Why I’m talking politics for the first time in 20 years

This week I announced to my social media network that I will vote for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

Over my adult life, I’ve made it a point to keep politics to myself for the most part. I think I chose to be private for three reasons:

Reason #1: Political views can end friendships and I don’t like ending friendships. I came out of high school a card-carrying Republican. I listened to Rush Limbaugh every day and took every opportunity to blame Democrats and liberals for everything right down to bad weather. When I began to question the right and soften towards the left, my old friends on the right were furious. They announced the end of our friendship by shipping me a box full of excrement. You can see why being open about politics makes me nervous.

Reason #2: I can’t recall ever changing anyone’s mind. It’s not just that I don’t seem to have the gift of political persuasion; it’s that people adhere to their political preferences with religious fervor. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my adult life, but you still can’t convince me to give up being an Ohio State fan because Ohio is where I grew up. No amount of logic and reason can turn scarlet and gray into maize and blue. So it with politics in my experience.

Reason #3: I don’t want to be defined by the candidates I support. I believe in one Messiah, one Savior: Jesus Christ. I’d like to think that I’m smart enough not to believe that a politician can solve all the country’s problems. In college, I had a moment of disillusionment about politicians in general and the promises they make in particular. I formed an opinion that Americans put too much faith in what politicians can actually accomplish. I don’t want any part of a political culture in which we treat candidates as messiahs. By putting a candidate’s sign on my front lawn, I feel like I’m announcing to the world that he or she going to save us. He or she is going to make everything better. He or she alone stands for goodness and right. The truth is, one person–even a person in the land’s highest office–can only do so much. The responsibility still resides with citizens like you and me and our fellowship. Saving the world is God’s job and only God can do it.

So why am I changing my practice for this presidential election?

I’ll save the full explanation for a future post. For now, the answer is simply this: The creative tension in dialogue makes us all more aware, more fit, more informed, more sharp, more strong–both as citizens and as a country. We need good political dialogue for our republic to be any good.

I believe those who want to be civil and thoughtful, kind and understanding, are in the majority. We can change the way Americans engage in politics by demonstrating the right way to dialogue about candidates and issues. When we’re silent, we hand the bullhorn to those who are manipulative, mean-spirited, reckless, and self-centered. How is this helping our country? How is this helping the people we love?

We all feel like this election cycle has been the ugliest (and wackiest) we’ve ever seen. I’ve heard a lot of people describing this election cycle as a “nightmare come true.”

So I claim my voice and my vote in 2016, not as a lemming nor a partisan nor a stooge. I claim my voice and my vote and I share it with you. I share it with you not as an advertisement or a guilt trip or a weapon. I share it with you because it’s interesting and worth sharing. I’m interested in you. Your voice. Your vote. I’m interested because listening to you and understanding you does two things: It makes me a better-informed citizen and voter. More important, it weaves the social fabric stronger and tighter as you and I move toward one another.

Perhaps we end up voting differently from each other in November. But if we go from empathic, kind, thoughtful dialogue to that ballot box, we will come together again for a common purpose after the election is over.

At least this is what I hope and it is what I will work to bring about in 2016.

So my plea today is not to cast your vote for Hillary Clinton. My plea is to cast your vote for yourself first. Your voice. It’s worth listening to so use it. and cast your vote for your fellow citizens. Your family and friends. Your neighbors. Strangers who share your community and country. Cast your vote for them by giving them space to use their voices. Affirm them. Listen to them. Understand them. This is not how you vote for a candidate or a party; it’s how you vote for your country: One citizen at a time.


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