I will not live in a closet for any reason.
I voted Republican almost a straight ticket for the first time in my life.
I am a progressive artist/writer/activist with an impressive 25+ year record of fighting the good fight on a plethora of issues including abortion clinic escort, rape crisis counselor, regular crisis counselor, a decade in Palestinian Solidarity, holding local police accountable in the shooting of two young black men, homelessness, cannabis and chronic pain advocacy.
In this “stunning and brave” essay I will tell you why I made this decision.
My first reaction after the 2016 election, after I stopped crying — the tears lasted awhile — was to convene an emotional support group that excluded cis straight white men. Because, of course. Safety first.
Thankfully, this is the most cringe worthy action I took, my humanity was strong enough to never break with my core values and become a full on SJW bully. I had my moments though. I am not innocent. To those who I may have caused offense, this is my apology.
I got the Trump Derangement Syndrome bad. I mean BAD. I was locked on MSNBC, breathless with each new horror. To be fair, Trump was a wild card, and there was no precedent for dealing with such. Would democracy hold? Would my friends and I be in danger? Would he cut my safety net? Did he collude with the Russians? We did not have answers and uncertainty was destabilizing and anxiety provoking.
Plus I am from New York. My dislike of Trump goes back to the SPY era of the 1980s. It was easy to catch the mind virus. And the crowds, not gonna lie, they scared me. I knew some of it was performance art on Trump’s part, and could dismiss that, but when I saw the crowds shouting “Lock her up!” it was disturbing on a gut level.
I wondered why it seemed my country was committing suicide. I had no idea how people could embrace this man and these ugly ideas. At the same time, I knew, as a matter of fact, that there was no way that 50% of the country were racists. It just did not make sense.
AN ATTEMPT AT SENSE MAKING
An intrinsically curious person, I set out to understand my blindness. The first book I read that helped was Strangers in Their Own Land, where a journalist goes into red state country in her own quest to learn. She treated conservatives with respect, and did a great job listening and exploring why they voted “against their interests.”
I am an autodidact and have read nearly 3000 books in the past 22 years (that is 1.5 tons, I did the math). I read from across the political spectrum, I like to think I have no fear of ideas. I tend toward primary source evidence, as a journalist, that is baked in. Growing up in an abusive environment, I do not trust easily, I need evidence. I continued my reading.
The Righteous Mind and Moral Foundations Theory as advanced by Jonathan Haidt changed my life. It laid out a clear thesis as to the difference between conservatives and progressives in a way I could understand. This text broke the last bigotry I held in my heart — conservatives.
Being fair, I am 57 and conservatism has changed. A LOT. I lived through the anti-abortion zealotry of the Spring of Life in Buffalo, NY. I also witnessed real homophobia during the height of AIDS. I saw the effects of redlining, segregation, and deep economic decline. I am from the Rust Belt, but I got out.
I now live in Olympia, WA which, until recently, was a lovely little progressive bubble where I did not really encounter conservatives in my circles outside of the weed subculture. It is a mono-culture and I am living the end result of late stage far left policies. That cozy bubble has turned into a dystopian dome.
I have come to understand the importance of good faith opposition to edit ideas and make stronger products. I also appreciate that the other side is effective in diagnosing your blind spots, which is what I missed in 2016. I was ignorant to why conservatives voted Trump because I could not trust conservatives.
But they were right. People like me were insufferable and arrogant. We were detached from reality. Our constant scolding grated, our piety obnoxious. In our desire to be inclusive, we were being divisive. In the name of tolerance, we became incredibly intolerant, bordering on authoritarian — compelled speech, apologies and censorship. The hegemony of guilt and shame was strong and praxis enforced without appeal. Finding the problematic in everything and everyone is exhausting and soul destroying.
TOLERANCE FOR HARM
I also began seeing how being overly tolerant was harmful. Jordan Peterson proposed the right goes too far with virulent nationalism. He did not have an answer for when the left has gone too far. I humbly propose tolerance for harm.
