Moral Low Ground

US Government

The Terrible Things I Believed When I Was a Republican

The author, holding his brother-in-law's AR-15 and wearing a T-shirt reading: "KILL 'EM ALL AND LET ALLAH SORT 'EM OUT"

The author, holding his brother-in-law’s AR-15 and wearing a T-shirt reading: “KILL ‘EM ALL AND LET ALLAH SORT ‘EM OUT”

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the completion of the greatest personal transformation of my life, the end of my journey from the Reagan conservatism of my youth to the humanist pacifism I espouse today.

Many factors influenced this transformation. World travel, interacting with friends and lovers from different countries and cultures, the horrific crimes of the Bush administration (the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in May 2004) and a studious embrace of the truth as expressed by the likes of Zinn, Chomsky and others gently nudged– and sometimes rudely shoved– me in the right, or I should say ‘left’, direction.

I briefly dabbled as a Democrat, but Ralph Nader taught me that there really isn’t much difference, they’re all “Republicrat” corporate lackeys at the end of the day.

And so it was that I largely leapfrogged from Republican to social democrat in a relatively brief period, going from wishing that it was some country, not terrorists, responsible for 9/11 so I could see mushroom clouds over the Middle East, to rejecting nearly all violence at all times.

Like most conservatives, I harbored awful notions about the world around me and the people in it. These were the truths I held to be self-evident, the programming I’d received in classrooms, around the family dinner table and in the media and entertainment I mindlessly consumed in my youth. Fortunately, I’ve been able to de-program myself through constant study and exploration, both of self and of the world around me.

When I was a Republican, I…

-Would cry during the national anthem and give thanks that I was so lucky to be a citizen of the greatest nation in human history.

-Believed that peace is weakness, and that those who promoted peaceful solutions were spineless pussies. I also instinctively dismissed dissent as anti-Americanism. The only ‘peace’ I believed in was peace through superior firepower. I embraced violence as a solution.

-Regularly berated foreigners to their faces, including close friends and girlfriends, for not adequately worshipping America’s greatness, because I knew in my bones that the USA was the greatest force for good the world has ever known, using its unrivaled power selflessly for the benefit of all.

-Truly believed that one American life was worth 10 or 100 foreign lives, depending on their nationality. After natural or other disasters claimed large numbers of foreigners, I would change the channel and think, “well, at least they’re just foreigners.”

-Wore my nationality on my sleeve– not to mention my t-shirts, hats, shorts, underwear, socks and shoes– while traveling abroad, falsely believing everyone everywhere viewed Americans as the most awesome people on earth and that girls would want to fuck me just because I lived Florida. I also believed the world owed America an enormous debt for saving the world from fascism, and then communism.

-Was absolutely fascinated by war and was thrilled when Bush invaded Iraq in 1991. I couldn’t wait to see images of dead “ragheads” and destroyed “sand nigger” cities, and felt thoroughly disappointed and robbed when a media blackout was declared.

-Called Arabs and, ignorantly, all Middle Easterners “camel jockeys,” “ragheads” and “sand niggers,” even after meeting my best friend, a Moroccan, in college. After calling him a “sand nigger,” he wittily retorted that I was a “dumb nigger.”

-Believed it was impossible for US troops, as upstanding representatives of the most moral nation to ever exist, to commit atrocities during war, and that if we did make mistakes, they paled in comparison to what other countries did, and that innocent civilians killed in America’s wars were more or less getting what they had coming.

-Was a Jew who believed that “God”, who I wasn’t quite sure existed even as an 8-year-old, had promised “His Chosen People” Israel, and that the Palestinian people did not exist and should be crushed like the terrorist vermin they are.

-Believed the Vietnam war, which had recently ended, wasn’t a “war” at all, and that it had ended in a “tie.”

-Really believed the Cold War was all Russia’s fault, and that the USSR was hell-bent on invading and conquering America and destroying our freedom. I bought into the whole Soviet-Cuba-Nicaragua invasion scenario in “Red Dawn,” which I considered more of a cautionary documentary than the ludicrous ‘B’ movie it was.

