In the continued expression of ideals, values, disappointments and frustrations being shared and vented across the internet and elsewhere surrounding America’s presidential election, I have found many voices calling again and again for unity. But not unity as a country. Unity for the party.
The problem I see with this that I don’t think is being expressed or articulated properly – or is simply falling of deaf ears – is that the two major parties that represent the presidential race no longer speak for a vast number of this country’s citizens. I’m talking millions of people.
I’ve been told by friends that if Hillary is the nominee and I don’t vote for her and instead decide to write in “Bernie,” they don’t think they could ever talk to me again, that our friendship would be over. Understand, I haven’t made up my mind yet about my vote in the general if Hillary is the choice. And yet that indecision alone is SHOCKING, unforgivable even, for many.
I have been told that my not supporting whoever the Democratic nominee is, regardless of whether or not I agree with them, is splitting the party and that my only goal should be in standing together to defeat Republicans. I have been accused – as have others across the internet and elsewhere – of not being a “real” Democrat. From some angles that is absolutely true. The Democratic Party has gone through many incarnations during its existence. Roosevelt introduced a new kind of Democrat. Bill Clinton gave us the neoliberal variation. Bernie Sanders is talking about returning to many of Roosevelt’s policies and approaches with what is essentially the New New Deal. To make the term “Democrat” more important than the actual changing ideals that it stands for and has stood for throughout its history is to reduce the very party itself into a sports team that insists on rabid fandom even when they hire less-skilled players or take steroids.
Liberal, Democrat, Progressive, Roosevelt Democrat, Neoliberal… They all share certain values. But they are not all the same thing. Anymore than Fascism, Socialism, and Communism are.
Yes, the Republican options this election year are both terrifying and dangerous. I believe that. But the hopeless, boundless fear that the Republican Party holds over their Democratic rivals is a sure way to ensure that growth never comes to the Democratic Party; We remain in a constant state of defense. We allow ourselves to become victims and I believe our fear of what others are threatening to do limits our choice and ends with us giving up our greatest power and strength.
MORE THAN ONE DOG IN THE FIGHT
The Democratic Party has, like its Republican counterparts, been in a generations-long move to the right. So much so that it no longer represents the values and ideals of many who once identified as Democrats. So what is to happen to the voices of all those American citizens who genuinely believe a candidate like Hillary Clinton is part of the problem? Not that she isn’t competent or strong or qualified or knowledgable, but that many of her goals, alongside her voting record and her approach to politics, feel like what we are so desperately trying to move beyond. And for many of us, the risks of not moving beyond are extremely high.
Higher than a woman’s right to have an abortion? Higher than the possibility of a conservative Supreme Court Justice if a Republican wins? I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I cannot comment on women’s rights because I am a white man with a penis. I get that. It’s not my body. But whether or not you want to believe it, I am not interested in living in a country that would limit a woman’s rights and I would take to the streets (and have and will again) to defend them. And though it may not directly effect my own body, it does greatly effect my life, the people I love, and my beliefs, in addition to the reality that the repercussions of such institutionalized prohibitions are immense and far-reaching. They don’t end with limiting women’s rights. Remember, even if you decide I have no fair say in women’s reproductive rights, I still have dogs in this fight. The Republican nominees are threatening many things. Most all of them extremely backwards and a serious danger to our most basic freedoms. All of this is true and none of it should be taken lightly. But be wary of telling someone they are being “flip” with their vote or that they have nothing to lose. If you are anything more than a single-issue voter, you understand that there are MANY freedoms at stake here. And they effect everyone.
As a “privileged white male,” I am attempting to use that privilege to affect change. And a large part of that change is to take that privilege away so that we no longer live in a country where being white or being male affords you more freedoms. That’s the whole idea.
TOUGH QUESTIONS & COMPROMISING POSITIONS
Fears of a Republican nomination to the Supreme Court are real. But let’s not overlook the fact that Obama just picked a conservative nominee for the Supreme Court. And he backed a neoliberal for the Democratic Chair in Debbie Wassermann-Shultz instead of her progressive challenger.
What if these choices are in direct opposition to one’s core beliefs and values?
