That Hopey Changey Thing

This year has been strange. Of course the political debacle that was the 2016 Presidential Election is the shining highlight of it all. The United States Presidency continues to take center stage on every network and news program, sparking what could easily have been predicted as real-life reality TV. A crazy billionaire and reality TV star was elected president and now our news feeds are like reading a script of Real Houswives? Gee, I’m so surprised.

Remember when Sarah Palin stood up in front of a crowd in 2010 and asked, “How’s that hopey, changey thing workin’ out?” At the time I thought that speech was absurd because if anything stifled the “hope” movement of the Obama era, it was the obstinate Republican Congress. Lately, I have to admit Sarah, it’s been a long road. If there were ever a point in my lifetime when I reached a level of political frustration that forced me to walk away from it all, this would be it. Still, I cling to those words, hope and change, unwilling to cede the ground we’ve fought so hard to claim.

You would think days of late might spark more people into action. I don’t recall a time since I’ve been alive when there were more protests against a political figure within the U.S. But what do those protests accomplish if more activity isn’t generated at a local level? That is one of the main failures often highlighted during analysis of the modern Democratic Party. There has been a severe lack of participation in the process and therefore a loss of involvement among younger generations. While the Grand Old Party has been creating a perfect feeder system for candidates, the Dems seem to have left the young ones behind. Instead, asking them to trust “Aunt” Hillary and “Uncle” Joe to handle things.

I can honestly say that after knocking on doors, organizing phone banks and making philanthropic pleas, it’s easy for me to understand why younger, potential Democrats don’t want to be engaged. It’s freaking exhausting. You quickly discover most people can’t differentiate between state and national political issues. Which makes having a conversation at the door pretty challenging. That and you have to consider that on the whole, Democrats represent a very impoverished, urban demographic. If time and money are the two most precious things in our culture, it’s difficult to expect the people with the least to give the most. It’s far easier to motivate the younger demographic to participate in volunteer activities, join a few organizations that support causes that directly impact their surroundings. They need tangible, immediate results. Which brings me back to hope and change.

Revolutions don’t occur because people sit in a room together and hope things will improve. They happen because people sit in a room together, discuss what they’d like to change, make a plan, implement it, then hope that change occurs as a result of their effort. It can be a slow, agonizing process. It’s sort of how we got to where we are now on a national level. Despite the obnoxious uprising of arcane ideals, it’s no surprise that the “under 50” population hasn’t dropped everything to go to their next town hall meeting and demand the system be improved. In order to affect that change it will take years of planning, hours of grueling work and the will to endure a mountain of frustration. Those would-be organizers already know this, so the movement is stopped short before its beginning. Why does the “right” seem to have an endless supply of energy when the “left” does not?

There are fundamental differences between common “liberal” and “conservative” ideals. If we generally examine how the President was elected it’s easy to recognize most of this recent movement was fueled by a lot of anger. An anger which stemmed from decades of political failings. If I had to put a pin in it, I’d say since 1963, but probably even beginning earlier. Toward the end of the ’60s it seemed as if there were two options: you could choose peace, inclusion and love, or stand firm on the idea that America would forever be the omnipotent protector of world interests.

Again, generally speaking, it’s my observation that households focused on love and acceptance are usually less hostile environments. They welcome people from all walks of life, are willing to learn more about other cultures and traditions, as well as celebrate an appreciation for the little things in life. In short, I think they recognize what has become the global community. Self-identified “conservative” households don’t typically share those same qualities. Change does not come easily to these dynamics, so then anything identified as foreign becomes “un-American”, and therefore should be rejected. They usually identify as Christian households, whether they participate in an organized Christian denomination or not. To summarize, the more definition they place on themselves, the more opportunity it creates for conflict.

This is not to say that qualities do not overlap or mix. I’m certainly not trying to build up segments and say that these identifying characteristics leave no room for gray areas. I was raised in a house with “traditional conservative” values. We never discussed politics, but I understood my family was open to ideas regardless of race, creed or color. We went to church and for more than half my life I identified as a Christian. It was a stark contrast to relatives that did not go to church, did not believe in God, identified themselves as Republicans and insisted that anyone with skin that wasn’t white was the reason the country was falling apart. I recognize there are many examples of blurred philosophical lines. My reason for speaking in generality is to demonstrate simply that one mode of thought teaches contentment, acceptance and open-mindedness while the other instructs defense, individualism and industrialism.

