Photograph by Walker Evans
Photograph by Walker Evans

Who knew that Princeton’s fall break began forty-five years ago as an initiative to enable students to work for political campaigns before the election?
I didn’t, until a month ago, when my class of Princetonians abroad was discussing our upcoming break from University College London, a week later than Princeton’s recess, and the week the election would be decided. Our professor then told us what we had never heard before— students used to campaign during fall break, instead of vacationing or staycationing.

According to the Prince, the campus-wide anti-Nixon protests that prompted the change to the academic calendar got so heated that several eating clubs cancelled their Houseparties—something I can’t imagine happening at Princeton today.

All this is not the lead-up to an exhortation for more political engagement from our student body. Those who know me know that I’m as politics-shy as anyone. According to my Facebook timeline, I support the 2016 Chicago Cubs for president. I really support Hillary Clinton, but I didn’t do anything about it. Illinois was a securely Democratic state, after all (like much of the upper Midwest was thought to be until Election Night). All I felt compelled to do was send in my ballot. Civic duty complete.

All this to say that there was only one person I ever tried to convince to vote for Hillary with me. My triplet brother: the resident “deplorable” in a staunchly liberal family, three generations strong. I couldn’t persuade him not to vote for Trump.

For one thing, I hate confrontation. He thrives on it. When a debate gets heated, I quickly retreat. “Whatever—let’s not fight about it.” He smirks and shakes his head, as if I’ve cut this off because I don’t want to acknowledge that he’s right. He messages me articles, as if all I need to know to turn to his side will be revealed under the headline, “Hillary Emails Reveal True Motive for Libya Intervention.” How can The New York Times possibly compete with, his “valuable alternative source for news”?

Even if I start to stump, he just has to wait it out, knowing I’ll call it off before long. I hate fighting with those I love.

Maybe I would have gotten farther with him if I hadn’t immediately gone into hysterics every time over his “RIDICULOUS CONSPIRACY THEORIES!” If I had tried harder to get to the bottom of where his suspicions and his frustrations lie, beneath the outrageous things I have to believe he professes mainly to scandalize me.

I struggle to comprehend how someone raised alongside me in such an identical environment for so long—albeit with a deeply individual set of genes, particularly a Y-chromosome—could develop such a strikingly opposite worldview.

He fits the Trump voter profile—white, male, recently derailed from the four-year track to a degree. But he is not some unfamiliar entity in a faraway town, gestured at and explained away.

He swam with me in the womb; we very nearly drowned each other in a memorable childhood episode, each pushing the other under in the desperate struggle to keep their own head above water. A family member realized what was going on, what we had no breath to say ourselves, and rushed in fully clothed to save us.

Now we’re adults. We can speak for ourselves. But if we can’t hear each other, we may as well be speaking underwater.

I’ll never be an avid campaigner. But there’s one person whose vote I want to change. I hope by the next presidential race I’ll understand how to listen, and how to make myself heard. Yet if I can’t convince him after doing my best, I’ll have to let it go. My vote will cancel his vote out—the rest is up to our state. We live in Illinois, after all, the one Midwestern state that has stayed as blue as the uniforms of our beloved Cubs. As long as the Electoral College system hangs around, my brother’s ballot can’t do much damage for anything but our relationship.

The last time we spoke before the election, he stayed on video call with me for five hours straight during Game Seven of the World Series so that I could see the blurry home television screen on my tiny smartphone screen all the way across the Atlantic. Six hours and four thousand miles apart, it felt like we were in the same room. For one long game, we were both rooting for the blue to win.

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