I’ve heard the argument that Obama doesn’t have a choice. That it’s about compromise. It is about compromise. But WHEN to compromise is what is in question here. I think a giant disconnect has grown in the Democratic Party wherein we mistake our actual goals with what we have come to believe is possible. To many, that may seem like a very pragmatic approach. But I set my goals based on the change I want to see. And I vote for the politician I believe will best fight for those goals, knowing that compromise may be the end result. But it’s not my starting position. Nor is it what I believe I am being asked to do as a voter. So much in the political and social landscape cannot be predicted and is consistently surprising. We have already seen change in the last decade alone that many thought we would never see in our lifetimes. I believe my job is to voice the direction I want to see this country take and to express that desire to those in office. And I take that responsibility seriously.
HILLARY-BASHING & ANTI-FEMINISM
It seems we have come to a place where almost any criticism or suspicion tossed Hillary’s way can now be used as a war-cry of anti-feminism or direct misogyny. Some women are even accusing other women of being anti-feminist for not rallying behind the woman candidate. There are both extremes and subtleties at play here.
I have been following the responses to a post online suggesting anyone who questions Hillary Clinton being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give speeches at Goldman-Sachs, is anti-feminist. The faulty argument being that a woman has a right to get paid as much as a man for doing the same thing. To contort questioning political influence into such a pretzel that it comes out as an act of anti-feminist sentiment is to not only to avoid asking the difficult questions of your own candidate, but to take away from actual anti-feminist and sexist actions and statements that genuinely deserve and need to be addressed and confronted.
And that spills over into why it’s so difficult for many to believe Hillary is self-aware enough NOT to be influenced by corporate moneys when she can’t even acknowledge why people would express concern. Instead, she chooses to be insulted and offended at the very notion that she could be influenced, all the while speaking out against a broken system of corporate influence and greed. The people with real concerns are not going to be won over by “How dare you question my integrity.” The only starting position to win people’s trust is to recognize and address their concern as being valid. “I understand why people would be suspicious or concerned…” You can’t preach about the dire need to dismantle Citizen’s United while simultaneously using it. Particularly when your opponent has shown in no uncertain terms that it is not a necessary option. That actively refusing to partake in a broken and corrupt system is the first step in changing it, not the last. And I want the voice of the President of the United States to reflect that wisdom, that judgment, and to have the foresight and conviction to lead by example. It is not “bashing” Hillary to articulate these concerns. But it is worrisome to me when these concerns are so aggressively diverted and distorted into shaming.
Is it Hillary-bashing when I say that Bernie Sanders will surround himself with a cabinet of political advisors who are NOT lobbyists and who do NOT have ties to Wall Street and who are NOT pro-fossil fuels and that Hillary, by her own admission, will not promise to do the same? That’s not an attack. That’s a concern. For me. It doesn’t mean that anyone need feel that the choices Hillary makes are bad ones. They may be in keeping with your beliefs. That’s what this is about. But they are not in keeping with mine. Yes, even in the face of worse options for me than Hillary Clinton. For me, a president is only as good as the people they surround themselves with and that dictates for me the commitment to the ideals they express.
EVERYONE DESERVES AN ADVOCATE
As someone who identifies as a Progressive and as a Liberal, what do I think is best for moving this country not only away from Republican values, but from that entire line of thinking so that it no longer hovers over us like the grim reaper every election cycle? And what is my personal mission as a voter? Do I have a right to some measure of respect for having an opinion and for using my vote for what I personally see as the greater good without being threatened, provoked, or inundated with emotional blackmail and guilt trips about an outcome that hasn’t even happened yet? Just thinking about not casting my vote for Hillary has yielded such vitriol and intolerance that I, at times, start to see it as my “mission” to stand up for those like myself who don’t feel like we have voices or a party that represents us anymore. For a lot of us out there, Bernie is the closest thing we’ve had to that voice from within the system. Now maybe we’ll eventually have to go outside the system and a genuine revolution will take place, but I think there might be value in at least trying to change from within. But for that to happen, those voices need to be heard.