-Had an old WWII Life magazine photo of a Japanese soldier being burned to death by an American GI with a flamethrower on my college dorm room wall next to a poster of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Both images made me giddy.

-Worshipped guns and spent hours drawing them during class, and believed it was “better to have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it.”

-Believed that Mexicans were dirty “wetbacks” here to steal American jobs and commit crime, even though I am half Mexican.

-Was sometimes a bit ashamed to be half black, in fact I’d say I was “brown,” and I believed many blacks were lazy, dirty, stupid people prone to criminality who couldn’t speak proper English. I locked my doors and rolled up my windows when driving through predominantly black neighborhoods, just like I learned from my white adoptive mother and stepdad.

-Was sure that racism was all in the minds of those who claimed to suffer from it and that blacks complaining of racism needed to “get over it” and move on, being grateful that they lived in America instead of Africa.

-Believed that the poor were to blame for their own pitiful predicament because in the USA, greatest country in the world and land of opportunity, anyone who worked hard enough could make a decent living if they tried.

-Worshipped Ronald Reagan and his “trickle down” economics, despite the lack of any evidence that “trickle down” worked.

-Believed women wouldn’t have to cry so much about equal pay, which they didn’t really deserve because they got so much free stuff from men anyway, if they would just stop bitching and moaning and find husbands to take care of them.

-Believed that some women deserved to be raped because of the clothes they wore or the way they acted.

-Was rabidly homophobic and believed gays were predatory pedophiles. “Gay” was synonymous with uncool.

-Was an ardent supporter of capital punishment and believed it was impossible that the death penalty was racist or that innocent men had been executed in perfect America. While in college, I’d celebrate when they fired up “Old Sparky,” Florida’s electric chair (I lived in Florida for six years), and I found it absolutely hilarious when heads would catch fire during repeatedly botched executions.

-Reveled in harming animals. I blew up small fish in buckets with firecrackers, jammed bottle rockets down frogs’ throats and cackled like an idiot when they exploded in mid-air. I shot birds dead inside a bird sanctuary. I drew the line at mammals.

-Dumped my used motor oil into the creek behind my house, believing that nothing humans could do to the earth would have any serious negative impact on such a resilient planet.

-Left the water running while I brushed my teeth, turned the heat way up in the winter and the air conditioner way down in the summer, because America will never run out of natural resources, and if we did, we could just invade another country to take theirs.

-Believed that the highly processed foods (mostly of the junk variety) I was eating were the best in the world. I sneered at anything “organic” as “fag food” and believed that men ate meat and vegetarianism and veganism were for girls, pussies and “faggots.”

-Was vaguely aware that something called “drugs” existed, but believed that they were the worst thing you could do and that those who did them were criminals who should have their heads examined or be jailed for years.

-Viewed San Francisco as a cesspool of “hippies” and “faggots” and vowed never to set foot there, a pledge I kept for more than 20 years.

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9 Comments

  1. Lindsay ManzellaMay 7, 2014 at 12:40 pmReply

    Wow, Brett! What a complete transformation. If I didn’t know you I would say that someone with those beliefs could never even come to the middle, let alone the “far left.” So, I guess world travel is the first step towards change? This is why I can understand anyone who says they don’t want to travel and see the world, that we have everything here in the U.S. you could need.

    • Brett WilkinsMay 7, 2014 at 12:47 pmReplyAuthor

      There was a time when I was like, “why go to Paris when there’s a France exhibition at Epcot Center?” The funny thing is even after I started traveling, I would still only notice things like how small the cars were, how old the houses were and how relatively little consumer choice existed, and use those criteria to reinforce my notion that the USA was by far the best. I guess I should “thank” the Bush administration– its heinous crimes against humanity were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

  2. Lindsay ManzellaMay 7, 2014 at 11:33 pmReply

    True, with the wrong mindset travel can reinforce certain stereotypes.

  3. MaxieMay 8, 2014 at 7:51 amReply

    This is why I believe strongly in travel and education, and resding. All are important to expanding one’s mind and understanding how the other half lives, thinks.

