essays

My political evolution

On the evening of my state’s primary election in early 2016, I and a friend walked from his house to a local school that doubled as my voting location. After waiting in line for what felt like hours, I learned an unfortunate fact: I had come to the wrong place, and voting would begin in a matter of minutes.

Because my friend and I had walked from his house, my car was roughly equidistant from my actual voting location, and so it seemed equally likely that I would make it to my polling place on time by running. Which is what I did: work shirt, jeans, and dress shoes.

By the time I made it to my actual polling location, I was distressed to find that the doors there, too, had been closed, and I mulled about outside for a few minutes. While there, a Trump supporter approached me to see if I was interested in participating on his ballot measure, which I assured him I was not; I just wanted to vote in the primaries. In response to this, he told me there was a side door to the building and that I could likely sneak in and vote illegally…

Which I also did, and I voted for Hillary Clinton. 

*

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I came to terms with how out of touch my vote had been with the pulse of the country, with how deeply ensconced in my political bubble I had become. Throughout the Obama years, I, like many other financially well off and socially left-leaning young, white Americans, had become blissfully ignorant of politics, believing that racism and broader social injustice had seen their end, that I no longer needed to pay attention to the news because our country’s fundamental thrust was toward the good. Conveniently, I had ignored the facts that throughout the Obama years environmental devastation had continued unabated, that immigration policies had hardened, that racism’s force had been such that the Black Lives Matter movement was born; out of my own and many others’ ignorance, a vacuum yawned in which the hatred of a Donald Trump could manifest. 

And while I still do not resonate with that hatred, nor with its milder form in the guise of political candidates like Bernie Sanders, I came to understand that hatred’s logic, its fundamental recognition of unrelenting inequities, systemic corruption, and denial in the face of tragedy. If my 2016 primary vote for Clinton signaled that I believed America needed tiny, progressive adjustments and accelerations, but spiritually was on track, I later came to see that more was at issue than these superficial redirections. 

While the ensuing years have seen me become much more radical in my thinking, welcoming wholesale reenvisionings of the American project, I still believe the energy with which these changes are made is equally important to the changes themselves: that is why I supported Andrew Yang in the 2020 primaries, a candidate who brands the entire bipartisan system as outdated and looks for ways to revitalize the electoral formula itself. Sadly, our current system’s ossification meant that I was unable even to cast a vote for Yang, since the candidate had dropped out of the primaries by the time that event reached my state. 

Looking to the future, I am not sure whom in particular I would like to support, but I do know my beliefs have advanced such that it feels difficult to identify with a major party or to receive excitement from traditional, partisan politics. For instance, I believe that climate change is both real and dire, but I also believe that other, deeper environmental issues are more essential than climate change, and that the technological solutions proposed by both major parties are perhaps more threatening than carbon itself. Similarly, I believe that racism in America is real and that its effects can be seen in disproportionate outcomes for Americans of color, but I also believe that the focus on policing offered by the left is superficial; I believe that a more holistic approach to the issue would take into account spiritual, emotional, and economic histories and resources, and that it would involve a collective conversation far beyond voting. In a sense, I believe that modern liberalism applies its principles selectively, and I would like to be a member of a party that instead does this both consistently and ubiquitously. 

If I were running from one polling location to another today, I would do so not for a candidate, not even for a movement, but rather to be part of tangible change offered by a leader I know by name, one working on projects relevant to my own community. In a sense, this experience would synthesize liberal and conservative visions for change, providing the ground-up support that is central to liberalism, while also allowing for the localism and philanthropy that characterize conservative efforts. In this world, there would be no parties at all, but rather people who know and hold relationships with one another, and to whom one another’s thriving is directly important. May such a world be, and may my disinterest in traditional divisions help to bring it about. 

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