I didn’t, at least not at first.
For the entire 2016 election, I despised the man. I did not vote for him, and if you’d told me three years ago that I would be writing this answer, I would have doubted your sanity.
But, I digress. We’ll come to that in due time.
My journey to the right wing began the day after Trump became president-elect of the United States. I’ll be one hundred percent honest with you: I was freaking out that night, same as everyone else. Like many Americans, I was still foolish enough to take what the media says—not just about Trump, but about Republicans and conservatives in general—at face value. I hadn’t realized just how biased they were or how truly skewed my perspective was, but I was about to.
The first real seeds of doubt were sown the morning after the election was over. Like many, I woke up that with the stomach-churning certainty that everything I’d thought, been taught and believed in for more than a year was lying at my feet in a thousand pieces. I’m no pundit or pollster, but if I’d been one of the countless reporters or “experts” who’d predicted a Clinton victory with such confidence, I would have felt obligated to do some serious self-reflection after being proven so utterly, utterly wrong. But as soon as I rolled out of bed and started reading the headlines, it seemed as though the media outlets were less interested in learning from their mistakes than they were in being hysterical over the election’s outcome or being bitter toward those who proved them wrong. There were some exceptions here and there, but not many.
And then there was this:
I still remember how disgusted I felt at the riots that wracked major U.S. cities in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory. I was absolutely disgusted. I didn’t have a problem with people protesting, not at all, but it struck me as profoundly hypocritical to engage in this kind of senseless behavior after saying for more than a year that Trump supporters would do the same thing when their candidate lost.
When black-clad thugs stormed Berkeley not long afterward, the same was true. The only news network that seemed to cover these ugly incidents with the kind of condemnation they deserved was Fox. I didn’t have much use for Fox at the time—and I often still don’t, and I was deeply disturbed that many major American news outlets seemed dismissive or even supportive of it. The argument I heard repeated over and over to justify this kind of ugliness was even more of a turn-off. I found the conflation of hate speech and free speech politically ignorant, morally repugnant and potentially even dangerous. I read these arguments with as open a mind as I could muster, but I was, to say the least, unconvinced. If anything, I came away more firmly convinced than ever that hate speech is just one of those things we have to put up with in order to live in a free society. Everyone, even the bigots, gets to have their say. And is it not better to have such vile ideas aired in the open, in the public forum, so they can be discredited for all to see? Driving it underground, by contrast, only runs the very real risk of making stronger by making it appear edgy and rebellious.
Then there began the long and still-ongoing litany of media fumbles, embarrassments, public scandals and gross errors. When Donald Trump first called the media “fake news,” I cringed. “There’s no way that’s true!” I thought angrily. “That’s all hyperbole and fear-mongering!”
I could understand if the media’s zeal to keep the president—any president—in check led to a handful of mistakes or fumbles. But this? Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, four times, even five or six times, I could give them the benefit of the doubt. But after the twentieth time, or the thirtieth time, it became hard to convince me that the media was really as pure as driven snow. What seemed at first like enthusiasm to do its duty to hold power accountable now seemed more like a political crusade by a hyper-partisan media industry that also bent over backwards to paint Democrats in a positive light. Indeed, the deeper I dove into the information seas, the more my indignation grew. In time, I grew to believe—and still do—that the media is more repulsive than Donald Trump will ever be
I was absolutely sickened. Even Trump at his worst had never made me feel so disgusted.
The arrogance of the press, their refusal to learn from their growing number of mistakes and their increasingly naked hatred of Republicans over the span of more than ten years led me to one conclusion: that the press was indeed extremely biased in favor of the Democrats. I didn’t want to draw that conclusion. In fact, I would have been happy not to. But I had to examine the evidence and the evidence showed me that my perception of the media throughout the 2016 election had been factually and conclusively incorrect. And so I began to wonder: if that was true, then what else had I been wrong about? I realized that if I could no longer trust what the media was telling me now, then the next logical step was to re-examine my political opinions and perceptions over the past several years. Almost all of those opinions had been shaped and molded from consuming mainstream media sources, and I had a growing, sinking feeling that my views weren’t as well-rounded as I’d once thought. This would not do if I wanted to be an informed citizen.
