Friends And Fraternity Brothers, Two Va. Cadets Transcend Trump-Clinton Divide

Jan 18, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 11:38 am

All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro is on a road trip leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20. He is driving through North Carolina and Virginia, on the way to Washington, D.C. These are two swing states that went in opposite directions in November, each by a close margin: North Carolina for Trump, Virginia for Hillary Clinton. As the country faces dramatic changes, we're asking people what they want from that change — and what concerns them.

Ryan Leavis and Alex Miller are seniors at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

They both wear a uniform to class every day: They are both among the 1,000 members of the school's Corps of Cadets. Both plan on going into the military after graduation. They are friends and fraternity brothers.

And they cast different votes in November's election: Ryan liked what Donald Trump said about the Affordable Care Act, illegal immigration, and radicalism. Alex voted for Hillary Clinton because Trump's style turned him off.

"It was also kind of troublesome, you know, his inconsistency with his policies. It seemed like he would say one thing and then kind of change it in another interview and then change it again," Alex says. "And to me, that was just a huge problem, and I really couldn't vote for him because of those reasons."

Ryan points out that Alex went from being a big fan of John Kasich to supporting Hillary.

"That's a pretty drastic change. And I understand where your decision is coming from. A lot of people don't feel comfortable with the way Donald Trump will just speak his mind. He's not afraid to hurt people's feelings or call you a loser on Twitter," Ryan says, adding "which I think is hilarious, by the way."

The two men agree on at least two things: Trump's choice of Gen. James Mattis for secretary of defense, and that politics shouldn't get in the way of friendship.

Use the audio link above to hear the full conversation.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Our co-host Ari Shapiro is driving through North Carolina and Virginia this week on the way to Donald Trump's inauguration Friday. He's talking to voters he meets along the way about their hopes and fears for the new administration. Today's report is from Blacksburg, Va., where 25,000 undergrads attend Virginia Tech. About a thousand of them are cadets.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ryan Leavis and Alex Miller wear a uniform to class every day. They're both seniors, both planning to go into the military once they graduate. And their lives don't stick to the typical undergraduate schedule.

RYAN LEAVIS: You're waking up at five. You're working out, taking a shower, and then you're getting outside around 7:15 to go salute that flag.

ALEX MILLER: It's also kind of funny doing PT in the mornings, and we'll see students walk into their dorms, going - about to go to bed, and we're waking up early. It's always - it's always funny just watching them.

SHAPIRO: PT is physical training - push-ups, sit-ups - that sort of thing. Ryan and Alex are friends and fraternity brothers who cast different votes in November's election. Ryan liked what Donald Trump said about the Affordable Care Act, illegal immigration and radicalism. Alex voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump's style turned him off.

MILLER: It was also kind of troublesome - you know, his inconsistency with his policies. It seemed like he would say one thing and then, you know, kind of change it in another interview and then change it again. And to me, that was just a huge problem, and, you know, I really couldn't vote for him because of those reasons.

LEAVIS: I do, Alex, remember you not necessarily being, like, either the Bernie or Hillary camp when it first started. Weren't you in...

MILLER: Yeah.

LEAVIS: Ted Cruz - was it Ted Cruz or Rubio?

MILLER: I was a big, like, John Kasich fan.

LEAVIS: OK.

MILLER: I voted for him in the primaries. I really liked him a lot.

LEAVIS: Just as you went from being a John Kasich fan to a Hillary Clinton supporter - that's a pretty drastic change. And I understand, like, where your decision, you know, is coming from. A lot of people don't feel comfortable with the way Donald Trump will just speak his mind. He's not afraid to hurt people's feelings or call you a loser on Twitter...

MILLER: (Laughter).

LEAVIS: ...Which I think is hilarious, by the way.

MILLER: China doesn't think it's funny.

(LAUGHTER)

LEAVIS: Well...

SHAPIRO: You say China doesn't think it's funny. Like, are you actually afraid that there could be a trade war or a real war with a country that Trump insults on Twitter?

LEAVIS: A war - a war over Trump (laughter).

MILLER: I don't know if there's going to be an actual war, but I just don't think it's a good idea to start off on the wrong foot. I think it's important to call them out and to - you know, to stick up to them, but just being insulting - that's something completely different.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like the very same thing that, Alex, worries you is, Ryan, what appeals to you.

LEAVIS: I would say that, you know, you're probably right about that.

MILLER: Yeah, you're probably right (laughter).

LEAVIS: That's probably - sounds pretty spot-on. But I think that he appealed to, you know, the silent majority. And they like the fact that, you know, you can tell that what is coming out of his mouth is sincere, even if it is what some people might want to say - kind of a loose cannon.

SHAPIRO: I guess one of the reasons I wanted to talk to both of you is because heading into the military, whatever people might fear about what you, Ryan, described is the loose cannon aspect of Trump potentially getting the country into a conflict overseas or something like that - people may, in the abstract, have something on the line. Your lives are on the line.

LEAVIS: Well, even though - sorry, this is Ryan. But even though Donald Trump will become the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, it is not entirely on his shoulders. He is not the commanding general of all of the armed forces.

SHAPIRO: If it were on his shoulders, would you have confidence in him?

LEAVIS: I would have confidence in General Mattis, who he picked to be secretary of defense.

MILLER: I do in part agree with Ryan. I think Mattis is, you know, going to be a great - is a great pick for secretary of defense. And, you know, it's not entirely on Donald Trump, but at the end of the day, he's the commander-in-chief. He's given the final say.

SHAPIRO: I think today in America, so many Trump voters are surrounded by only Trump voters and so many Clinton voters are surrounded by only Clinton voters...

MILLER: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...And are in these sort of Facebook bubbles and where we live determines who we vote for. You guys are friends in a fraternity together. What advice do you have for people in their bubbles?

MILLER: It's politics. I mean, it shouldn't get in the way of, you know, your friendships. I mean, we were friends before this election. We're friends during the election. We're going to be friends after the election. Just because someone has a different opinion than you doesn't mean they're an awful person, doesn't mean they're a bad guy.

LEAVIS: Yeah - a hundred 100 percent. I think you're a great guy, Alex, but...

MILLER: (Laughter) You're all right.

(LAUGHTER)

LEAVIS: Tough love. But, no, I definitely - I think that if a lot of people sat down and actually had, you know, conversations with each other, I think that we'd find that we can find common ground and we can work together to make a Donald Trump presidency, hopefully...

SHAPIRO: I was sure you were going to say make America great again.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: In a way.

LEAVIS: In a way - in a way. Yeah, I wouldn't - I definitely want to make America great again, but I think that we can work together.

MILLER: I don't think anyone wants - doesn't want that.

LEAVIS: I think we can work together to make it happen.

SHAPIRO: Ryan and Alex, thanks for your time.

LEAVIS: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for having us.

MILLER: Thank you. Thank you.

MCEVERS: That was Ryan Leavis and Alex Miller talking to our co-host Ari Shapiro. Tomorrow, the trip continues through Virginia to Roanoke. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.