I’ve loved politics since I was a small child. I am a Baby Boomer, born in 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Boom after World War II, during the Eisenhower administration. My parents were “cloth-coat” Republicans, moderate in all things. (The term cloth coat Republicans came from Pat Nixon’s trip to China, where she eschewed fur for a simple wool coat.)
And it goes without saying because I am a white person raised in a safe space, that I was the benefit of white privilege. While I was in Bible School at a rural white church, four little girls of color were killed in Birmingham, Alabama. While I ran in last place at junior high field day, civil rights leaders were shot on the Edmund Pettit Bridge.
My parents read “Time” magazine cover to cover every week, and we discussed the cover story. We talked about current events at the dinner table. My father’s family was mostly Democrats and my mother’s family Republican. My grandmother McVay hated the man she called “Nick a son,” while my Grandmother Enz kept an autographed picture of Ronald Reagan on her television. My Uncle Woody and my Dad exchanged barbs about politics at family dinners. I listened in to their civil exchanges and learned.
The law allowing eighteen-year-olds to vote (long after many young men under 21 gave their lives in Vietnam) enabled me to cast my first Presidential vote at 19 in 1976. I proudly voted for Gerald Ford. My roommate and I (she was a Carter supporter) argued about the candidates, wonky Carter before wonk became a word and clumsy Eagle Scout Ford.
Over the years, the moderate Republican party that I knew became too conservative for me. The party slid slowly to the right, while I stood still. President Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, and the current Republican presidential candidate denies climate change. The political climate has spilled over into what we used to call “polite society,” which by all accounts, is no more. Go to WalMart and listen. Turn on any evening political show. How did we get here?
Perhaps this journey started with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. I volunteered for the John Anderson campaign in Fort Wayne. Anderson was a Republican who ran as an independent. Having graduated from college in the depths of a recession, it wasn’t “morning in America” for me. And, Carter wasn’t working.
The Moral Majority hung onto the non-church-going Reagan as a beacon of morality, while the former B-actor ignored the plights of those with AIDS. Many people made a lot of money in the freewheeling “greed is good” eighties, and others lost sight of the shore as manufacturing curled up and died. International Harvester closed its Fort Wayne plant in 1983, and more than 2,000 people lost good jobs. Many members of the small church I grew up in lost jobs yet kept afloat as many were also farmers. A New York Times article notes that unemployment in Fort Wayne at the time of the plant closing was 10.3%.
Cable tv started in the early 1980s, which brought on 24/7 news. One has to wonder how 24/7 news would have covered Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, or even Lincoln. Can you imagine Mary Todd’s antics for the press? Lincoln himself was known to suffer from depression, then called melancholy. Thomas Eagleton didn’t last when the media uncovered his mental health past. We are aware details of Bill Clinton’s trysts (the famous little blue dress), and photographic evidence of a potential First Lady posing nearly nude.
The events I believe led directly to our vitriol today are two things: the Great Recession of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama. I think history will record the economic events of eight years ago as depression. When I reflect on the Ronald Reagan question “are you better off than during the last President’s run?” I am certainly better off. I was one of the 800,000 people who lost my job during the last month of Dubya’s term. Five years later, I found a similar job. And I’m among the lucky ones. I had severance and health insurance and a spouse to support me.
Second, I believe Barack Obama’s election is in part the reason for the hatred we see. I was raised in an all-white, mostly Protestant, rural area. I heard the “N” word frequently growing up (not in my home.) Somehow the election of our first black President seems to have made racist talk and action okay. To me this is counterintuitive. My father lives in a retirement home that is not inexpensive. Almost everyone who lives there has a college degree or enjoys great business success from the School of Hard Knocks. A neighbor of Dad’s hung a picture of our President as an ape on his front door. Social media runs rampant with memes about Obama (as well as everything else), and it isn’t what my late momma called “kind and good.” Seriously. Is this acceptable?
But, there is much more to celebrate after eight years of President Obama. (Note, I don’t entirely agree with everything he did, but compared to his predecessor taking us into Iraq, he’s vastly improved. People criticized Poppy Bush for years for not going through Baghdad. There was a reason he didn’t. His son found out why.)
- Homicides have dropped 13 percent, but gun sales have surged.
- The economy has added more than 9 million jobs, and the jobless rate fell to below the historical median.
- The number of long-term unemployed Americans has declined by 614,000 under Obama, but it is still 761,000 higher than at the start of the Great Recession.
- Corporate profits are up 166 percent; real weekly wages are up 3.4 percent.
- There are 15 million fewer people who lack health insurance.
- Wind and solar power have nearly tripled and now account for more than 5 percent of U.S. electricity.
- The federal debt has more than doubled — rising 116 percent — and significant annual deficits have continued. (Noted: this is not okay and must be addressed.)
So here we are today with two presidential candidates that most people find offensive, and frankly, equal. Most individuals who support Trump say it is for economic reasons, and yet ignore the facts shown above that the jobless rate has dropped below the historical median. Why people vote against their self-interest has baffled me since I read Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Thomas Frank’s 2004 book looks at how the conservative, anti-elitist movement played out in rural Kansas.
So for whom will you vote?
A cautionary tale: My close friend who is a decade younger than me has been having heart problems. When the situation became critical, my friend went to Cleveland Clinic. The clinic is recognized as the top heart center in the United States if not the world. Imagine if you are in the same situation. Do you want the most experienced surgeons operating on you? Or would you rather have someone who has never worked as a heart surgeon, but learned about it from watching “the shows?” Granted, I’m way over the bubble that is Washington D.C., but in our country’s haste to throw out the elite, political class, who can do the job? The Republican candidate dislikes the military and throws his disdain around for most government workers. He doesn’t have enough children to fill all the Cabinet posts. It ‘s hard for me to believe the Republican candidate beat sixteen other primary challengers.
I’m not going to defend Hillary Clinton for her foibles; that is up to the voter to discern. But I will say that the experience of being a lawyer, First Lady, a Senator, and Secretary of State gives her experience that no other person living or dead has had in government. No other person. There is absolutely no way to equivocate the Republican nominee against this backdrop.
While the Republican nominee sells his experience as a business person, all the evidence we have leads us to believe otherwise. His bankruptcies and texts from various court appearances. His failed businesses. His unwillingness to share his tax returns. We cannot judge his business acumen because he refuses to share the documents that will show his net worth, his charitable giving, and his tax burden. (Tax dollars will fix the crumbling airports about which he complains.)
I am fifty-nine years old, and I’ve been in the workforce for more than 40 years. I want to see a woman president in my lifetime. But, gender is secondary to the difficult job our president has to do. I want a person with the skills to work with other people, the savvy to know when to shut up and when to engage, and the stones to stand up to bullies, Mitch McConnell or Vladimir Putin.
The Republican nominee can do none of those things. A vote for an independent is a vote for the Republican candidate.
When you go into the voting booth, think about your legacy? Will you be complicit in giving the keys to the kingdom to the no-nothing hater? What will you tell your children and grandchildren about your role in this election?