In a desire to be overly respectful for all lifestyles, and normalizing all behaviors even antisocial ones, we are allowing harm. I formulated this hypothesis two years ago, as Olympia began to experience an explosion of homeless camps our Council Member calls “informal settlements.” These encampments are an affront to human dignity.
I was forced to learn about this issue when a camp with over fifty residents set up behind my house. It was grim. Yet there were people defending this inhumanity and willing to allow it. I spoke out with my first article on Medium, The Real Crisis in Olympia is Not Homelessness, where I lay out my tolerance for harm argument in more depth.
I am proud to say this article moved the Overton Window on discourse around homelessness in Olympia. Before this article it was verboten to link homelessness with drug abuse, if you can believe that. The intellectual dishonesty was causing harm, people were dying. I was shocked at the inability to look at the problem with clear eyes.
In addition, a homeless shelter/supportive housing project was proposed across from my house. I was forced to get involved. I took endless meetings and read thousands of pages of documents. I began speaking at Council meetings, becoming more of a public figure.
I continued my journalism, broke stories and had an impact. I wrote independently because the local alternative newspaper who loved my previous work “fired” me because I wrote honestly. I have been told I could not cover another local story because I was white.
Here is a response I got from the director of the shelter that would be expanding into my neighborhood: “Increasingly over the past year or so I have seen/heard/witnessed many things from you that have led me to feel like you are not coming to the table with the same end goal in mind. When I say “end goal” what I mean is a goal in which homelessness is resolved through safe, affordable and supportive housing as well as increased access to treatment for physical and mental health related issues.”
How could she possibly say I was against low income housing for disabled people? NO reasonable person is against that!
I must finally bring up my identity. I am one of the most marginalized people there is, the only category I do not check is race, but even then, I come from the trailer park. I am extremely low income, fully disabled with moderate to severe chronic pain+ for 20+ years, mentally ill, gender nonconforming, LGBTQ, a college dropout and someone who depends fully on the safety net for her survival.
This woman knew this about me, as well as that I fundraise for rent on GoFundMe because I cannot get housing aid. One of my crimes was complaining I would have to be homeless to qualify for a unit in the new project. That did not seem fair, or good policy per Housing First doctrine. I was treated as an enemy as opposed to a neighbor with legitimate concerns.
LOSING MY LAST BIGOTRY
This brings me to how I began to see conservatives favorably. My article drew a lot of hate. I had anxiety posting it, and spent four months making sure I got it RIGHT. I could only envision what I was going to lose when I hit publish. I knew the reaction would not be good, but I did not yet know the full cost. Or that a whole new world was about to open up for me.
One thing I never imagined is that it became a catalyst for meeting local conservatives and finding they were great! Tolerant, fun loving, open to discourse — all the things I no longer saw in the left. I did conservative talk radio KVI with John Carlson a few times and was treated with respect.
I was invited to the big Republican fundraiser this February, the Lincoln Day Dinner. I went prepared to catalog the hate I encountered. Instead, I had a GREAT time! I witnessed no hate, only love. Trust me, the left had trained me to search for it with laser precision. It just was not there. I was shocked. I was wrong. Again.
The speaker was the electrifying Brandon Straka of the #WalkAway movement. He got a standing ovation. A gay man. My mind was blown! I immediately saw how powerful Brandon is, and why they work to dismiss him. I was ready to #WalkAway myself, but I was not ready for Trump to be my “daddy.”
I shared my observations of the night on Facebook, linking to Brandon’s video, and reporting on my lived experience of going into the belly of the Republican beast. I mean, there was a Trump CUTOUT, and a GUN in the silent auction. A MAN pulled my chair out for me. We said the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. TO A FLAG! The horror!
The reaction from my friends was not positive. No one was happy I was dismantling my bigotry. The struggle sessions began. My character was put on trial for daring to associate with conservatives and worse, saying nice things about them. THIS WAS WHERE ALL THE HATE WAS. From people who allegedly liked me and were on my side. It could not be starker.
