a conscience that’s fully aware of their betrayal of principles. This trend will continue on until their allegiance is solidified, and – in their own minds – justified.

So, after watching so many of my Conservative friends and fellow writers tiptoe closer and closer to the big-government policies currently parading on the right, I’m going to give my final answers to the questions I’ve been asked:
“Didn’t we win?”

If you were a real conservative, you lost.

If you respect the Constitution, you lost.

If you respect American ideals, you lost.

If you believe in small government, you lost. 

“What will you do now?”
I intend to set up camp in the crossroads.

As everyone stares at the paths before them, labeled by party titles that beckon them closer with promises of tribal comforts, I’m instead going to plant my feet and embrace the nothing. If you want to label me a “classic liberal,” “conservatarian,” NeverTrumper,” “traitor,” “liberal,” or “purple dinosaur,” I don’t care. Bicker on about the titles, and which you fall under and where you presume I do, meanwhile I’m going to sit here in the nothing, doing what I can to trip up those running blindly towards paths they’ve been groomed to embrace in hopes that they’ll stop and think.
It doesn’t mean I won’t advocate on behalf of a cause, or back someone with my support. It means that if it’s a cause I believe in, I’m not going to care if they fit in the red or blue category.

“Should we give him a chance before judging his presidency?”

Donald Trump is going to be President, and there’s no stopping that. However, stop asking me if I’m going to give him a chance, because that’s not an offer that was ever on the table. It’s not my job to give him a chance, nor is it yours.

And, quite simply, Donald Trump is a joke to the title. This man is a plague to the party of Lincoln and Reagan, and – regardless of his actions going forward – he’ll always be a festering boil in our history books, proof of a morally depraved subset of society that crawled out from beneath their rocks to applaud hatred, another subset that came out from behind their principles to allow such hatred into the White House out of party loyalty, and another subset who lived under the umbrella of fear mongering politics for so long that they didn’t feel they had a choice. He brought out the worst of this country and, regardless of his actions from here on out, what he’s already done has made him unfit.

“Give him a chance.” As if I have the option. “Give him a chance” is just the battle cry of those who still abide by partisanship loyalty, despite the little voice in their head telling them it’s time to pull the plug. He didn’t deserve a chance, yet he was given one; the latter doesn’t disprove the former. 

I have a President who is unfit for the job, period. I’ll pray every day that he doesn’t have the opportunity to do harm, that he’s controlled by handlers, and restrained by a Constitution he doesn’t respect. I’ll do whatever my small voice can do to hold him accountable, and help those willing to hold him accountable. What I will not do is offer yet another cheap line that makes us all feel as though we’re on the same team again, singing ‘Kumbaya’ around a campfire while we have a cavalier chat about our “win.”

Unfortunately it’s now his job to run this country, fortunately it’s not my job to trust him.

“How will you handle things going forward?”
This is the most important question that we all need to ask ourselves. I’ve been pondering it for quite a while, and the best answer I could come up with is, by far, the most simplistic: 
Be fair.

It might not be all that you want to hear, and it doesn’t come with team shirts or trendy hashtags. Maybe that’s not what we need anymore, personally I believe the tribal mentality is what brought this all on.

I’ve played by the rules of reactionary politics before, and everyone across the political spectrum does the same thing. Between outlandish headlines about Paul Ryan wanting to kill off the elderly, and Obama wanting to usher in third world policies, the war mentality shouldn’t be surprising. Reading only one side of the argument and rushing to judgement has eaten us alive.

Such behavior is how we got here, and I’m done with it.

In the past I’ve been guilty of jumping to the defense of those who were once “my own,” and jumping to demonize those in the other tribe. Yet here I sit at the crossroads, where everyone is rushing to their prospective paths and ideologies, and all I want to do is avoid them all. The more I stand back and listen, the more I’m convinced that both sides have served themselves well by making us hate each other.

Of course we’ve seen the outrageous this year, and not everyone deserves respect, but we’ve also seen people from the middle with opposing opinions step up beside each other, people who just two years ago would have been painted as the enemy on our partisan maps. Well, I used my copy of the map as fire starter so that I could roast marshmallows at my new camp in the nothing. If you’re willing to talk, I’m willing to listen. We may not always agree on everything, and that’s alright.

Of course I’ll get the “but you won’t listen to Trump supporters!” response, so I’ll cover that now: I did listen to Trump supporters, that’s why they terrify me. I’m going to continue listening to them, because putting them in a corner and ignoring them is only going to result in a big mess, as we now know.

I’m listening to them not because they make sense, I’m listening to them because it’s a cautionary tale of what so many of us allowed to unfold. Additionally, I’m not saying that I’m going to entertain every wild and ridiculous argument with the same ecumenical grace, I’m saying that I’ll no longer completely discredit those with opposing opinions, especially when they’ve proven themselves to be people of character.

I’ve learned many things over the last year, but among the most important is this: many individuals who I once saw as my opposition have more patriotism in their little finger than those who parade the title of “Patriot” around like they’re the second coming of William Wallace. I’ve found that many of the individuals I once proudly stood beside are cowards when the principles I once thought we shared were put on the line. Maybe Republicans don’t value women, maybe the racism was worse than I thought, and maybe I was being used as a pawn. I’m no longer scared to ask myself those questions.

I’m not planning to dull down my opinions; on the contrary, I now have the freedom to “turn them up to eleven” and point them in any direction I darn well please. I’m still opinionated, and often harsh, I’m just no longer bound by party affiliation. 

So, it comes down to this: I don’t have all the answers for you, I don’t have the invite cards to a new party, or advice on where you should pledge your allegiance. I just have the simplest advice that I could possibly give: Be fair, and if you want to join me in the nothing every now and then, all I ask is that you bring marshmallows and wine.

Barry Goldwater image by Gage Skidmore, used with Creative Commons license.

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