Names have been changed, except the name of that nail polish. Originally submitted as a piece for my Columns & Editorials class.
Last night I went to my first College Republicans meeting. I’m working on a story about political engagement among college students post-election, and when researching political party groups on campus, I found out they were having a meeting that very night.
I don’t know what I thought I would be walking into, but it wasn’t what I assumed. Okay, I knew what I thought it would be—a Nazi circle-jerk, or an anti-Obama pile-on. I expected Make America Great Again hats and enough Vineyard Vines to clothe an entire village.
There was only one MAGA hat but, I assumed, they all had some in their closets. There were a lot more women than I expected, at least half but maybe more. Traitors to their gender, I thought. How can they side with someone who is so anti-women? And there were people of color. Stockholm Syndrome, I reasoned, or internalized xenophobia. The white, presumably straight, guy in a quarter-zip and Patriot’s baseball cap was soaked in so much privilege that anything he would say was bound to be offensive. But in what’s usually the case, per the principle of Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is usually the truest. They weren’t brainwashed or spies or masochists. They were just Republicans.
The meeting began with typical housekeeping. In light of the new presidency, they hoped to up their meetings from once every three weeks to something more frequent, and then they bandied around ideas for speakers they could get for their semesterly big function. Bill O’Reilly, I learned, is a BU alum, and one girl thought he was worth reaching out to.
After, the conversation turned to discussion. The latest news: The inauguration, and who among the group had attended. The nomination for Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch. They said it was a “Merrick Garland type of decision,” meaning a more centrist pick that both sides could agree on. The immigration ban, which a College Republicans executive board member, Rocky, said (a common response) was “executed very, very poorly.”
Marianne talked about the immigration ban, sharing that her boyfriend (a green card holder from a “non-white, non-Christian” country) was afraid that if he left America, he wouldn’t be let back in.
Getting visibly upset, she said, “No one should be afraid of that; that if he left for Engineering Without Borders to do work in Africa and came back on a connecting flight through Dubai…” She trailed off.
A lot of the conversation, the feelings of dealing with rabid liberals who operated purely on emotion and attacked without information, was uncomfortably familiar to me. The sense of defeat when having a conversation with someone on the far other side. Frustration with how polarized everything seems to be. Swap any of the names, and I could’ve easily been sitting in on a group of liberals talking about zealous Republicans.
“It’s hard being the elephant in the room, literally and figuratively,” said Robert, one of the club’s executive board members. That earned major laughs from the members, and even a surprised one from me. Who knew Republicans could have jokes? He was answering in response to Lydia, a Chicago native who was relieved to find a group of like-minded people in such a liberal city.
“So it’s nice to have, well I don’t wanna say the word “safe space” but…” said Robert, laughing again.
They were tired of being demonized, of being labeled as Nazis or homophobes or xenophobes or racists or misogynists, and the list goes on and on. To be fair, it’s a pretty long list. Tired of everything being labeled “the end of the world,” a sentiment, they pointed out, is always expressed by the opposing political side to the president. But the sense that I got from most of them was that their primary motivation for voting Trump was either loyalty to the Republican party or fiscal.
Robert told a story about his Republican parents and his upbringing in Michigan. His mother grew up in Detroit in the sixties and seventies, and was witness to the decline of the industrial community.
“When we heard “Make America Great Again,” that’s what we associated it with,” he said. Not the takeback of the country from diversity, but the bringing back of industrial jobs into areas that are starving without them.
When I asked the group if they felt a disconnect or conflict between being a millennial and being a Republican, their hands were raising before I even finished the question.
“I’m socially more liberal, but fiscally more conservative, so I identify myself as more of a moderate,” said Stacey. That sense, that as Republicans they were most caught up in fiscal matters, seemed to resonate amongst everybody. And when Stacey said the (I assumed) most-hated statement, “I voted for Hillary Clinton,” no one recoiled. No one threw anything at her. Her conflict, between Republican and millennial, was one with which they could all identify.
When people hear the name Republican, felt most of them, they assume white nationalists and xenophobes. But it’s “a wide tent,” said Max, and Republicans are much more diverse than people are willing to believe.
One of the last questions I posed to the group was “Is there something you wish you could tell the other side?”
“Ask questions,” said Rocky. Be able to have a conversation. Be open to having a conversation.
Stacey offered a story from her time interning for Governor Charlie Baker. “Many liberals are turning more moderate, to be able to work with a conservative government,” she said, “And that’s really good to see.”
“Thanks for being willing to listen,” said Louis, the communications chair, when I thanked them for their time.
At the end of the meeting, two girls gingerly approached me. “Um, can I ask you something?” one asked, a woman of color.
“Yeah!” I answered, trying to be friendly but predicting (even after all this) that it might be something rude or blunt or homophobic.
“I was staring at it all meeting; where is your nail polish from?”
I looked down at the minty blue color. “Isn’t it great? It’s called ‘Babe Blue.’ But I don’t know the brand. Sorry!”
She looked genuinely anguished, because it is such a cute color. “Oh, okay. Thanks!”
And when I got home and logged on to Twitter, I saw my liberal newsfeed through different eyes. How would the College Republicans see this? They would say probably that it’s catastrophizing everything. And they might be right.