The Open Mind is a new series encouraging students to think of a time they’ve changed their opinion on a fundamental issue. In an era where views seem more polarised than ever, ‘The Open Mind’ demonstrates that critical thinking, flexibility and a preparedness to have one’s prejudices challenged remain strong and important.
“Raise your hand if you like Donald Trump.” This was how the politics professor opened his introductory talk at Warwick’s Autumn Open Day in 2018. Of the 150 people in the lecture hall, one 16-year-old boy put his hand up. That boy was me.
No, I didn’t just like Donald Trump. I thought he was one of the greatest US Presidents of the last century. You see, I respected Trump for his exceptional ability “to own the libs”. My stance at the time was an unequivocal distaste for the leftists who wanted to tear Western countries down with their ever-expanding governments. As a libertarian, I saw this as a great threat to our liberties.
Trump was seen as the figurehead of the Right’s counter movement against the progressive trend. He gave us hope for a better world; a world where we don’t need to “own libs” anymore; a world where all we need to own are our unalienable natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I loved the guy so much that fan made motivational videos of Trump used to make me tear up, I am embarrassed to admit.
My stance at the time was an unequivocal distaste for the leftists who wanted to tear Western countries down with their ever-expanding governments
So how did I become so invested in such a public figure, and why did that change?
Social media is a powerful tool, as Trump knows. He knows the power of influencing the people directly through speaking to them on Twitter. I was one of these people who was influenced this way and I got hooked. Although I hardly checked Trump’s Twitter myself, I was absorbing all the mainstream right-wing propaganda there was on YouTube.
The four horsemen of the modern mainstream right – Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk – I watched all of them and their channels daily. They repeated the same points over and over, and I accepted them without even questioning them. Shapiro said that despite not voting for Trump in 2016, he definitely would in 2020 and everyone should too since he was America’s last hope. The entire right-wing media repeated variations of this point. An image was thus painted of Trump as the ultimate fighter against evil – he became the general of an army of right-wing voters and many of them, like me, took his words as orders without hesitation.
However, soon, I started to think again. He and his supporters talked the talk, but did they really walk the walk? After all, did Trump, a populist opportunist, really match up to my libertarian beliefs? If Trump was such a defender of freedom, then why did he violate the 2nd Amendment by banning bump stocks? Why does he say that America should punish flag burning with imprisonment? Suddenly, by asking these questions, I started to see that this ‘freedom fighter’ was not much different to what he sought to defeat
This made me realise that the world is not simply two sides, left and right, or black and white
After this revelation, my soldier mindset began to fade. I started looking in depth into libertarian related political philosophy (such as the works of Nozick, Hayek or Mill) which made me much more precise in my convictions. And as it turned out, my libertarianism was (and still is) far from Trump’s ‘America First’ ideology. The President would never care about why the minimal state is the only state that could be morally justified or the utilitarian values of free speech. This made me realise that the world is not simply two sides, left and right, or black and white. That there are many shades of grey between the two, of which I was one.
I was neither Louder with Crowder nor part of AOC’s Resistance. I realised that Trump was as much a saviour of liberty as the establishment Democrats he competed against. He packed the judiciary with people who believe that women have no right over their own bodies, and even before Covid-19 he continued the trend of giving America crippling increases to its national debt. Yet all this time he was supposed to be the one rolling back the frontiers of the state?
I’m not sure how 16-year-old me would’ve reacted were a time traveller to tell him that in two years’ time, he would return to this beautiful campus with Trump no longer as his main man. He would have been grateful that his future self was studying Warwick, but would be puzzled as to what betrayed such a core part of his belief system. But people change over time – our views on life become more sophisticated and so sometimes our value judgements need updating. Let’s allow our brains to do these updates. What’s the point of having a mind capable of free thinking if you don’t open it up to freedom?