It’s 2017 and I’m dating, which means some of it is online. As an English major and general lover of language, I enjoy reading profiles—mining them for subtext and using patterns to identify red-flag words and phrases. For example, “Just livin’ and lovin’ life!” means I’m an adult woman who wears cargo shorts every day, and “Looking for my soul mate, but just friendship right now, with the possibility of more later, no promises” means I’m not really gay but I’ve had bad luck with men.
Trends begin to emerge. It’s convention to state your Myers-Briggs personality type, your openness to monogamy–and, most recently, your stance on Trump. On Okcupid it looks like a condition for initial contact, and on swipe-based apps like Bumble, it looks like the instruction to keep on swiping. Some people treat Trump like the Babadook and couch the warning in euphemism, but it all means the same thing: the hand that cast a ballot for Trump will never touch this body.
This didn’t happen during the Romney/Ryan ’12 era. This is sea change, and it has nothing to do with politics.
A few months ago, Sean Hannity, deranged FOX commentator (and, because irony is dead, the founder of a now-defunct conservatives-only dating website called “Hannidate”), went on air to complain about an article he’d read detailing a trend of women refusing to date or sleep with Trump voters.
HANNITY: OK so there apparently Donald Trump according to the Sacramento Bee is saying people will ask straight up do you vote for or do you support Trump. And if you did boom, that’s it.
HOPKINS: You’re off.
HANNITY: You’re off. Trump voters please swipe left and go to your room and think about what you have done on Tinder. I mean where is this hatred coming from? Salon had to take a Trump free Tuesday day today because they’re so unhinged over there. What’s going on?
Hannity feels Trump voters are being victimized by intolerant singletons, as though one’s feelings on Trump are akin to their feelings on a favorite band, or who really should have won last season of Project Runway. Where is the hatred coming from? Why do people seem unhinged? I think I can explain.
I grew up listening to adults tell stories about “where they were” when JFK was assassinated. It was intriguing, that each person possessed one individual fragment of an experience shared by a generation—an important, sober, vivid moment when they were forever changed. The way it was depicted in film and television romanticized the concept for me: collective mourning. Collective anything, really. 9/11, my generation’s closest approximation of that experience, didn’t have the same effect. Despite the dramatic effect it had on national security, it still felt like a very faraway incident for many of us. I was saddened, but not rocked. Then came the 2016 election, and I discovered there’s nothing romantic about collective crisis.
For the first time, voting-record-as-dealbreaker isn’t political; instead, it’s like taking someone’s pulse. I don’t need to bring out the receipts for why Trump is shorthand for so many evils. This is what makes him so unique as a politician. For the first time, evangelical leaders like Max Lucado have denounced the conservative choice, based on behavior so appalling that he can’t even be called decent, a word famously used as a way to describe something with no positive qualities to speak of. Decency, as Lucado knows, transcends politics.
Trump’s character is so objectionable that The Christian Post also broke their “no-politics” rule because, as the editors explain, he is so “exceptionally bad.” HOW bad? So bad they warned their fellow evangelical Christians that he would “turn on you, and use whatever power is within his means to punish you.” This is far from the usual rhetoric.
In the pilot of FX’s American Horror Story: Cult, the protagonist (Sarah Paulson) ventures out to the grocery store just after the election, fearful of everyone she meets. The world looks different, the colors are off, and even the cereal aisle has a menacing bent. The election not only revealed the monster under the bed, but that at least a third of the country has been hand-feeding the beast. She descends into panic and hallucinations.
If the main cause for the development of PTSD is experiencing, witnessing, or learning about an event that causes an individual to feel intense fear, helplessness, and dread, then is it any wonder decent people are feeling hyper-vigilant? Everything we thought kept us safe was just thrown, by people we thought we knew, onto the trash heap: civility, credentialed experts, a free press, and the agreement on a few foundational ideals like “Nazis are bad.”
It’s not hate, Mr. Hannity; it’s asking if a stranger’s dog bites before you pet it.
When given a litmus test like Trump, single people would be foolish not to use it in a situation like online dating, which already wastes so much time. Never before have we had such an accurate single-step indicator of whether someone has a basic respect for humanity. I consider it the first step in the vetting process. If a potential date passes this test, I can move on to vetting them the old-fashioned way: by taking a look at what’s in their Netflix queue.
Deena Lilygren lives, writes, and indulges her many obsessions in Louisville, Kentucky. She is an Associate Professor of English at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College. She graduated from UofL with an MA in English Literature and just completed an MFA in creative writing at Murray State University.