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'I would like to think I could'

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NOVEMBER 07, 2017

I’m sitting with three other Americans on a bench underneath a railway arch. The unusually indigo sky in May provides a fairytale quality to our last days together. The conversation, like all conversations now, has a new subtext since November 2016.

“Could you ever be friends with a Trump supporter?” I ask.

“I would like to think I could” my friend replied, pausing to sip a beer, with his back to the purpled sunlight. “But I probably couldn’t.”

The question was not so simple for me. I had Trump supporters in my family. A family that continues to love and appreciate me. Was this not an ideological paradox? Had Trump not won an election arguing Muslim immigrants like my father didn’t belong here? Hadn’t he said they couldn’t integrate into an American family like he had. Or have American children, like my brother and me.

No, his supporters in my family didn’t vote out of hate. I listened to them. They had substantive reasons guided by uncertainty and dissatisfaction, emotions I can’t claim to be free of myself. Even if I felt their judgements were wrong, perhaps dangerously so, I never once considered a repudiation of my own kin. These were good people who had erred. And if one’s own family will not accept you when you err, who will?

Maybe today it is considered radical to accept another person wholly and completely, even if their interests hurt yours. I choose to. Unfortunately the bonds of our shared campus will never push us to reconciliation the same way family can. Radical acceptance, I believe, is what our campus needs after November 2016.

Berkeley grows wearier and wearier with each month since November. In February, our nervous energies were still spasmodic. A visit by Milo Yiannopoulos resulted in a paroxysm of self mutilation to our own student union. It was a spectacle of fire and rock. The energy was uncontrollable and bound to dissipate. Whether it was due to collective enervation or the muscular police presence, Ben Shapiro’s visit was more melancholy than mutilating. Milo II barely registered at all.

And despite the college republicans becoming a source of local fascination, so much so that it’s gossip becomes our headlines, most people don’t care about them. They are at best a source of amusement or at worst the very essence of what we define ourselves against. Does that sound progressive or petty?

When I first called home after November, I remember my mother mentioning somewhat cautiously, “Your aunt is really involved with Trump.” So were her parents and so was my once-Democrat-voting uncle. The news stirred the contrarian impulses in me first. I liked the idea of a good political fight over dinner, so long as the forks and knives remain on the table.

Mainly, I thought the Trump movement was a fad. He’s a Republican, they were mostly Republicans, it’s all party loyalty. I found out over the next few months that they actually liked the yellow-haired guy. The same aunt and uncle that went to Woodstock in 1969 had voted for a Manhattan developer. This begged a lot of questions.

We didn’t avoid the subject when my mother and I went over to their house. I listened to my uncle bemoan the state of television news. And I mostly agreed. I listened to my aunt say she didn’t like Budweiser or their commercials. And I wholeheartedly agreed — albeit as a matter of taste. I listened to them talk about their disappointment with Obama, with the political establishment, with the direction the country was going, with the economic recovery, the wars in the Middle East … and I agreed.

These were people still more like me than not. Trump didn’t appear out of some menacing unfamiliarity in my family — he was that very familiar sentiment we shared. How could I repudiate them? I didn’t need to separate them from their beliefs, what I needed was to accept them wholly, just as they accepted me despite all my flaws and differences.

My acceptance brought me closer to understanding them, as it helped them understand me. I don’t consider this a means for the later conversion of my kin to the left. Let us continue to advocate our interests as we see them, just so long as we continue to understand each-other, and accept each other.

Berkeley is on the whole more left than right, so it is rather easy to avoid the act of acceptance, to trim our circle of friends rather than expand them. And the danger of it all can be heard in the talk of imprisonment or assassination. We’ve sanctified ourselves so much that we can hardly recognize the madness, while our opposition is now defined by the worst demons of their grouping.  

I wrote this piece with a feeling it would go unrequited. That the bells would still chime on the hour. And the lecturers would still clear their throats at ten minutes passed. That I’d still be hurrying across campus. And my boots would still muddy from the fields, as my hair would still tangle from the falling leaves. Nothing would change around us, nor in our heads — still populated by that gothic crowd of saints and demons.

But what if acceptance was already around us. And it beat its wings after each chime. Could we look up to recognize this? I would like to think I could.


Ismael Farooqui writes the Friday blog on campus culture in a time of institutional crisis. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ishfarooqui.

NOVEMBER 07, 2017