I have friends who do not believe serious change is needed. Fair enough. Or they believe that corruption is rampant in our political system, except in the case of their preferred nominees. Ok. We don’t have to agree on politics or approaches or even the condition of the government. There are a lot of Democrats who absolutely love Obama. Great. That must feel wonderful. But for those of us who still feel like, despite his integrity, that he won’t fight for most of the changes we want and oftentimes fights for things we directly oppose or compromises away what we believe are profound opportunities worth fighting for – and that it isn’t just a symptom of conservative opposition but of political values and beliefs – what are we to do with our votes? As Americans? As citizens? As human beings with our own individual consciences and outlooks on the world, the universe, and society?
Bernie Sanders is not a god. Nor is he a savior. Though I am told again and again that I see him this way. And despite my very vocal acknowledgment that Sanders is far from perfect (I have yet to be introduced to the perfect candidate), the narrative that he is a fraud and that I and others are irrepressible fools being taken for a ride is, well, your right. But remember, there are many out there who see you and your beliefs and your voting choices in the same light. That doesn’t make it true. It only makes it easier to dismiss.
Oddly enough, I get this accusation from many friends who talk about Obama as if he were a true liberal savior. “I want another 8 years of Obama!” “No one has done more for liberal values in this country than Obama!” But what if Obama still doesn’t represent a government that I trust? What if he stands far to the right of where I stand? What if I believe that he is largely entrenched in a corporatist approach to politics that I believe is at the very heart of the larger problems we are facing? Regardless of the fact that he is far better than George W. Bush? And what if I believe Obama is more liberal and has more personal integrity than Hillary Clinton who is talking about continuing Obama’s approach to government, just a slightly more hawkish and conservative version?
So while people scream that Bernie and the people for whom his words are currently resonating is tearing apart the Democratic Party, think again on that and ask yourself if the Democratic Party any longer represents all the people it once did? We are not Bernie. Bernie is us. He is currently our mouthpiece. Or the closest thing we have to a voice in this political climate. And there will be others after him. Most of us are not looking for someone to follow, but someone who is saying out loud in a public forum and from a position of influence, what we’ve been saying for years.
I’m okay if your values and beliefs are mirrored by Clinton and/or Obama. That’s great. You have an advocate in this race. I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from you or denying your right to it. We all deserve advocates. But when you decide that the way you see the world, how you see solutions, how you define the Democratic Party, what you deem the biggest problems, and how you foresee the future unfolding should dictate my vote as well… Then you are directly not supporting all people having advocates and having a voice. And that, to me, is neither a liberal nor a progressive approach to any viable political system.
I will continue to speak about what I believe in and what I don’t believe in. And I will offer both applause and criticism to my preferred candidate depending on what he or she says and does. And I have both.
And not choosing to vote for Hillary is NOT a vote for Trump or Cruz, no matter how much one tries to frame it as such. I understand that conclusion – I even shared it once upon a time – but that notion is mired in black and white thinking and is an easy vilification of those who view the repercussions of their vote as having more than one meaning and more than one outcome. It strips away nuance and whittles everything down to one simple and devastating foregone conclusion, diminishing both political power and individual voices.
Whether people are for or against it or still undecided, there is a movement out there that has been growing in this country for a long time and originally found a public voice in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. And it is attracting more and more people. Bernie Sander’s words are resonating more deeply for more people with each passing day. It may or may not happen quickly enough to win him the election, but the movement, the ideals and its goals and the millions who share those are not going away. Even if Bernie does (though I believe he will continue to advocate no matter where he is). Even if that manifests in people using their votes and their voices to write-in “Bernie” because they actively believe it’s a critical time in our history and they can no longer tow the party line in good conscience.
Which leads me to another issue: Punching down instead of up. Instead of belittling and castigating those whose lives have come to such a place that they believe being heard and voicing their vision for this country is more important than voting against what may be perceived as the lesser of two evils, pull the curtain back a little farther and ask yourself why this is happening? Why do so many feel the need to reclaim influence they feel has been lost or subjugated. Punching down is, sadly, what many politicians want to see and directly try to invoke: they get people to express their anger toward those struggling, instead of those perpetuating and perpetrating the struggle.
