The first time I was exposed to politics was at the dinner table when I was around eight years old. As we ate our rotisserie chicken and green beans, my parents joked about how they always voted for different candidates, as one is a Republican and the other is a Democrat, so they just cancel each other out. “What’s the point of even voting?” my sister and I replied. At school, we did mock elections, though the conservative candidate always prevailed, and I remember staying up late, glued to the television, on the night Obama became President. In middle school, I took a civics class, and in high school, did Model UN and designed my own International Relations independent study, and that was enough for me to decide that I would be a Political Science major at Tulane.
That being said, all anyone seemed to ever talk about during my first semester of college was politics, and it was definitely a turn-off. My friends and I watched, confused and frustrated, as Donald Trump became our newest President, and the next day, my Media in Presidential Campaigns professor walked out after giving us a speech about how much of a mess our government was. My liberal classmates were devastated and scared, while my conservative classmates felt like they didn’t have a voice on campus. I realized that I could never be the one running for office and that I much preferred to write about politics and learn about the media’s impact. Since then, I have joked that I am a fake poli sci major because I take so many courses in communications and French/Spanish, but in reality, I just have a different way of studying it: through taking a political communications course, writing opinion pieces about politics for the student newspaper, etc.
Flash-forward to today, and to put it simply, everything in D.C. seems to be run by the political scene. At church, prayers include “For the U.S., which through Jesus Christ, may find peace in its geopolitical conflict with Iran,” and “For the people of Venezuela, that they may have a free and stable government.” This week, I have plans to go to the Congressional baseball game, where fans wear blue or red and cheer for their party, as well as two watch parties for the debates (because what else would they play at sports bars here). Even my average conversations with coworkers, roommates, and friends, revolve around the daily news podcasts we all listen to or what crazy thing the President said that day.
Recently, I went to an event that the American Enterprise Institute held for summer interns in D.C. AEI is known for being very conservative, but they called themselves “nonpartisan” at the event. Heads turned when this happened, and the Brookings interns were taken aback, saying that Brookings is much more of a nonpartisan think tank. But what does that really mean? After noticing that many of my department’s proposed economic policies for recessions include massive government spending and support for programs like Medicaid and SNAP, I asked a coworker if he considered this work to be nonpartisan. His response was, “Yeah definitely, these are just the best policies and are proven by research,” but I’m sure that some people would disagree.
Whether or not it is really possible to be nonpartisan is up for debate, but I sure hope it is, because I often realize that I don’t strongly identify with either party. My opinions about social issues are often difficult to figure out because my identities of being a Catholic and a feminist seem to conflict in our society, and though I know where I stand based on my own values, it doesn’t make sense to me to demand that all people follow my choices. As far as economic policy, foreign policy, etc., I have been studying what has and has not worked for years now but still could not give you a straight answer because every situation is so unique and must be met with the same varied decision making. When I look at candidates, I try to find the best fit for where I stand on various issues, though there is rarely a person who encompasses all of my values and priorities.
The division between Liberals and Conservatives has resulted in a toxic political climate, making me wonder if countries without a two-party system face similar issues. People take politics personally, and for good reason, because the decisions our government makes often affect us in dramatic ways. This being said, it should not define who we do and do not respect. Despite the clear conservative undertones of the AEI event I went to, the president of the institution made a good point. We need to love and respect each other, no matter our identities and political affiliations, in order to save ourselves from a culture of contempt. In my table’s dinner conversation, someone mentioned that “People use what you identify most as to pin you against other people.” I shouldn’t feel limited to just one party, or one of my many identities that make up who I am. As long as I am true to my values, which are a combination of what I have learned through personal experiences and my different identities, and am sure to not let politics define my world, I don’t have to contribute to the angry, political society we often live in. Vote for what you believe in, and respect those around you who do the same, even if you disagree about everything else.
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