John McCain Would Be Proud of My Combover

When I was four years old my mother came into my room early one morning and shook me awake. The five words she said next changed my life forever: “Hunter, Nanny died last night.”

Nanny was my maternal great-grandmother and my mother’s hero in every sense of the word. Nanny was strong willed southern woman who lived through every major experience of the 20th century. She was a traditional Virginia woman in every sense of the word. My first experience with death was when my mother woke me up and spoke those words. It was the first of many times that the bulletproof bubble that surrounds my world burst. A strange and ominous feeling shrouds one of – if not the – first memory I ever made.

My parents are firmly planted in the middle class, maybe on the lower end of middle, but I certainly never wanted for anything. My father voted for Democrats for the past thirty years and, much like her grandmother before her, my mother is in deeply rooted in traditional southern conservatism, mainly guided by her strong Christian principles. I rarely heard them speak of politics besides talk of who they voted for. I think that was mainly because they were concerned with teaching me wrong from right, not left from right.

For the purpose of context, I am a 26 year old white male. I have the worst golfers tan you can possibly imagine and a spare tire of fat where my abdominal muscles should be.  Because of the losing battle I’m fighting with male pattern baldness, I have a comb over that would make 1980’s John McCain beam with pride. I have a degree from a highly conservative private college and I’ve had the opportunity to work for some wonderful organizations early on in my career. I’ve worked hard but I could certainly do more. I bring these things up to say that politics have never been that important to me because politics have never had to be that important. I’m super freaking white and in many ways, I am the epitome of privilege.

My two best friends growing up touched down on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One stayed close to the far left and the other was as far right as humanly possible. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the middle, always listening to what they had to say but never forming my own opinions on the issues they talked about so passionately.  I voted for the first time in the 2012 Presidential election for Barack Obama and again in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. I thought it was such an amazing thing that I got to be a part of history. That in my first two presidential elections I was voting for the first African-American President and (who I thought was) the first female President. But that has been the extent of my political participation. I was apathetic because I never felt affected. And because I never felt affected, I never felt compelled to do anything else.

My attitude towards politics began to change around 3:00am on November 9th, 2016. Strangely enough, it was another woman waking me and speaking in that same tone my mother had used as she introduced me to the cruel realities of death nearly two decades prior, when that bubble I thought to be beyond bulletproof burst once again.  My girlfriend at the time woke me up and sullenly uttered these five words: “Hunter, Donald Trump just won.” I sat up in disbelief and probably said, “What the fuck?” at least eight times before falling back asleep.

I was working at a University at the time and the next day my entire office wore black, completely unplanned. I’d become progressively more liberal while working at this institution due in part to the fact that I worked with eight women who were more liberal than Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. I had listen to them banter from the sidelines of the lunch table every single day leading up to the election and because I was around people who were so passionate it became easy to listen.  None of us believed Trump had a chance in hell to win. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be our next President and we were going to find a happy hour that Wednesday and get hammered to celebrate. Instead we just hugged each other like guests at a funeral and no one spoke much that day. It carried the same sense of impending doom I had felt as child.

My politics were born on that day last November. They are politics that are still in their infancy. Trying to balance the weight of disappointment and frustration in the wake of the election only led to more dissonance. It has taken me quite a few months to understand why this confusion and anger is a good thing.  For the first time in my life I have finally taken a stance. Donald Trump and his supporters have made that easy for me. It has now become my responsibility to become as educated as possible so that I can make sure if anything or anyone that even resembles Donald Trump is running for election, they never win again. I’ve challenged myself to read and pull from different sources every day and I’ve begun to establish dialogues with people from all walks of life in an effort to learn from every opportunity. I can finally say that I am no longer on the sidelines.

I now acknowledge the fact that I’ve been a part of a system that completely disenfranchises millions of people because of the color of their skin. A system that completely disregards the universal truths of science, a system that lacks the moral capacity to place the health of its citizens over the profits of its corporations and the fact that I’ve been able to look over these things because I am a white male. I’ve traded in complacency for conversation and I understand that I can use the privilege I have for good. The urgency I’ve found in the wake of the election along with the way I’ve embraced it has been a gift to me. I now realize the true cost of apathy, and while I am frightened by the price our nation has paid for me to have to get to this point, I’m selfishly grateful that I have now armed myself with the means to be a part of the solution.