When I moved from San Francisco to my New York apartment with a roommate that I met through Craigslist, I had no idea that I was moving in with an extremely conservative Republican. A friend in New York checked out the apartment for me and met my new roommate (to make sure she was, in fact, a young woman with a cat and not a big, fat guy that moonlit as an axe murderer). I FaceTimed her before the move and she and the place both seemed great.
It was only about a week into moving that I learned of her political beliefs and that she had voted for Trump in the 2016 election. I’m a little bit embarrassed now to say what a shock it really was to learn. Growing up in the Bay Area, going to a liberal college and working in a creative industry, I have quite literally been in a leftist, liberal bubble for my entire life without ever realizing it. Before meeting my roommate, I had never met a real, living and breathing Trump supporter (or at least not anyone who outwardly and openly supported him that I knew of). As unfortunate as it is to admit – it felt like meeting an alien.
Throughout the 2016 election, I felt like I was taking crazy pills. Who WERE these alleged people that existed and supported Trump?! These supporters just didn’t feel real to me, and they didn’t feel human, because I hadn’t ever met one.
To add to my embarrassing confession, how kind, friendly and genuine my roommate was only added to my shock, making me double take on both her and myself. Having felt like these extreme-right Trump supporters weren’t actually real humans that existed allowed my brain to fill in the blank: Trump supporters are _______; extreme-right believers are ________. Even reading that, I’m sure you naturally filled in the blank yourself based on your thoughts and experiences. But being able to put a face to a group of people, especially a welcoming, generous face, left me confronting everything I had decided this group of people represented.
I’ve lived with my roommate for almost three months now, and while it’s likely for the best that it’s a rarity, we have had a few political conversations over wine while living together. She’s a lawyer, so I don’t kid myself that I’d ever win a debate, but I don’t really feel that winning is the benefit of our discussions. We have so many topics that we are on opposite sides of the aisle of, and it’s really interesting to hear her reasoning–always thoughtful and valid–for believing the opposite of what I believe.
The discussions don’t change what I believe in, but they’re really fascinating and I feel like I learn a lot about the issues as a whole. I’ve learned that when you take sensitive and polarizing topics and have a respectful conversation about it with someone who believes the opposite of you, it might not change your beliefs on the matter, but you’re able to view the issue as a more fully painted picture rather than seeing only a small corner of it. Openly discussing someone else’s beliefs forces you to acknowledge that their fears, concerns and reasoning are all real and valid. And who am I to say that someone’s beliefs are invalid or not?
I’ll caveat here that my roommate is very smart and thoughtful about her point of view and never just spouts commentary overheard from politicians or commentators, which forces me to be just as thoughtful about my opinions.
Even though our president, senate and Supreme Court might all hold a Republican majority, I think it is harder for our generation to be Republican. Even though the right-wing might be predominant in the federal government, the left-wing rules pop culture and the majority of the media we consume. It’s easy for me to reason, since it’s what I agree with, that it’s because we’re on the “right side” of history, but if I’ve learned anything over the last couple of months, it’s that the biggest hope we have for ourselves in this “divided” time is to not see things as such black and white sides. If culture leans left, that should only push us further to educate ourselves outside of our daily media consumption so that we aren’t just regurgitating a hashtag or a headline.
When so many polarizing issues are on the table it’s unfortunate to lump them all under Republican vs. Democrat and leave it at that. Identifying as a Republican or a Democrat shouldn’t automatically define your beliefs on all subsequent issues based on that label. It completely takes away educating ourselves and having meaningful discussions with each other about what we believe and why–which is really the only way we’ll be able to come together on so many of these dividing topics.
Having these discussions is something that I absolutely believe government officials should be doing, but it’s something I think we should be doing for ourselves in our daily lives, too. We see some commentators do it occasionally, reaching across the aisle to have people of opposite beliefs as guests on their shows, but I think the majority of what we consume, whether it be a newsfeed of our like-minded friends or our favorite comedian commenting on the news of the week, is often just a repetition of our own beliefs. And looking at the recent instance of the Senate “going nuclear”, I don’t believe we’ll ever get past this “divided” state if we remain an extreme pendulum swinging from very liberal to very conservative, pushing through our own beliefs depending on who’s sitting as President and never coming to real resolutions.
So I’ll continue to listen to my roommate and hear out her beliefs and the thoughtful reasoning behind them. I’ll continue to check my own beliefs and do the due diligence to make educated decisions on what I stand for. And I’ll hope that people on both sides (or no side) are able to step away from this “divided country” stuff to actually hear each other out as real people. While I might not have a real solution for each of the hot button issues that exist in our country today, I think the first step in figuring out what they could look like is to just talk respectively and listen to what each other has to say. I never thought I’d be grateful to live with a conservative Trump supporter, but I’m so glad I am and that I’ve been able to hear how and why she thinks the way she does rather than preemptively shutting an entire group of people out.
And bonus: I also made a wonderful friend.