By Ryan Giandonato
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
It is a tale as old as time. A young suburbanite leaves their family and home in search of a college education, only to return as a communist neo-hippie, with a copy of Das Kapital nestled under their arm and a hammer and sickle patch in tow. Perhaps that is a gross exaggeration, but the notion of college students having their upbringings challenged by their new environment and the influence of leftist politics is far from a stretch of the truth. It is a well-documented fact that as one becomes more educated, they also typically tend to become more left-leaning ideologically. Higher education, universities, and professors all tend to be associated with leftism, neoliberalism in particular. Oftentimes, these students return to a home that feels foreign to them despite having grown up there; they have fundamentally altered the way they view the world, and when parents or siblings are unreceptive, it can be upsetting or irritating.
Take my story, for example. I grew up in a small borough just outside of Philadelphia. I was raised by my mother and father, both white, as were the majority of the people in my town. My parents raised me as Catholic, although I attended public schooling my whole life. More importantly, they both are registered Republicans, and I was raised as such. When I was younger, I was deeply invested in politics. I loved reading about it and having conversations with my dad and friends about current events. At the time, I was huge into conservatism: my Reagan Bush ‘88 bumper sticker on my car spoke volumes to that. I would watch Fox News with my dad when he had it on. I was the poster child for the Republican party. Until I went to school.
It wasn’t just school that suddenly and ferociously rearranged my political perspective. I think it all started back in 2016, as I was watching the election and eventual Trump presidency unfold. I thought he was a joke in the primaries, and I was shocked when he ran away with the Republican nomination. He was not a true conservative in my eyes, but rather a populist imposter. As I watched all of my fellow Republicans rally around him, it was truly one of the first times in my life where I began to question what I really believed in. I saw the way he manipulated people like my parents and it deeply troubled me. I gritted my teeth and hoped that perhaps his ridiculous nature would subside once he was in office. By the waning moments of my senior year of high school and after a year and a half of the Trump era, I felt extremely lost. I had gone from a raised right Republican to a never-Trump conservative, to completely disavowing the Republican party entirely. I understand that his presidency had irreparable damage to individuals and institutions alike, but in a strange way, I am almost thankful for his ascension to power. If it had never happened, perhaps I would have never strayed from the familiarity of the GOP. Trump opened my eyes to what was really going on and initiated my journey of self-discovery, and I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that. Several of the people I’ve met at school have spoken similar stories, of how seeing Trump in office caused them to take a reality check. Unfortunately, this is far from a universal experience. In many cases, the introduction of Trumpism only served to solidify or intensify conservative viewpoints, like in the case of my father.
Coming home is always interesting. I remember going out to the shed, the one that my father and I had built ourselves my sophomore year of college, and seeing that he had hung up a giant “PENNSYLVANIANS FOR TRUMP” flag and feeling disappointed. It was different from the sticker he has on his truck or the sign that he put up on the front lawn. This felt more personal. This was a place that we had come together to build something, and not even that sacred place was holy anymore. I’m being very dramatic, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little, given that my father knows how I feel about Trump. It is a topic that can’t help but be brought up constantly, especially during the height of the virus lockdowns. Boarded up between four walls with people that you fundamentally disagree with politically is a disaster waiting to happen. It may seem daunting and at times unproductive, but what I’ve learned, and the point of this op-ed, is that these are necessary conversations to have. At a point where political polarization is deeply concerning and our nation faces bitter division, this is no time to put our heads in the sand and ignore the issue at hand. People don’t interact with different perspectives anymore. In a depressing paradox, our world of limitless information has yielded a sea of misinformation and contention, rather than any broadening of our horizons. You no longer have to interact with those you disagree with; in today’s world, you can just block or mute them, or find communities where views like yours are espoused. It’s terrible and it’s unproductive, and I encourage everyone to delete their Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc., accounts or at least limit their usage. We need to start being human beings again. Have an actual conversation with someone. Challenge the views you hold. Question everything you are told.
Ryan Giandonato is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing degrees in supply chain management and marketing. He originally hails from a suburb of Philadelphia called Malvern, where he spent his childhood until moving to Pittsburgh to continue his education. He is also a sports fan, namely baseball, which he has played his entire life, and continues to play on the Pittsburgh Club Baseball team. Although enrolled in the College of Business Administration, writing has always been a passion of his.