The Homeless Conservative
By MATT SHAPIRO
Last week, I flew from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to teach a workshop on data visualization. I have done this a few times, back in 2015 in what now seems like a different world.
For a decade, I’ve been deeply in love with data, visualizations and design. I love to share what I make and I love to help people create and discover with visualization. And I love the people in data vis. It’s a fun group of people who are passionate about helping people discover and understand information though visual and interactive means. But as I tried more and more to join the data visualization community, I learned more and more that I don’t fit in.
As much as we like to think ourselves as apolitical, most data people are liberals. That’s the culture we come from and the culture we reinforce. I have a lot of stories about being sort of the “crabby uncle” of the community who picks apart visualizations that anyone with a critical eye should kind of know are bullshit but are shared because we’re just not as careful about our details when something fits our biases. Being the person who recognizes the pitfalls of a liberal bias made me something of an outsider.
I find that I’m often an outsider even in the communities where I best fit, which is not a lot of fun. People view your work more skeptically, are less likely to include you in community events and are less likely to recommend your work, not because of a quality issue, but instead because any given community will have more reservations about people who have outsider status.
Being an outsider is a very hard thing because it’s essential to the human experience to belong to a group of people who agree on many of the same topics, get excited about the same things, collaborate on projects and, yes, even share common foes. These things bring people together. Communities are good. But there is a sizable chunk of my online friends and political acquaintances who have found that they’ve lost much of their community. I’ll call them the “homeless conservatives.”
Now I find myself ideologically homeless after elex. I’ll never be a Dem. I can’t be a Trump Republican either. I’ll just…drift & observe.
— Jeff B/DDHQ (@EsotericCD) November 10, 2016
Due to my “Never Trump” stance last year, I’ve ended up with a Twitter bubble filled with generally right-leaning people who don’t seem to belong anywhere. I don’t know how big this group is in the larger world. It seems like a big group of conservatives to me because I like them and I’ve surrounded myself with them.
Labels are useless with this group. Some people in it have adopted the sort of “anti-anti-Trump” rhetoric that Charles Sykes describes here in which they don’t really like Trump, but they do like attacking his attackers and they like how angry he makes the left. But this label, while describing a true phenomenon, isn’t always very helpful. I’ve noted the limitations of this attitude (which is sometimes called “what-about-ism”) and had arguments with my friends about how dishonest it is to respond to every Trump scandal with an accusation of hypocrisy. Even though I’m fairly vocal about my dislike for this rhetorical tactic, I still get accused of it. Once you have a label for something, the label inevitably gets abused.
The fact is that many Never Trump types are professional class individuals and, as such, we’re surrounded by left-wing commentary in our social and professional circles. We see plenty of stupid on the left to be mocked and there is community in this mockery. I have a personal rule of thumb not to highlight the worst, most ridiculous people on the left, but then Keith Olbermann or Joss Whedon will get particularly (often hilariously) awful and it’s hard not to join in.
There is community in joining the mockery, there are jokes to be made, it is fun to point out the ridiculous. For many conservatives like myself, it is an outlet for venting about the overwhelming, myopic, shrill and often unfair criticism that gushes from our friends and colleagues in the professional class. I try very hard to dismiss and ignore the “fringe left” because there is little value in highlighting only the worst that the other side has to offer. But the truth is most of my view of the “fringe left” comes not from my right-wing friends highlighting bad actors on the left, but from my professional friends who are very much a part of a mainstream tech culture.
Being slightly on the right in many professional class cultures gets you tossed into the “Trump-lover” bucket. If you think that there is a free speech problem on campuses, that abortion is wrong, the religious freedoms should be protected, that government is more often the problem than the solution, that capitalism is better than the alternatives, if you think it’s hilarious that a “women only” event has to make an addendum that this includes all people who identify as women, you’re probably going to end up somewhere on the right side of the political spectrum.
Once you’re aligned with the right in any way, you’re going to be associated with the GOP. And, once you’re associated with the GOP, no matter how anti-Trump you have been, you’re going to be attacked by the left as part of Team Evil.
I voted for HRC. Said so on FNC. Will left GOP on account of DJT. If this is how she now speaks of NeverTrumpers, no wonder she fell short. https://t.co/I3CnMTvyyY
— Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT) May 26, 2017
You could think that Trump is a poison, a buffoon, a crass loudmouth who should never have gotten within spitting distance of the presidency. You could have opposed him forcefully in the primary, refused to vote for him in the general, and continue to oppose him when he does outrageous things as president … but none of that matters if you’re not on progressives’ side on every single issue. If you’re not fully with them on everything from single-payer health care to late term abortion, you’re as evil as any Trump flunky.
The Never Trump crowd did exactly what those on the left demanded. They bucked “their” party, refused to vote for “their” candidate, and have been critical of Trump from the get-go through to the election. But we are still regarded by the left as “pathetic.”
This dismissal brings us back to the concept of political tribes.
People need to belong somewhere. People need to feel that someone is listening and that they can converse with like-minded folk and join together in both frustration and laughter. When we’re being generous about this core human need, we call it a “community.” When we don’t like it, we call it a “tribe.”
A homeless conservative can’t belong to the liberal tribe. This isn’t necessarily because the homeless conservative despises liberals, although I’ll admit that many of us do. But it’s also because liberals (or at least a significant segment of the liberals who have tasked themselves with the ideological purity of their tribe) absolutely despise us.
