My political views get hinted at here and there on this blog. I’m not sure how complete a picture my writing can offer — undoubtedly less complete than the information I’ve shared and boosted on Facebook and Twitter. The last time I took stock of my personal politics in a blog post was almost exactly four years ago. I wonder if there’s a connection there. In any case, the time seems right to make some plain statements. Events in the last couple years have caused me to forswear the Republican Party, completing a very slow process that began at least five years ago, if not earlier. In the 2012 election, I voted for a mix of Democrats and Republicans. This year, barring an extraordinary occurrence, I will be voting for Democrats straight down the ballot.
This is going to disappoint some people I care about deeply, so I hope I can explain how it’s come to this.
I’ve explained before how reading more widely after I graduated from college exposed me to different points of view. This was partly a happy accident, partly tied to how my brain works, and partly related to my interests and passions. I can’t make any great claims for possessing superior empathy. On the contrary, I’ve been very inward-looking for most of my life. So when I started listening to the testimonies of black people, feminists, Muslims, and LGBT people (including members of all four distinct groups in that alphabet soup), my efforts weren’t about being a “good liberal” or exercising compassion so much as they were directed by a left-brained meticulousness. This same meticulousness is what has made me a compulsive list-maker for years. The organizing principle is “There need to be more kinds of things.” Cheering for diversity and multiculturalism ended up being a natural fit for me.
In effect, both ends of the political spectrum have been competing for my affections on what I’d like to think is an even playing field for the last five or six years. While one side has consistently grown in my estimation, the other has consistently faltered. Conservatism has looked worse and worse to me throughout the Obama administration, both in theory and in practice, at least among the people I know personally. The toxicity of the political attitudes to which I’ve been exposed has been immeasurably self-defeating. The reader might object that I’m just seeing the worst of the Right and the best of the Left. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but I continue to faithfully follow a good number of conservative thinkers. I respect their views and sometimes agree. The changes in my political views have been about rejecting something, but they’ve also been about embracing something else.
Four specific events/situations since 2014 have been clear turning points for me. Of those four, the same-sex marriage ruling in the Supreme Court in June 2015 probably had the slightest impact on my political affiliation. That event had more to do with my disappointment in evangelical Christianity. The despair among conservative Christians was intense and hasn’t really abated. This was a missed opportunity, a chance to show more concern for others than for ourselves, to acknowledge equality as an American ideal. There’s a time to argue for preserving the rights of evangelicals to decline to participate, but I saw almost no effort on the Christian Right to put oneself in another’s shoes. The Republican Party in general seems to be more malleable on this issue, taking the conservative stance because the religious right has been such a major constituency. The cultural winds are blowing in a specific direction, and I think everyone agrees on that. So this didn’t seem like a time for a decisive move on my part.
The next three issues were the real clinchers. Each situation extended over months, even years, and brought together Republican politicians, pundits, and friends of mine in essential unity on the “correct” position. The first is Black Lives Matter. My heart has broken every time I read about police violence against African-American citizens. Black Lives Matter is a movement for justice, for reform of police and justice departments. Black people are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white people by law enforcement, by the courts, or by the prison system. The case for this has been made patiently and repeatedly, and peaceful protests have gathered strength, though certainly not without regrettable escalation of tensions. Any shortcomings of the movement pale, in my view, before the violent, impenetrable backlash from white conservatives and some police departments. It had never been clear to me before why African-Americans overwhelmingly support liberal politicians, but a baseline capacity for listening comes to mind.
Next was the Syrian refugee crisis. Without hesitation, I agreed that more compassion could be extended to the desperate situation overseas. Stated concerns about the safety of the vetting process have not accorded with the facts. Proposed religious tests are both constitutionally and logistically ridiculous. It wasn’t a bold act of courage on my part to feel this way; terrorism has always been an extremely remote threat. Terrorists can get here plenty of other ways, some are born here, etc. This was a third opportunity for conservatives to extend compassion to people unlike ourselves. This time, at least, there has been a strong response from evangelicals on behalf of those in need.