I started going to more conservative events, and gave my first speech to the group Turn Thurston in March, my last pre-COVID social event. I was nervous, but it went really well, and I was praised for my authority on homelessness. I took questions that were sincere in their concern. Again, NO HATE. Again, I had a GREAT time. People were interested in what I had to say. Not so on Facebook.
I felt open, I could speak my mind, I did not feel I would be judged or canceled, they welcomed me warmly. The opposite of the left, which has become numbingly repressive and abusive, where I don’t dare speak freely. I have been called every slur there is. I keep a list and make it a game to score a new one. At this point, I wear them as badges that define my integrity.
REIGN OF TERROR
As a part of my reckoning, I made a list of all the topics I felt I could not speak freely on, and that list shocked me. I have NEVER self-censored in my life, but now it was daily practice. How fucked up was that? I began to realize, that despite being a hardcore atheist, I had found myself in a fundamentalist cult.
I was shocked, I keep using that word, but it fits. It had been indoctrination by increments. I date my first struggle session to 2010, while working on the production team of the Olympia Rafah Mural Project with the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. The foundation was accused of RACISM — subcategories: cultural appropriation, microaggressions and tokenism. Many (white women) tears were shed, and it was predictably divisive.
We were forced to apologize. In penance, we took anti-oppression training administered by Evergreen faculty. The concepts seemed quite reasonable, things good people did as a matter of course. It seemed benign, there was no indication it would turn into a perversion — emotional manipulation that weaponizes people’s goodness against them.
As I began leaving the cult, I began writing of my experiences on Facebook. This was a mistake. My error was thinking that my social capital, my good record, would carry weight and that people would listen to my warnings. I was wrong, I keep using that word as well. If anything, my insider status was more of a threat. My therapist has not been able to help me. I have found solidarity with ex-Mormons.
In one year, I have lost 90% of my community in Olympia. I have been shunned by activists, comedians and gamers. I have never had a turnover like this in my life with the exception of cross-country moves.
I have lost my best and longest friends, people I had deep emotional connections with. One gamer buddy of seven years accused me of “defending NAZIS.” Another broke up with me because I spoke against Andy Ngo being assaulted and given a TBI and because I followed the wrong people. Never mind I am a journalist who follows a wide variety of sources for my reporting. Someone else left me over CHAZ, my denunciation of violence as well as my defense of JK Rowling. I am viewed with suspicion and the worst possible motives ascribed to my positions. Others have wished for my suffering.
My capstone is I earned a spot on the antifa hit list to be “creatively silenced.” It should be noted, that in 25+ years of high level activism on contentious issues, I have never had the right threaten to silence me or do me bodily harm.
I have now experienced first hand having my positions and character twisted into whatever my opponents or friends want to see. They wear oppression colored glasses yet lack self awareness as to how authoritarian and ugly they have become. I have always stood up to bullies and 2020 is no different.
I am seeing people I love and want to continue to respect breaking bad in real time. I now understand in a visceral way the slippery slope that led to the Cultural Revolution and the Holocaust. Starting with dehumanization, progressing incrementally to greater levels of political violence and desire to harm those who are not in the same tribe.
This is why, paradoxically, I am voting Trump.
My vote for Trump will be essentially meaningless, if you have made it this far and your panties are in a bunch. I would be highly surprised if Trump won Washington state.
At first, my vote was a vote against the authoritarian left. I wanted to show there was an uprising and work to build a counterweight.
But being honest, Trump is the first candidate to really EARN my vote. Also, my grudging respect. The fears of autocracy were vastly overblown, democracy has survived, none of the horrible predictions came true. You cannot see this if you have TDS.
Trump has more or less governed from the center, staying somewhat true to his New York liberal roots. The economy has been good. Three Nobel nominations, actual progress in the Middle East and working to decriminalize homosexuality internationally. The new conservative Supreme Court has ruled favorably on issues I care about as a progressive.
