26 April 2021
We’ve all got that one friend we’re a little nervous about introducing to new people. They’ll say the wrong thing in front of your parents. They’ll be overbearing with your friends. At a low-key dinner, they’ll be the only one who fails to read the room and gets drunk. Whatever it is, they just don’t gel with anyone. Except for you.
Mine is called Riley*. Riley is twenty-two years old, from Florida, and has the typical beach girl tan, blond hair, and Summer body all year round. She is a freelance writer and personal trainer; a job she loves because it allows her to help people achieve their goals. She is also an unashamed Donald Trump supporter.
I met Riley on Instagram while doing research for an article on female Donald Trump supporters. I’d been excited about the Women for Trump story because they’re such contradictions- their very existence challenges our black and white (or should I say red and blue?) comprehension of politics. At the very least, I thought that if I could pin one down I’d come away with some wacky quotes to show my friends.
That was the other thing; I was becoming increasingly aware that I was living in a political bubble, within which every one of my friends and family members shared very similar life experiences, beliefs and political views. Some of the things we agree on include: climate change, LGBTQI issues, diet culture, multiculturalism and the migrant experience, Centrelink, university education, pet adoption, what makes a restaurant good or bad, Keep Cups, Britney Spears’ conservatorship, and the superiority of Samantha of the SATC girls.
For the most part, it’s nice to be around likeminded people. But if you’re not careful, you’ll start believing that your little bubble is representative of wider society. When the Liberal party won the 2019 Federal Election, a friend told me she couldn’t believe it because, in her words, “Everyone I talk to feels the same way as I do about Scott Morrison!”
So when I came across the profile of an attractive, happy, and normal young woman under the hashtag Women for Trump, I sent her a DM. I’d messaged dozens of random women on social media who had a connection to the Women for Trump movement, but Riley was the first to respond to my request for an interview. “Hey Joanna, thanks for reaching out!” she replied, “I would love to!”
I loved her a little already- she’d just saved my project from flopping. But somehow it turned into more.
“She’s not at all what you’d expect for a Trump supporter. She’s actually been so nice to me,” I bragged to friends as the two of us messaged back and forth arranging logistics of the interview.
“She’s so normal!” I told my Mum. “She’s not a nutcase like the other one.” (By this stage I’d found a number of women to interview).
And after Riley answered my questions with generous detail, I concluded that she was “actually really sweet,” to bemused responses.
And she was. I’d been as polite and impartial as possible to all the women I spoke to, reasoning that if I betrayed any hostility I’d be blocked immediately. But Riley took me at my word; that as an Australian I was simply interested to learn more about Americans’ views on Donald Trump. She actually thanked me for letting her share her thoughts with us.
Which made me feel like shit. What I was doing wasn’t exactly a bait and switch – I was upfront about who I was and what the interviews were for, and none of the women’s answers were misrepresented. But I was pretty sure the article wouldn’t show Trump or his supporters in a flattering light.
Because of our sort of e-friendship, I started to feel awkward about other things too. When I made a joke about Donald Trump in another article, I agonised over whether I should delete it on the off chance she would one day read it. Imagine how hurt, and silly she’d feel if she discovered I’d been leading her on this whole time?
Later, I learned details of the 4th January storming of Congress by the MAGA crowd. Apparently, alongside the usual red hats and general bigots there were a number of participants wearing the slogan “6MWE.”
6 Million Wasn’t Enough.
I felt appalled at myself. I’d gone to so much effort not to judge Trump’s supporters that I’d stopped using judgement at all. I hadn’t been challenging them with my questions. I’d just been encouraging them.
I quickly sent a follow up questions to all of the interviewees. It read::
People who attended both the Trump rally and stormed Congress were seen wearing slogans promoting the holocaust. What are your thoughts on this, in light of Donald Trump’s public refusal to disavow white supremacist groups?
But I didn’t send it to Riley. What if it offended her?
I haven’t spoken to Riley in months now. But this morning I re-read her interview in full (her answers went for pages, and I’d ended up only using a select few quotes for the story.) And the further I read, the more embarrassed I became.
The rapture. One World Order. England’s secret control of the US. False Flag Operations conducted by Antifa and BLM. The Covid hoax. Donald Trump’s rightful place as leader after the new world order. Lock Her Up.
In short; when someone shows you who they are, believe them.
I don’t know if Riley is a bad person or not. I don’t really know her at all. I still believe that people aren’t just black and white, and that a person can hold abhorrent views while demonstrating kindness in other aspects of their life. But I do know that I am not the right person to be friends with them!
It turns out that my instinct to humanise and empathise with people (and let’s be real, probably just a need to be liked) is stronger than my instinct to call out wrongs when they’re happening. And that is not a good trait.
Because people who support ideologies and voice opinions that are harmful deserve to be judged. Staying silent isn’t necessarily being neutral if they interpret it as agreement or validation. And social awkwardness, or embarrassment, or the risk of causing offence should in no way outweigh the importance of calling people on their shit.
So sorry Riley; it’s not me, it’s you.
Besides, I’m way too busy with the new friends I met researching my Covid deniers article.
Girls’ Locker Room Talk: art, articles and entertainment by women, for women (and everyone else)