“If there were any decent people left on the right, they would oppose Trump” we are told, to which a significant segment of us have said, “We oppose Trump, so we will join you.” The response from the left is “Shut the hell up and get the hell out of here.”
As just one example, we saw exactly this attitude when pro-life women who wanted to be part of a march protesting President Donald Trump were denounced and disinvited from the event.
“Please Commit Suicide, There Is No Afterlife”
This is why I call my group “homeless conservatives.” The left has called out to us with “come out from under that GOP tent, it’s crass and odious and you need to have the integrity of your conviction.” We have come out of the tent and into the rain. Some of us have sought entry into the Democrat tent, only to be told (often by the same people) that “No, you can’t come into this tent unless you give up the integrity of your other convictions.” In essence, they want us to live by integrity when it suits their purpose but they will not accept us into their tribe until we abandon the integrity that brought us there in the first place.
Being ideologically and politically homeless does not hurt me very much. It makes me a little sad. I used to be able to go to a right-wing meetup or conference and talk pretty happily with most of the people there. Now I speak cautiously at such events, knowing that there is a divide in the crowd between people who love Trump and people who despise him.
But that doesn’t impact my professional life or close personal social circle. It’s a hobby, not a career. I think the same can be said for many Never Trump types, since many of us are professional class folk who don’t work in the actual industry of politics. But it cannot be said for those who had dedicated themselves to making a difference in the GOP.
I think of people like Katrina Jorgensen, who resigned her position as the communications chair for the Young Republicans over Trump. She did exactly what liberals said they wanted her to do, and it cost her a job she had been fighting to earn for years. This sacrifice didn’t lead to a position working with a center-left organization or a nonprofit or to any job at all. It led to Katrina looking for work after giving up her hard-won network of professional contacts. It led to people on the right turning their backs because of her courage and people on the left turning their backs because of her politics.
The same happened to a friend who worked in right-wing political advocacy and became so disgusted with Trump that she started desperately looking for work outside the political industry. She’s a talented and hard-working project manager whose politics over the last two years have drifted from conservative to very middle-of-the-road. I tried to help her, talking to friends in my little corner of the tech industry about her hard work and how Trump’s rise had led her to disgust with her own team. My thought was that they would be glad to hear of people on the center-right abandoning Trump and smile at the idea of hiring good people out of that world, thereby starving the GOP of talent.
Instead I saw their faces sour at the idea of helping anyone who has ever been conservative. No matter how much she despised Trump, you could read their reaction: “She’s not part of our tribe, we don’t want her here.”
They Don’t Want Us To Talk. They Want Us To Die.
Remember this when you see people like Jeet Heer complain that the “GOP rallied to Trump.”
One crucial difference between USA & France is in France center right (Fillon) acted responsibly & endorsed Macron. GOP rallied to Trump.
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 7, 2017
— PoliMath (@politicalmath) May 7, 2017
What did he want them to do?
The answer, sadly, is he wanted them to starve. I suppose there’s an off chance that a few more GOP individuals or groups vocally opposing Trump would have made an electoral difference. That is a matter that we could debate. But that’s not what Heer and others on the left are after. They don’t want the good people in the GOP to speak up because that’s the right thing to do. They want them to speak up so they will be destroyed.
If the left wanted to truly defeat Trump, they would have had a two-step process: Step 1 would have been “call for Republicans of integrity to denounce Trump and abandon their tribe” and Step 2 would have been “make them welcome within our tribe.”
You can’t tell someone to abandon their community without offering them space within your community. You can’t tell them to burn their bridges without helping them erect other bridges.
If their goal was to dismantle Trump, they would encourage the left to open space for anti-Trump GOP to thrive within the Democrat party. But there is no room in the Democrat tent. Indeed, the left that clearly needs a bigger tent has instead occupied themselves with kicking other leftists out of the existing tent.
They want everyone in the GOP to commit career suicide and, the moment we do, people like Heer will sneer at us, mock us, laugh at our loss of career, loss of community, loss of opportunity. Having followed their advice, they will not offer a place for us to belong, but use us as an ongoing punching bag and continue to write manifestos about how to use the court system to destroy us.
They want the GOP tent to be smaller but refuse to make the Democrat tent any larger. It is a positively schizophrenic political attitude, but it’s one most Democrats have bought in to.
I suffer no consequences for opposing Trump, nor do many of those in my little sub-culture on Twitter. But there are many within the industry of politics who do. Organizations who opposed Trump have seen their donations dry up, individuals have watched careers collapse, firms dedicated to supporting a center-right agenda (including things like free speech, criminal justice reform, minority outreach, and even refugee support) have seen their support base dwindle and their businesses struggle. Websites that have built up a decade worth of followers on the right have struggled to maintain their reader base.
It takes no courage for those on the left to bash the center-right, to harangue those who opposed Trump because they “failed.” That’s what their readers want: to laugh and sneer and hate those in the other tribe, even conservatives who took huge risks to oppose the GOP presidential nominee. Unlike the “courage” of progressives who preach to the choir while maintaining their communities, many on the center-right dealt with real sacrifice and suffered real consequences for opposing Trump.
Giving up your tribe and your community is emotionally and personally hard. If your livelihood is tied to a network within your community, it means risking your career. Anyone who sneers casually that people should abandon their community is almost certainly someone who has never had to do so.