    Not everybody can travel to another country or state, but everyone has access to books. Education is vitally important. I am glad you have seen the error of your ways

    • Brett WilkinsMay 8, 2014 at 10:32 amReplyAuthor

      You would be surprised how many people I know who eschew international travel and education. Can you guess their political views?

  4. EDpeakMay 13, 2014 at 9:36 pmReply

    Sounds inspiring..but also a bit like a troll….A Jewish African American who used the “N” word (“Sand Nigger”)? Another part that sounds like a troll is near the end where you put your right-wing days as being typified by “rejecting” all drugs…in reality, there is a HUGE percentage of right wingers who take illegal drugs (putting aside that ones that abuse legal drugs) and think hey, it’s just for them, they are responsible, while at the same time the hypocrisy that if others used drugs, “throw the key away” as you lock then in jail (personally I’m leftist and avoid all drugs)

    but the fact is that’s equally if not more typical (“war on drugs for others, but a little drugs on the side for me is ok”) versus what you describe as less typical.

    Again you’re not only a Jewish African American (rare but very very much posssible) but also used the N word?

    If you’re not a troll, well thanks…but 100 times more interesting to me than the list of what you used to believe include:

    1) WHY you were able to believe immoral, and self-contradictory things (“lack of information” covers only some of them, not the immorality and self-contradiction)

    2) what really woke you up.

    Even if you’re a troll I wish you a good life, and if you’re for real, the same too of course.

    • Brett WilkinsMay 13, 2014 at 10:55 pmReplyAuthor

      Before I answer your questions, let me be clear– I don’t think those things I believed are things all conservatives believe. But I know many of them do, because I was once one, and I associated with other like-minded individuals all the way through college.

      Now, to answer your questions:

      1- I never identified as “African American” growing up. Whenever kids would call me “nigger” or other racist names, my mother told me, “you’re not black, you’re brown.” I always eschewed hyphenations, and I still do. I am not “African American,” I am American. I have nothing in common with Africa, nor Mexico, even though I am half black and half Mexican. In my more mindless patriot days, I believed in 2 types of people– Americans, and everyone else. The former were, if conforming to what I believed a “good American” should be, worth infinitely more than the latter.

      I immersed myself in learning about the world from a very young age. By 10, I could name the capitals of most countries. I was particularly interested in the USSR. Remember, this was during the Cold War. I steeped myself in Reagan-inspired flag-waving frenzied hyper-patriotism and despised liberals as “enemies of America.”

      I was also a boy growing up in a rural environment. I suspect it’s normal for boys to want to experiment with killing animals.The old “killing ants with a magnifying glass” trick comes to mind, but I never tried that one, probably because we did not own a magnifying glass. My father, a gentle man, was certainly not shocked by my behavior, although he used to shake his head and tell me that one day I’d respect life. That happened for animals in my teens, but not for people until much later.

      Growing up, boys love violent action and war movies. I was no exception. I wanted to see the things that happened in my favorite movies happen in real life. Constant exposure to violence, even in entertainment, does affect the mind. I did not understand that war was not a movie. Heck, I don’t think adults who haven’t been to war can even understand what it’s about on a visceral level.

      2- World travel, including to places bombed by the US. Reading. Two books in particular were very powerful– Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” and Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival.” That, and let’s not forget we’re talking 2003 and 2004 here, and the Bush war/torture machine was really accelerating. I was still a bit on the fence when Iraq was invaded in ’03. Part of me was still giddy at the prospect of “Shock and Awe.” I remember watching it on CNN in Brazil, wide-eyed and my Brazilian friends wondering what the hell was wrong with me. But the more I studied the war and its genesis, the more I became convinced it was all a premeditated crime. (See: “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” by Project For A New American Century)

  5. wildMay 17, 2014 at 6:11 amReply

    By definition, I don’t think you can be considered a troll…of your own blog!

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsMay 20, 2014 at 9:26 amReplyAuthor

      I was thinking that too… to be honest, I’m not exactly an expert on all these new Internet terms.

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