When he signed the Executive Order banning federal funds for racist Critical Race Theory trainings, I knew I HAD to vote for him. CRT trainings are creating hostility and division. I have experienced it firsthand and saw how it destroyed The Evergreen State College, exiling Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying from Olympia in as close to a witch hunt as you can get. As CRT mainstreamed this summer, with Proctor & fucking Gamble shaming me for the color of my skin in Time adverts, I saw a tipping point that had to be fought against.
I am not a RACIST WHITE SUPREMACIST TRANSPHOBE TERF ALT RIGHT CHUD and neither are you. Anti-racism and anti-fascism are the default American positions these days. The only fascism I am seeing is from the left. Yes, there are right wing extremists, but they are rare, and do not have much cultural influence. The torches did not come out again after Charlottesville.
My own lying eyes see Molotov cocktails thrown on a nightly basis in Portland. I see people assaulted and threatened. I see people forced to pledge allegiance to a Marxist organization. I see defense of looting and property crime, callous when it is someone’s business which they have poured blood, sweat and tears into. I see cars being surrounded by hysterical mobs, sleeping working people deliberately awakened with childish singsong chants. I see coercion.
I see antifa baiting police to use teargas in residential neighborhoods, using residents, including children and the elderly, as human shields. I see activists engaging in high level dehumanization of law enforcement, in an effort to neutralize the cognitive dissonance of maiming another human with fireworks, baseball bats, ball bearings and high powered lasers. I see people dying, and people facing long prison terms for their murder. Lives shattered in an instant by uncontrolled and pointless rage.
I see activists with PTSD and criminal records that will haunt them. I see a subculture developing that is taking sadistic glee in “disruption.” I see politicians taking the knee, still to have their homes threatened by angry mobs. I see arson, segregation and fundamentalist zealotry I have only seen up close one other time, in Buffalo, during the Spring of Life. That movement led to the assassination of abortion providers.
I do not see this ending well. This is not a healthy movement. This is not activism, it is intimidation. I reject extremism in all forms, I will not defend violence/harm in any form. I will not support this in any way, including with my vote.
That is why I am willing to risk it all, stand up against my former tribe and openly announce my vote for Trump. Right now, in the fucked up situation we find ourselves, Trump is the only candidate who will block this dangerous and regressive movement.
This is a rational and pragmatic choice. Do I want an administration who does not take this seriously? Or do I want a president who will fight it? No question.
Many will blame Trump for causing these extreme reactions. I reject that line of thinking. I believe in free will, and Trump is not making anybody take extreme actions. If he is, that is mental illness and/or personality disorders. Your behavior is up to you. You choose whether to meet life with love or hate.
CONSERVATIVES ARE THE REAL ANTI-RACISTS
For the record, the most anti-racist action I saw in Olympia in 2020 came from conservatives. Sacha Baron Cohen, the Ali G and Borat actor, set them up at a staged event which he was going to use to document racism as he is wont to do.
The plan was an epic fail. Cohen, even with plants in the crowd, could not get the crowd to sing his racist lyrics. The local conservatives tried to pull the plug on the generator. Cohen had armed security protecting it. They then tried to get him off the stage, Cohen had more security surrounding it. He finally was booed off the stage into a waiting emergency services vehicle.
I was impressed and then moved by the humility of event organizers who not only apologized but took full responsibility for any harm. Meanwhile leftists in passing cars were giving the finger and verbally harassing people at the event. Given the current tensions, fomenting racism was an immoral and irresponsible thing for Sacha Baron Cohen to do, especially as he claims to work with an organization that does not profit off of hate.
Cohen then had the GALL to spin the story in a self-serving manner, writing in Time how the racists in Olympia chased him out of town. Uh, no, it was the anti-racists who ran you off stage, bro. Another mainstream media lie. Time did not correct the record, despite me contacting them with footage.
