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Political Mental Maps: A Millennial From A Fundamentalist Family

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A reader posting as “Dr. Vanessa Poseidon” has a really rich Millennial story that makes sense to me. If I lived through the things she did, I’d probably have ended where she is about most of this. I haven’t felt the absence of Christian fundamentalism in my life so strongly since … the last time Turmarion reminded me that never having had to live with it as a young person or, well, ever, really colors my point of view:

Born in ‘88, grew up in a proudly fundamentalist, die-hard GOP home. By the time I was old enough to start observing my parents’ political beliefs and understanding them as an adolescent, I struggled mightily to reconcile their attitudes with my own understanding of Christianity and my place in the world as a woman. Hearing the sort of very commonplace double standards for men and women in fundamentalist circles was incredibly frustrating to me as a high achieving teenager. I hated the demonization of people like single mothers in conservative rhetoric, while every Sunday we heard about the need for mercy and the urgency of protecting the unborn. Eventually I began to pick near-daily arguments with teachers at the classical Christian school they had enrolled me in, mostly due to the serious lack of intellectual rigor in their science curriculum (published by Bob Jones University) and the fire and brimstone lessons built in to even subjects like math. History lessons were taught based on the assumption that everyone who had ever been a significant Western leader was a Christian, even when voluminous evidence existed to the contrary. If I hadn’t been a voracious reader as a middle and high schooler, I’m not sure I would have come away with any ideas of my own.

1. When 9/11 happened, I was still enrolled in the small Christian school, and the general response among faculty and families within the school was so radically hateful toward Islam, I had a hard time parsing it with the knowledge that my parents and grandparents had Muslim friends in the community who never knew that they said the things they said.

2. The Iraq War was my real breaking point with the conservatism of my parents. So many of their circle had wrapped up the idea of the war within their Christian nationalist viewpoints, that they genuinely began to argue that it was un-Christian to disagree with the war (and really the Bush administration writ-large). By this point, I was in a Catholic prep school and had really felt like I found an intellectual home (or as much as one can be home anywhere intellectually at 13/14 years old) in liberation theology. I grew ever more disgusted with the GOP as I saw the kind of empty flag waving it devolved into, especially as no one in my family’s upper middle class milieu served in the military or would have ever dreamed of encouraging their children to do so. It felt morally wrong to see them cheering on these wars that they and their children would never be affected by. I really felt like I became a Democrat in 2003, initially due to my disgust at the Iraq debacle.

3. The financial crash in 2008 hit as I was about to graduate college. My parents lost everything, the loans we’d taken out together became exclusively my responsibility, and I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to start paying them off until after graduate school. I’d been volunteering with the Obama campaign since the primaries, and his election was truly one of the only bright spots in what was otherwise a very grim year for many of my friends and classmates. There really is something to be said for how deeply many people my age needed the kind of positivity that he campaigned on. Especially when compared to…

4. Sarah Palin. I think her nomination as McCain’s running mate effectively shut the door on any thoughts I could have had on rejoining the Republican party, long before Trump even entered politics. Jingoism aside, the utter disdain for intellectual rigor or even a willingness to learn was so discouraging, especially when I’d grown up hearing family members praise intellectual Buckleyite conservatives. Heck, it’s the reason I still actively read TAC and National Review, even though I’m as blue as they come on most issues.

5. I survived a terminal illness that would have absolutely prevented me from ever being insured again, pre-ACA. The continuous assault on protections for pre-existing conditions seems to me to be perhaps the cruelest position of many in today’s Republican party. My in-laws have become mostly Democratic voters, primarily because of the experiences my husband and I had in dealing with major illness.

6. Trump’s election wasn’t the earth-shattering event that many of my political persuasion feel it to be. Sure, I didn’t want him to win, but I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency either. Rather, the past two years have been especially troubling to me as a PhD in the humanities in the complete erosion of disciplined, thoughtful approaches to difficult questions. Sure, Trump is like a raging wildfire surrounding our constitutional norms on all sides, but I don’t believe his supporters are all bigots or hillbillies, just as I’d hope that there are many other conservatives out there who recognize that despite our ideological differences, I too love this country and its citizens. Despite all the conservative hand-wringing over Marxist indoctrination in our universities, my graduate education was led by thoughtful, principled professors who virtually never discussed politics in the classroom, and never shunned conservative (or liberal) students who were willing to make arguments based in supporting evidence, and this was at a supposedly super liberal university in the ACC (that’s as specific as I’ll get for now).

I no longer work in academia because the pay would never cover my expenses and my student loan payments at the same time. My husband and I live in one of the most liberal cities in the country but I also work for the sprawling behemoth of the defense department. We live in a big city because there are literally no jobs for our highly specialized areas of expertise to be had in the rural/suburban areas we come from and we’d like to be able to afford to have children soon, not because we look down on these areas or their people. It sounds so cliche at this point to express disgust at the ideological barriers that have popped up in so many aspects of American life, but it depresses me. It depresses me to think that nearly half the country likely believes I hate them, or that I’m eternally damned, because I vote for candidates with a D after their names. I vote D because I care about preserving the environment for future generations, because my combat veteran husband is tired of seeing American police be held to more lax standards for rules of engagement than troops in an actual war zone, because I don’t mind paying a little extra in taxes to ensure old people and sick children don’t end up in a Dickensian dystopia, and I don’t believe that others like me deserve to resign themselves to a lifetime of medical debt and poverty (or worse, just die) because they don’t have insurance like I did. I don’t vote D because I hate the things that Republicans stand for so much as I feel the leaders they have congregated around have left or would prefer to leave so many of us behind. I know many Republican voters or conservatives think that many people like myself want to leave them behind. I don’t see it that way, and I wish more people in the US saw one another as children of Jesus who simply have different ways of approaching problems.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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