During my tenure as assistant opinions editor for The Pitt News in 2016, I wrote a scathing column about Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to Pitt after the College Republicans hosted him.
I was on the verge of apoplexy in this tirade — I was livid that this loud-mouthed charlatan who resembled Liberace in his bombast could just prance onto the stages of hundreds of college campuses across the country and co-opt conservatism to appeal to the politically weary.
Yiannopoulos — who referred to now-President Donald Trump as “daddy” and described him as the savior America needed to smash the establishment — is unabashed in his polemic, making odious claims deprecating Islam, feminists and Black Lives Matter, often met with thunderous applause, but also protest.
I was 19 at the time of Yiannopoulos’ visit, and while he was uncouth, I thought his iconoclasm was necessary. Were Americans becoming “snowflakes?” Were Yiannopoulos’ criticisms of the liberal elite that neglected working-class Americans fair? I grappled with both questions, all while supporting his right to ask them, no matter in what coarse fashion he chose. I gave him credit where I thought it was due.
Fast forward to November 2016 when Trump won the presidential election. The answers to the previous questions, in the eyes of a great deal of American voters, were “yes” and “certainly, yes.” Unlike most pundits and politicians, Yiannopoulos and Trump reached these aggrieved people. The “deplorables” wanted the change they had been promised for the past eight years, and the boisterous TV star was the key to achieving it.
And I began to sympathize. Trump brought little dignity to the most prized office in our government, and I predicted his presidency would be rife with political pageantry — which was a fair prediction, as his crude tweeting habit has demonstrated over and over. Yiannopoulos’ and Trump’s fan bases were simply fed up with the status quo, I used to tell myself. Their supporters don’t have malicious intentions — they just want someone to disrupt the system and force Republican leadership to grow a collective spine.
This logic followed me to the Trump era of 2017 as I became president of Pitt College Republicans, but it’s slowly disintegrated before me since then.
It’s been one year since Trump assumed office. While there has been much success, including tax reform and the appointment of pro-life Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, I witnessed the GOP morph into something I wasn’t comfortable with.
Whether Trump intended to make crude and bigoted behavior a normality or not, this became a reality. Amid the Confederate battle flags and anti-Muslim and anti-semitic banners at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, were “Trump/Pence” campaign signs.
After a white nationalist rally to end refugee resettlement in Tennessee, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations notes the state has experienced a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry since the election. People with alt-right sympathies would attend Pitt College Republicans meetings as if that would be the one location where such beliefs would be in good company — and if they expressed these sympathies, we’d often kick them out.
Before Trump initiated the immigration ban on six Muslim-majority countries, I visited my family in Syria — one of the banned countries — in October. I had the opportunity to meet my younger cousins who were born after my last visit before the civil war began. They barraged me with questions about America, and one of the questions I was asked perturbed me: “Why does your president hate us?”
I was never one to allow emotion to direct my political beliefs — as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” I agree. My cousin could have also asked why Barack Obama, who dropped more than 26,171 bombs on seven majority-Muslim countries including Syria, hates him.
Yet I was compelled to do some soul-searching. The difference here is, I would’ve held Obama accountable for his deed. And this past year has been a lesson in humility — whether I like it or not, trying to harmonize my conservative values with this presidency is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
I don’t fit into the GOP in 2018. Republicans called me an elitist when I insisted that perhaps conservative student groups should reject the likes of Turning Point USA, and instead read conservative stalwarts such as Roger Scruton or Edmund Burke. Republicans called me a RINO — Republican in name only — for distancing myself in 2018 from the GOP and the College Republicans chapter that I served in for over three years due to discomfort with the hypocrisy within the party.
If I’m an elitist RINO, so be it.
I’m 21 now, and will soon graduate from college. In the time between when Trump proved himself a serious contender for president and now, my outlook has changed. I realized the world that I’m soon entering harbors many people that I share a party affiliation with but who are despicable human beings. Republicans love to laud Judeo-Christian values, so let’s start criticizing Trump for talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Through a prolonged identity evolution catalyzed by the 2016 election, I learned distancing myself from a party and its politicians severs my allegiance to it, allowing me to focus on principle. And America could use a good dose of it in the coming years.
Marlo is a former Assistant Opinions Editor of The Pitt News.