The first thing I did was to start compiling a new list of sources. I discarded my membership with the New York Times and resolved not to read or watch any other mainstream news outlets if I could help it. I also resolved to do something that I hadn’t done during the election season, something that too many Americans still haven’t done: I would talk to Trump supporters. Instead of shunning them, I deliberately sought them out. It was difficult, at first. Many of those who voted for Trump did so only in secret, because they feared being ostracized by friends and family. But gradually, I was able to coax some of them into opening up about why they voted for our 45th president, and once they began talking, they did not stop. They were so happy that I was willing to listen rather than judge that my little experiment went on for weeks rather than just a few days.
Talking to Trump supporters overturned everything I thought I knew about them. Were some of them racists or bigots? A few were, yes, but the vast majority were not the frothing-at-the-mouth brainwashed zealots I’d been led to believe they were. I met women who voted for him, and not just white women either. Black women voted for him because he promised to clean up the inner cities, where too many communities of African Americans live below the poverty line. I met with Hispanic women, many of them immigrants who’d entered America legally, who voted for him because of his promise to crack down on illegal immigration. To them, it was deeply offensive to see illegal migrants being coddled and given handouts while they waited months or years to gain legal entry to the United States. For many Hispanic men who voted for Trump, the same was true. One by one, every stereotype, every preconceived notion I’d ever had of these people, was systematically destroyed. But more than anything, Not only were they easy to understand, I actually—heavily!—empathized with them.
And while I was engaging with Trump supporters, I began drowning myself in data, statistics and as many different alternative media sources as I could get my hands on. I took every Democratic and liberal stance on every hot-button issue you’d care to name and put it under the microscope to see if it held up to scrutiny. Abortion, illegal immigration, taxes, guns, you name it. I started fresh, compiled as much information as I could, and then sifted through it to see if my old opinions remained unchanged.
But did becoming a conservative mean supporting Donald Trump? Here, too, I had to re-examine everything I had once been sure of.
I began by watching recordings of some of Trump’s rallies, beginning with the day he announced his candidacy. I expected to hear him make the now-infamous remark about Mexicans being rapists, but when he did, I realized that he’d been taken completely out of context. He was referring to illegal immigrants, not those who waited and stood in line like everybody else. That irked me, but I wasn’t willing to concede the point just yet. I looked up crime statistics to see if illegal immigrants really do commit more crimes on average than American citizens, and to my surprised, I found out they did. I double-checked the data, but it held up no matter how ferocious my scrutiny became.
By the end of 2017, I found myself gradually warming to the president despite my reservations. He hadn’t torn up NATO—in fact, it’s about $100 billion stronger now than it was in 2016. I couldn’t help but cheer his utter contempt for political correctness, and I even had to admire his efforts to keep his campaign promises. Sometimes it didn’t work out, but you couldn’t say he didn’t try. As 2018 dawned, President Trump seemed to start finding his stride, and he began hitting the bulls-eye on many of the issues that mattered to me. Tougher stance against China and Russia and Iran? Check. I was nervous at first about his stance toward North Korea, but his willingness to walk away on two separate occasions has been reassuring. I didn’t and still don’t think anything will come of that, but as Churchill said, it’s better to jaw-jaw than war-war. The economy began to really pick up steam, the military budget was bolstered, immigration rules were being enforced, and for all the media’s cries of executive overreach or authoritarian tendencies, Trump made no effort to silence his critics. And so, the end of 2018, I weighed my options, looked at the results, and concluded that backing Trump might not be such a bad idea after all.
This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely comfortable with Trump’s foibles and gaffes. I’m not. His boorishness aside, I also dislike the messiness and immorality of his private life. Donald Trump does not share my personal values, nor is he someone that Christians should look to as an example of personal behavior. So why do so many of us back him?
We back him because even though he doesn’t share our morals, he doesn’t try to infringe upon them, or force us to share his own. That’s more than can be said for the Democrats, who have already shown the opposite. For Democrats, their way is the only way, and and it’s not enough for them if you say that they’re right. You must also apologize on bended knee for being so wrong. And every time President Trump says something outlandish or exaggerated or outright untrue, every time he does something that rubs me the wrong way or implements a policy I don’t like, his opponents play a game of “hold my beer and watch this.”
But in a larger sense, the reasons I eventually decided to back Trump after becoming a conservative are rather straightforward: he’s implementing conservative policies reasonably well and at this stage there isn’t really anyone on the right who could provide a viable alternative.