Who’s right? A conversation with a conservative


Daniel Zheng

Original concept and ink drawing by Daniel Zheng.

Virgil Lin, Voices

My father didn’t vote in the 2022 midterms. One reason was that we had recently moved to a different address, and he hadn’t yet filed the paperwork to notify the government. But it wouldn’t have mattered, he said, because he didn’t want to vote anyway. Hawaii was “already Democrat.” 

Hawaii has voted for the democratic candidate for nearly its entire history as a state. The state’s presidential voting record, for example, has never been red except for 1978 and 1984, anomalies when Hawaiians cast their ballots for Nixon and Reagan, respectively. 

As a resident, I’ve never believed Hawaii to be a politically diverse state. Empirically speaking, the prevailing beliefs among my peers are almost always a blend of Democratic Social Liberalism, which they seem particularly vocal about. Some have dabbled with Socialism. And Gen Z, at large, values diversity and social consciousness, tenets of contemporary liberal ideology. 

But notably absent are those to the right of the political spectrum. Republicans, libertarians, and other conservative affiliates all exist on television screens and news sites, yet I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I’ve had a conversation with a conservative. 

Thus, I solicited my friends for anyone they knew with conservative inclinations and was given a name. I was also given a notice that seemed to err on a warning: “He’s very Republican.” 

Mark Brehm (12) likes cars. Some days before our interview, he learned how to install a cat-back exhaust, which he did to his car. Brehm works in food service when not in school or playing the piano. He also disagrees with mandatory COVID vaccinations and most cases of abortion. 

“I would say I’m kinda teetering into Republican,” Brehm said. “But I mostly base my beliefs off of hearing both sides and picking whichever one, assuming you have to pick, right? …if it does matter to me then I’ll just try my best to listen to both sides [left and right] and pick one.” 

Very Republican? I was inundated with years of headlines about irrational, impractical conservatives. Brehm’s rather tame admission doesn’t fit the bill. 

“I think a lot of it has to do with my religion, and a lot of people point that out to me,” he said. “I try to not make it about religion as much as possible because, especially when you’re talking to other people, it’s hard to have a discussion going when your argument is based on something they don’t believe in.” 

Brehm grew up a non-denominational Christian. While he admits religion has had some bearing on his beliefs, he prefers more rational approaches to forming ideas, letting openness and versatility guide his arguments. 

“I’m a very strong-willed person,” Brehm said. “But at the same time… I try to be as easy-going as possible, so I think the mindset of, hey, just let me know; tell me if there’s a problem; or tell me if there’s a way to do this better; just try to be open to everything.” 

Take, for example, Brehm’s opinions about gun control in the U.S. 

“I believe that people do, or should, have the right to own guns,” Brehm said. “[However], I think that… there should be mandatory training, no matter where you are. I don’t think it should be up to the states, though; I think that gun control should be something controlled by the US government as a whole. I think it needs to be slightly stricter because, as of now, it is easier in some states than others to get access to weapons and carry them around. I feel like if you’re using it for a certain purpose, then it’s fine, but you have to get it certified, right? Y’know, the right to carry it [a gun] around versus the right to own one.” 

That’s far removed from the prominent cries for deregulation and open-carry among the political right. 

Admittedly, I expected the interview to be a stubborn, possibly combative affair; my initial intelligence largely suggested my interviewee was a staunch conservative. Instead, I had begun a conversation with an agreeable individual with a nuanced understanding of political discourse who just happens to lean right. How did Brehm develop such an outlook? 

“When we first came back to school [in 2021], in my seminar class, we had a discussion about vaccines,” Brehm recalled. “Despite the unease upon hearing that I was unvaccinated, the student[s] in my group heard me out and were seemingly put at least a little more at ease given my reasoning.” 

Brehm, as a single person, isn’t representative of all the conservative youths in Hawaii. Nevertheless, he’s not what I expected. He is civil, calm, open, and respectful – a far cry from liberal-bashing and election-denying. 

“You never know,” Brehm said. “Someone might be right; someone might have a better idea. It doesn’t mean someone is wrong and someone’s right. Maybe you’re right, but this is better. So just try to optimize life as much as possible, and to do that, you need to be open to other ideas.”