HOW TRUMP EARNED MY VOTE
Back to Trump, I have been dodgy in my appreciation so far. I am not sure I can ever love Trump, but I can see there are qualities that I wish to emulate. Most importantly, the man NEVER GIVES UP. As a 20+ year chronic pain patient, and board gamer, I too NEVER GIVE UP. I have to dig deep every day, and it is on grit alone that I survive. Trump is a survivor and I can respect that.
I have seen the man bear the hate of an entire world without being crushed. Who can say that? What happened to me this year could have driven less confident people to consider suicide. I have felt hate at a much smaller level, and it takes courage to stay the course. Courage I never thought I had. Trump has the courage of a lion, you cannot deny this.
It is too early to fully judge, but there may be method to his madness. He is a wild card, as am I. I do believe he is looking out for the interests of the country on a fundamental level, even if there are still specific policies I do not agree with. In fairness, I have never been 100% on board with any president, even my beloved Obama.
I also think COVID changed Trump. I am seeing a looser, fun Trump on the campaign trail, more entertainer than demagogue. Maybe its the steroids? Maybe he just does not have the energy to play the character? Has he been humbled?
He seems happy, he has lost the anger and seems calmer. As do the crowds. I have seen a couple tepid “Lock Her Ups” but they are done with, I dare say, irony? You cannot deny a 74 year old, who just had COVID, killing it on a schedule like that. Seriously.
Speaking of COVID, I stand with the conservative position that we HAVE to open up ASAP. We are ALL suffering under these restrictions. I believe we can be trusted to manage personal risk, we do not need paternalism and social control.
I am vulnerable so I mitigate my risk. I am ready for freedom though — to see live music, to eat out and to not be mask shamed. Even though I only leave the house for four hours a month I am considered a “murderer” because I can’t wear a mask.
I am a “vector for disease.” Where have I heard that type of language before? We have gotten to the point where we can’t even agree that NOBODY wants people dying OR losing their business.
COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET
This article is my official coming out of the closet. I have been Q — Q for Questioning — for many months. I didn’t want to be a conservative. I am not. It just can’t be possible. This is unsettling, a dramatic identity change, I am OG punk rock for fuck’s sake. In the end, it is just a label, my true identity is NONPARTISAN.
The thing is, I have not changed. I am still a progressive humanist. The ground has moved seismically, so far to the left, that mainstream conservatives are now the group most in alignment with my core values of community, inclusion, care for all, freedom, fun, subversion and rational thinking.
In this upside down clown world of 2020, conservatism is the counterculture. It is where all the cool kids are. Brandon Straka, Tim Pool, Dave Rubin, Christopher Rufo, Douglas Murray, Coleman Hughes, Jordan Peterson, Bret and Eric Weinstein, Heather Heying, Karlyn Borysenko, John McWhorter, Blaire White, Andy Ngô, Scott Presler, Helen Pluckrose, Benjamin Boyce, Joe Rogan, Adam Krigler, Ryan Long, Jonathan Haidt, Stephen Pinker, Scott Newgent, Candace Owens, even the wicked outcast Milo Yiannopoulis, whom I thought I despised, we are where the intellectual party is.
I have even become a fan of Dennis Prager because he won me over. I went for the hate, I stayed for the decency and discourse. Otto, as well, of course. I must give special shout out to the (ever sexy) James Lindsay, who is showing tremendous leadership providing tools of resistance. Scott Presler embodies this new conservative spirit that is attracting me. If you check out only one link in this article, make it this. Show me the hate. I dare you.
This is the movement I am joining, a party that is dynamic and changing one person at a time. These are people I want to associate with, positive people doing positive things to build a better world.
They are not mired in victimhood and the past. I do not want to hang with racists like Robin DiAngelo and Imbram X. Kendi, or the spineless professors at Evergreen who sacrificed Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying to delusional mobs. The people who taught me to fight oppression were complete cowards in the face of real oppression. They do not deserve my respect. Nor do people like the Olympia Vandalism Society who put out a guide to destruction. I am not impressed with throwing rocks and breaking windows.
