The Crocodile Tears of Conservatives

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Young liberals are skeptical of the GOP, a new Generation Lab/Axios poll has found: 37 percent of Democratic college students said they wouldn’t befriend a Republican; only 5 percent of Republicans said the same about a Democrat. Introduce romance, and the numbers are even more skewed: “71 percent of Democrats wouldn’t go on a date with someone with opposing views, versus 31 percent of Republicans,” Axios reported. People are concerned. “This doesn’t bode well,” tweeted Sarah Isgur, an ABC News contributor and staff writer for The Dispatch, a conservative website. Isgur is right. The country is sick, but she’s partly to blame.

Prior to her career as a legal commentator, Isgur served in the Trump administration and not in a low-level position. As the spokesperson for the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions, she defended family separations at the southern border. When CNN attempted to hire her as a political editor, journalists and liberal activists alike raised an uproar — some over fears she could never be politically neutral, others over her actual record of cruelty. When conservatives like Isgur bemoan polarization, their lofty rhetoric conceals their role in pulling the country apart.

The results of the Generation Lab/Axios poll are in line with earlier data about U.S. polarization, which has been growing for decades, but under Donald Trump, it eclipsed that of previous administrations. In April 2020, Pew Research reported that 71 percent of single Democrats “probably or definitely” wouldn’t consider a romantic relationship with a Trump voter. That wouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the country’s overall polarization. Gallup reported in January 2020 that 82 percentage points “separated Republicans’ (89 percent) and Democrats’ (7 percent) average job-approval ratings of President Donald Trump during his third year in office,” a historical high. “Trump’s first year also ranks among the ten most polarized years, along with the last five years of Barack Obama’s presidency and several of George W. Bush’s years in office,” the report continued.

Trump, the Washington Post concluded in 2021, “was among the least positively viewed presidents in modern history thanks to the opposition of Democrats and most independents,” while Republicans overwhelmingly supported him. The GOP has moved so far to the right with such speed that Democrats have little choice but to reexamine their own relationship to the other party in power. In such extreme times, what’s a young liberal to do? In a tweeted response to Isgur, Andrew Follett of the Club for Growth singled out liberal dating preferences as “probably the most terrifying bit” of the Generation Lab/Axios poll. That fear betrays a belief in a far more troubling possibility — that liberals would set politics aside to pursue romantic relationships with their conservative peers.

Due in part to the careers of Republicans like Isgur, bipartisan relationships are more fraught, if indeed they were ever advisable at all. Such unions hark back to an earlier age in Washington when the roots of Trumpism flourished within the GOP and Democrats preferred not to notice. Some feel nostalgia for that age; that’s evident in every lament for the bygone civility of Capitol Hill. That age is now beyond recovery. There is only a post-Trump present, and young liberals are coping with it. With few exceptions, loving a Republican means loving someone who voted for Trump, twice, despite the racism and the COVID denial and the credible sexual-assault allegations. Even befriending a Republican involves a certain amount of tolerance, and tolerance is not always a virtue, as conservatives themselves have argued for decades.

Tolerance is possible only when a certain political equilibrium exists. That balance is nonexistent and will remain so as long as the GOP and the broader conservative movement cling to a set of invasive, exclusionary principles. As Isgur and other veterans of the Trump administration set out on their new careers, they owe much to our collective willingness to look the other way. They want impunity for themselves in public and in private. If young liberals are unwilling to give it to them and their supporters, that’s a good sign for the future.

The Crocodile Tears of Conservatives