Nothing spices up a family function or mandatory social gathering like the mixture of booze, Trump and Clinton. All the ingredients necessary for a memorable rant of disjointed thoughts and unfiltered emotions. I’ve been guilty more times than I wish to remember.
Baiting people into talking politics is one of my favorite past times. For the politically curious like me, 2016 makes it all too easy breaking through the platitudes—getting a sense how people view the world has never been easier. You don’t have to be an authority on politics to see people don’t very feel good about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Disenchanted voters have a strange way of teaching you something about our politics—alcohol having an uncanny ability to release reticent feelings stored up from watching cable news and reading news feeds.
When talking to an old friend I hadn’t seen for years at an engagement party, the topic of the election came up. I was enjoying myself and was caught a bit off-guard before embracing the encounter. My old buddy soon discovered I wasn’t on the Trump bandwagon. In fact, I told him I thought Mr. Trump was a lousy human being. While I don’t like Mrs. Clinton, I made the point she’s probably a lesser of two evils. My friend soon unleashed his political fury.
In what seemed like seconds, I opposed the second amendment, was a vindictive redistributor of hard-earned wealth and supported a corrupt Democratic Party that covered up Benghazi.
Let’s just say I had assumed a lot of baggage.
Other friends soon joined in and diffused the exchange, and we were back to laughs and keg-stands. It was during the following weeks while watching my favorite pundits bark at their guests on MSNBC and FOX News that the confrontation popped back into my head. I realized that in 2016 more than ever, our political conversations are loaded and doomed to fail. Which is exactly why engaging in ideological skirmishes is both taboo and irresistible. It’s the one area where we reveal something about ourselves; there’s no pre-programming to fall back on.
But throughout this crazy campaign, there’s one political beef that’s stayed with me. It involves the next generation of voters—high school students in an art class where I was the substitute teacher. While patrolling the room, I overheard a conversation among some students who decided to take a break from snap-chat and began discussing politics in true adolescent style. They were talking behind a classmate’s back, making fun of him because he didn’t believe in climate change.
This is a generation with Google at their fingertips, with access to all forms of information. These kids couldn’t understand how their classmate could be such an ignoramus—a climate denier had infiltrated their high school. I sat down at my desk and couldn’t help but imagine his side of things—a teenage Trump supporter.
Maybe it wasn’t about climate change. Maybe this kid didn’t want to share the same political allegiance with a bunch of smug11th graders. Maybe for many of us it’s about making sure we’re not caught agreeing with those we dislike or even hate.
This election has proven that facts hold little weight—not that politics were ever a purely rational enterprise or should be. In the past we paid lip service to facts, but now it’s about staking out a position opposite those we want to distinguish ourselves from ideologically.
Isn’t that what the culture war is all about anyway?
I don’t think this election marks a failure of the American character, but is about us trying to make sense of our changing world. Politics have always been an ugly affair since human beings stopped beating each other with clubs and started to talk it out. The, best we can do is embrace this shit-show and hope both parties catch up to the social and economic woes plaguing so many Americans. Until then, we’re going be living in a world where our candidates call each other puppets on the debate-stage and our teenagers engage in political shaming.
In the meantime, I’ll be the awkward dude who can’t help but ask who you’re voting for—even if I have to play the political villain.
The ugly and unhinged can be so much fun.
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