This is why “liberals” are failing at the polls. If you were to ask a self-identified liberal about their quality of life they would probably say they’re fine, but that improvements need to be made on a socio-economic level to raise the overall quality of life for everyone. That’s why you find more liberal-leaning individuals volunteering and leading organizations that support those causes. The same question asked of a self-identified conservative would probably result in an answer that started much the same way. They are content with their lives, but we need to do more as a country to establish protections from threats that could potentially destroy that comfort. The real difference is the conservatives see what they have as something to defend while liberals view it as something to share. So anytime legislation comes down that is presented as a threat to changing the status quo the flags with “don’t tread on me” start to wave.

Liberals don’t get angry, which is no way to win an election against someone who is more than happy to call their opponent names, point fingers and invoke God’s wrath in a debate. It’s a challenge to have a serious conversation with someone that can’t or won’t engage on the same plane of discussion because they’re more focused on riling up the crowd. Like knocking on doors as a volunteer for a campaign, it’s exhausting. You get tired of repeating yourself, demonstrating facts. After running head first at a brick wall several times, you get the impression the wall doesn’t care. The other side isn’t going to listen, no matter how much evidence for your argument you pile up. I understand perfectly why the younger demographic doesn’t want to get involved, it’s brutal. Like I said before, tangible, immediate results are far more satisfying.

When President Obama was running in 2008, he frequently stated that change has to come from the bottom up. His declaration was a double entendre in that he was speaking to a social reformation as well as a political shift. Obviously he was met with disappointment as his own expectations of greater civil discourse were tossed out in favor of obstinance. Players from both sides were not about to let pesky sentiments like “hope” get in the way of political adversarialism. And so, the balloon deflated almost instantly. The young voters that propelled Obama to the White House quickly fell away and for the next seven years they rarely stepped back up. Sure, there were people wearing O’Bama shirts on St. Patrick’s Day, lots of people “liked” posts on social media depicting the President drinking a beer every now and then, and who didn’t laugh at the Obama-Biden “best friend” memes? All of those things were great, but they did nothing to tempt supporters into further engagement at a political level. So while “young liberals” were enjoying their days, a surge was forming to counteract their hope. 

Unfortunately for us, since the advent of flashy handheld distractions, our attention span continues to decrease. The transgressions of leaders from decades before might as well be included with the writing of the Code of Hammurabi. Because we’re an instant gratification society, we demand instant change, and we don’t seem to care how we get it. We just want it. Now. Right now. This setting presents a larger problem due to soundbite news, which spawns a polarization of ideas. It drastically reduces the credibility we give to any politician; anything they say is reduced to a one-sentence statement then blasted across the global electronic platform. Therefore when Paul Ryan stands up and declares the GOP is going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, no one bats an eye except the people that believe it should be repealed. No one gathers supporters of the legislation to discuss how to educate others on the benefits of the existing legislation or possible suggestions to improve it. Because, well, it’s too hard. And even then, only when we realize they’re serious and it’s too late. 

And now each side is sitting with its arms folded, glaring across the room while the few remaining in the middle are walking around wondering if gluten is still bad or not. As frustrating as things are, I still like to think I’m open to honest, respectful discussion regarding the political climate. If someone is willing to have a real conversation, which involves listening and carefully responding, I’m all for it. It’s both disappointing and a little depressing that more often than not the topic proves sour before the first few sentences are uttered. Conversations about current events in Washington are so dividing it’s next to impossible to properly articulate a point before one side gets frustrated and starts throwing mud for the sake of throwing mud. This is the nature of most arguments. They dissolve into petty name-calling when the rationale for their initial argument fails. Sadly, this is the go-to tactic of the man holding the highest office in the land. Instead of causing people to recognize their own inarticulate nature, it has encouraged it.

So, hope and change. I can continue to hope those pressed into either right or left extremism will realize they are creating a wider divide and change their behavior. I can continue to evolve and change my own perspective based on information gathered from multiple sources and hope my self-education will be enough to influence others around me. That alone is difficult. I admit that I’m the first one to let my frustration get the better of me. More so because I find myself dumbfounded at the level of stubbornness, and often downright refusal of the other party to consider a viewpoint different from their own. I’m happy to look at life from multiple angles, it’s what most adults call an opportunity for growth. When I feel I present a valid point and the other side responds by calling me a “snowflake”, a “child in [my] socialist agenda”, a “role model to zero” and that I “spew garbage”, without revealing any hard evidence to refute my point, it’s easy to get fired up. Especially when I’m told I should be deported. Keep in mind I’m a 36 year-old white male born in Indiana.

Unstoppable force of hope, meet immovable object of despondency. 

Still, my optimism persists. It has to, because if it doesn’t, that brick wall of obstinance only gets thicker. The harder it will be to create a world in which I’m comfortable raising children. I don’t want to resort to living in a world based on fear. Nor do I want that for anyone else. Maybe it’s time to dig out the clipboard and go knock on some doors.  

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