I have self-described “liberal” acquaintances who have been framing those who support Bernie Sanders as being selfish, of not wanting to work for a living, of taking without giving. They’ve even gone as far as criticizing people for using Go Fund Me to try and pay for medical expenses or Indiegogo and Kickstarter to fund the arts. That’s the type of anti-socialist rhetoric I expect from Ted Cruz and his supporters. So how has it so nefariously burrowed itself into the “liberal” mindset? For me, it’s another example of how far the definition of “Liberal” or “Democrat” has stretched to the right. We should be focusing on why people feel the need to reach out to their communities for help, on what has changed in our country and in our social and political landscape that has made the creation of these outlets necessary.
And, perhaps, to recognize the ingenuity and creativity and perseverance that these fund-raising platforms represent. Creating community, bringing individual people together to help one another and create the opportunities that are more and more out of reach with each passing day from within the current governmental or social structures of our country. THIS is what happens when the world and community people want is stronger than what they are being told should be enough. This is innovative, enterprising, inspirational, and thinking outside the box. All things America has prided itself on in the past. And it’s now being twisted by some into lazy, selfish, resentment-worthy, and even dangerous.
And why is it that many of those same people seething about the “Go Fund Me-Generation” express and feel so much less vitriol and resentment toward having to bail out the big banks that caused a world-recession and that have, since that bailout, reformed and regained their power via similarly lax regulations that allowed them to become too-big-to-fail in the first place?
Next time your anger and frustrations make you feel like throwing punches, consider punching up instead of down. And beware of perpetuating the rhetoric that keeps you from asking the important questions. Even if you have to ask them of people you admire.
YOUTHFUL IDEALISM OR MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO?
As a man in his early 50’s, I have a large number of peers who do not have faith in the younger generations but, instead, mourn their lack of “wisdom” and “experience.” Yet time and again, in arguments and debates posted online and elsewhere, it is the voice of the younger generations that come across to me as the most thoughtful, well-articulated, and least fearful. This is in direct opposition to many of my peers who seem to me to be working from a place of fear and – let’s be honest – may be less inclined to rock the boat at this age than they were years ago. And that’s not always based in wisdom. Sometimes that’s based in not having your whole life ahead of you anymore and wanting this part of your life to be somewhat less tumultuous. And sometimes with age comes – instead of or alongside wisdom – the reality of being set in your ways and less open to new ideas. I don’t mean that as a put down or a criticism. Just an observation. And it most certainly does not apply to everyone of a certain age. Young or old. But I believe it’s the over all possibility and willingness of the younger gens that will dictate our future. As it always has been. And as it should be, in my opinion. And I think they are far smarter and more insightful than many give them credit for being. And part of that is due to the core values many instilled in them when they were young. Those values are coming to fruition whether or not we follow them ourselves any longer. I think if we can add our wisdom to those beliefs and that struggle, instead of dismissing it, resenting it, or distrusting it, all the better.
USING THE POWER THIS COUNTRY AFFORDS YOU
Yes, there’s a lot at stake. And there is more than one approach, regardless of how strongly you feel about yours. And just because we both don’t identify with or share the values being espoused by today’s Republican candidates doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything else. That doesn’t put us on the same exact team just because we might have a common “enemy.” That notion is only possible when you strip away nuance. And individuality.
If you can step away from the mission-statement that our greatest goal is to defeat Republicans, a whole world of opportunities and options will open up that were obscured before.
Remember, just because you are afraid of something, does not mean it is going to come to pass in the way you believe it will. Nor does it mean that people will sit back and take it without actively rising up against it. I will vote for what I believe in. That is my right. And I believe it’s my mission and responsibility as a citizen. And I will continue to have faith that there are enough Americans out there with good heads and hearts who will do what is necessary in the face of whatever challenges are put before them. The swift and pointed response to North Carolina and Mississippi’s pro-descrimitaion laws is very telling. Whether it’s Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceling concerts or the hundreds of businesses actively pulling out of those states or NBC canceling the 2017 All-Star Game that was set to take place in Charlotte or the government itself considering the halting of state funding, the end result is just because someone may try and take away your freedoms and set the country back, doesn’t mean you don’t have a say or the power to fight it. And not incrementally, but in its entirety.