I have been vilified for bridging the aisle. I have been shunned just for associating with conservatives. This is not happening on the conservative side. It is the big tent, and it is also now the party of the working class and the poor. It is also the party of compassion for all and nonviolent resistance. I do not see any leading figure on the right inciting or excusing violence, even Trump.
The smartest thing conservatives have been doing has been letting the left wing insanity do the heavy lifting. Every night of violence in Portland gives votes to Trump. It is almost like they want him elected so they can continue these juvenile and futile tantrums. Creative non-violent protests like the highway caravans are smart, antifa wants to provoke confrontation and actions like these minimize chances for engagement that they will later use for propaganda. The best way to fight is at the ballot box.
BEFORE YOU CANCEL ME
Still, I will admit, I still feel a bit dirty marking my ballot Trump. I am as shocked as you are. I would have never predicted this turn of events, but here we are. I have made peace.
This is a principled, well thought out choice. I know some of you will find this repellent. Before you cancel me, why not ask me for more information?
This article is the briefest I could make my account, there are so many more stories, like the cruel calling out of a person for having a RACIST grief reaction. Or the “ladies lingerie” incident featuring former Evergreen professor Simona Sharoni attacking Freedom Rider Ned Lebow over a stale joke.
So many betrayals and lies. So much bullying, abuse, emotional manipulation and intellectual dishonesty.
I expect to be told I am on a “dark path” and that I am “brainwashed by the alt right.” I expect struggle sessions, but I have set a boundary, I will not participate in my own debasement. I welcome debate of my ideas, but I am not going to have my character put on trial. I will no longer allow the left to abuse me and I will not apologize for being complicated.
If you cannot see my kindness, my generosity of spirit, my resilience, my courage and grit, that is not my problem. If a single vote negates a lifetime of work, you did not believe in me to begin with. I have DONE THE WORK. I will not speak in rote.
I will not be silent any longer. Writing this essay is about the bravest thing I can do right now. It should not be this way, but I am never going to live in a closet. I am not joining any more cults.
Liberation from both TDS and SJW is wonderful. I feel light. The guilt and anger is gone. Join me, you will be happier.
I hope my story gives others permission to think these thoughts, you are not bad if you do or alone. People are not binary, everyone has some conservative ideas they believe in, even if they do not know it.
I hope that more people have the courage to speak. Silence is one reason we are in this place, we did not set boundaries soon enough.
The left has trained me well and I am ready to play the long game.
I will continue to lead with love, head held high, and while I might make mistakes, I will have no regrets over my conduct. I will come out the other side with my humanity and integrity intact and my conscience clear.
Thank you for listening.
NOTE: I made some light edits for typos and grammar to the article on 10/25/20. I wrote and published this piece in less than 24 hours and regret the sloppiness due to authorial blindness. Thank you to all the readers who wrote me with errors, I appreciate that greatly.
The article is nearing 30K views in 72 hours! My inboxes have been flooded with messages of support. I am humbled by the stories I have been told. I will never feel alone again. I am working on an Open Letter Response to all who have contacted me, and will try to get back to everyone, even though, with my disability it will take time. This may be the most important piece of writing I have ever done, and I am honored to have touched people so deeply. I feel your love, and it will nourish me going forth.
This article is dedicated to Robin and Michael, who have had my back and allowed me to explore my identity without judgement.
Candace Mercer is an artist/writer/activist who has lived in Olympia since 1996. She has worked with The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice and the Crisis Clinic of Thurston and Mason Counties. She has written for Electronic Intifada, The Alternative Press and Works in Progress.
Candy can be reached at email@example.com
Twitter (DM OK, abuse will be mocked): @candiomercer
Other work on Medium: https://medium.com/@CandaceMercer