When I turned 18 and was looking forward to voting in my first presidential election, my father gave me a bit of advice: “Don’t ever tell anyone who you are voting for.” I smiled politely, the way teenagers do when they think their parents have no idea what they’re talking about. Of course, I didn’t take his advice. I told anyone who would listen that I was voting not for Reagan or Carter, but for John Anderson. And then I learned a valuable lesson: My father was right.
This place used to be a Republican stronghold. Our county was part of a very strong, powerful Republican machine that loomed over us like a monster. You wanted a job, you had to register as Republican. Wanted a favor? Register Republican. So telling people you were voting for John Anderson was like wearing my teenage rebel idiocy on my sleeve. No adult took me seriously. Instead, they took me aside and lectured me on the virtues of voting party line.
That was my first experience in dealing with people judging you over your politics. I was branded a liberal, a hippie, a free thinker who was going to be the ruin of this country. But I was 18, I wanted to be those things. I wanted to be an outsider. And I really didn’t care what most adults thought of me.
It wasn’t until many years later that I found out people will not just chastise you for your political beliefs, but they would literally cut you off from their lives. I saw it happen in 2004. People who had been friends for years were parting ways over the election. I was dumbfounded. Here were people who forged friendships even though they had different ideals — their views on religion, abortion, taxes, guns were completely different, they had maintained a friendship through all that, and suddenly, a vote for a president tore them apart.
I lost a good friend in 2004. I lost touch with some interesting acquaintances, too. We had shared interests that kept us together. We had kids the same age. We watched the same television shows. We loved the same foods and listened to the same bands. Superficial things, but enough to form a friendship over. But it all fell apart. I could understand why people would question the way I was voting. I could understand their trying to talk me out of it, even. What I couldn’t understand was the way they used our friendship as a threat: Either I vote their way, or it was over.
It was over.
And so it goes. I’m seeing it now. I’m feeling it now. The look of disdain when I say, against my father’s advice, who I am voting for. The eye roll, the disbelief, the “how could you?” lecture. I feel people slowly backing away from me after, of course, telling me all the reasons that I was insulting them by voting against their candidate.