The final issue doesn’t seem nearly so important on its face, but I feel like it sets a destructive precedent for the way our government is run. I’m speaking of the refusal of the Republicans in Congress to allow President Obama to fill the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. The excuses given for what was obviously a politically-motivated strategy have been completely insulting. Rethinking the benefits and drawbacks of lifetime appointments is a great idea (for another time). Working with the president to find acceptable compromises is another great idea. There’s plenty of blame to go around for politicizing SCOTUS, but I can’t reward the Republicans for making it a pawn in a power play.
I hope it’s refreshing to have gotten this far into an article about the 2016 election without reading the names of the Republican and Democratic candidates. That was by design. I’ve decided not to talk about them directly. For one thing, any “endorsement” by some nobody on the internet can only look pompous. Second, while I’ve known for some time that I wanted to write something like this in October, when people are making their final decisions, the revelations of the past week or so have convinced me that any endorsement at this late date would appear opportunistic, even craven. I can only say that I’ve known which way I was going to go in the presidential race since June. Last of all, I don’t need to name the candidates because it’s October 2016. Anyone reading this evidently has access to the internet and is therefore without excuse. (Okay, I will drop one name: Evan McMullin, an independent candidate. I mention him because I feel like most people still haven’t heard of him. He seems to be a true conservative and a decent man. Though he won’t be on the ballot in every state, keep an eye on Utah. Utah is important, both in the short term and the long term.)
May it never be said, however, that I voted for president solely based on the parentheses next to the candidates’ names. I too have learned a great deal about these individuals, their policies, character, and response to criticism. My decision is even more firm now than it was before. I’m voting for a person, but I’m also voting for a philosophy. It’s a philosophy that acknowledges the hard work ahead of us as a nation, the need for bringing diverse people together to get that work done. It’s a vision that people on both the left and the right seem to agree is too far to the other side. As someone who still considers himself a moderate on many issues, I find that this works for me.
There’s so much more to say on this stuff, but I’ll offer just a few closing points for now:
When it comes to the third party candidates, I will not join the chorus, on both sides of the aisle, castigating people who consider voting against the two-party system. There’s a simple reason for this: about a year ago, I was seriously considering this course myself. Everyone should vote according to personal principles, conscience, or whatever reason seems best to the individual. I don’t think it’s going to swing the election one way or the other, and it just might make a statement about the general dissatisfaction of the electorate.
There are a couple misconceptions about liberals that, having now seen their point of view, I’d like to clear up. For all the talk of the “secular left,” I find that after leaving conservatism I cling to my religion (if not my guns) even more fiercely than before. The impact of faith, hope and love on my actions and outlook is stronger than it used to be. “Correlation is not causation,” I know, but I do think I’ve grown more compassionate and less stiff-necked than I was during my know-it-all teenage years. Liberalism is sometimes dismissed as a disease of youth, a product of selfishness and naivete — all those self-righteous kids grasping for “free stuff.” This couldn’t be farther from my experience. No matter how this election turns out, I’ll be okay. I could stand a somewhat better economy, but I’m not facing existential danger. Instead, I’m motivated on behalf of people who are not like me. I’ve gotten to know these people, through the mediated communication of the internet and movies, and I love them.
Finally, let the record show that no political party represents a panacea. There is plenty to criticize, a whole network of complicated issues that come into play. The election of our next president is just the beginning — though who am I to begrudge a sigh of relief when this particularly disheartening race is over? — and we must all work to help right the wrongs done in and by this country both historically and recently. It is up to us Christians to live faithfully and to show forth the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. We have an advantage over our unbelieving neighbors that we mustn’t treat lightly or wield cruelly: the understanding that even if our freedom disappeared tomorrow, our peace would be intact. God’s mercies are new every morning. Let’s do some good.