Between the dishes and the diapers, the wrangling and the running around, I’ve been kind of halfway paying attention to coverage of this year’s Republican National Convention.
Listening to it has made me feel anew the irony that it has been this campaign – this campaign fueled by those who so deeply dislike politics and mistrust politicians – that has caused me to lose my confidence in the system. They started off thinking politics was the problem. I ended up that way.
Delegates hold signs calling for border security during the first day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18. (CNS photo/Mario Anzuoni, Reuters)
I have spent most of my life surrounded by those in politics or government service. My family was involved in local Republican politics, I studied political science in college, I worked first for the federal government and then in amongst the weeds (generally the Democratic weeds) of the political process in Annapolis.
Through it all, I came to know part of the truth of the thing: politicians are mostly just like us.
Goodness, loyalty, greed, truthfulness, integrity, ambition, intelligence, persuasiveness, a willingness to work hard, a gift for communicating well, the ability to get along with others – just like us, politicians have some of these qualities in spades and lack others almost entirely.
I have known politicians who were smart and capable and cunning and untrustworthy. I have known others who were sweet and loyal and dull. None of these descriptors are assigned based on partisan affiliation. No political party, no movement, no side has a monopoly on the good guys. Or the bad ones.
That’s where I was at the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. Sensing the way the wind was blowing, I was wishing that people could see politicians as real, complicated individuals rather than caricatures of the issues we feel strongly about. Or worse, as symbols of All That Is Wrong With This Country.
But as the campaign ran its course, as it became clear that today’s electorate values its anger and fear and frustration over almost everything else, I realized that mine was a silly little fantasy. We the People want to have our concerns and experiences validated. We want to believe that solutions are simple. We want to believe that it is enough to root out the bad guys.
Nevermind all those good (if flawed) people who get caught up in the anti-politician wave. Nevermind our million little interests that they’ve been trying to represent. Nevermind the complexities of real life and real problems. Nevermind our sometimes unreasonable expectations of what government can do, or what it can do on a particular budget. Nevermind the baby in the bathwater.
If politicians are slippery, if they tell us only what we want to hear, if they refuse to offer real solutions, if they’re unwilling to work with those with whom they disagree – it’s because we have made them that way.
We reward negative campaigning. We punish compromise. We respond to sound bites. We expect ideological purity (i.e. You Must Think Exactly As I Do). We champion magic-wand political solutions. (How about I just say that I’ll “Make America Great Again” and wiggle my magic wand in the air, and it will be so! How about I make economic inequality just… disappear! How about I build a big wall at no cost and magically make it get rid of all the scary people? How about we pass a law that will – poof! – make people stop shooting each other?)
We have gotten ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We have done this. We have made presidential campaigns into something that decent people cannot win.
And so we are on the cusp of having to choose between two politicians whose untrustworthiness and unlikeability are so high as to be historic. Most of us seem to be choosing whom to vote against rather than whom to vote for.
Well, I’ve decided not to play that game. I refuse to choose between evils. I won’t give my loyalty to parties or politicians who seem to only be able to achieve success by sowing fear and division.
I won’t be part of the problem.
I do not believe that any politician is perfect, but I do believe that some of them are good. This year, I plan to write in one of them as my choice for president. I will consider those whom I believe to be basically honest and trustworthy and capable, and then I’ll choose the one I like the best. I won’t agree with him on everything, but I won’t have to hold my nose either.
I realize that most Americans will vote for one of the major party candidates. I realize that the only practical choices we have are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But who says I have to be practical?
There is value in doing what you believe to be right even if you lose. And this year, with each of our practical choices feeling to me like a heavy loss, the time is ripe for me to make the better if impractical choice.
Change has got to start somewhere, hasn’t it?