I’ve very rarely said anything publicly about politics since 2006.
That changed with this presidential election, but I’m going to change it back: this is my final word on this fiasco before I shut up again.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m feeding into this ridiculous polarization of America, and I’m tired of feeling like I’m alienating and being alienated by friends and family, so I’m going to speak my mind and let that be that.
There are few people who actually know the full story of who I am, politically speaking. Actually, maybe no one does, because I don’t talk about it. But I’m tired of being fit into a polarized perception of who I am, so I’m going to spill it.
I’m a 34-year-old white guy who was born and raised in a Protestant home in a small town in North Florida. I have a great relationship with my family, love where I grew up, and am a committed Christian to this day, so my story isn’t one of rebellion.
Politics was never a big deal in my family or community. My family was and is as patriotic as your standard multi-generational American family, and I grew up with a decently strong love of country, but always understood that within the context of falling behind love of God and of others.
If I actually had to label what my upbringing was – which I don’t think is really fair because labels can distort reality, but labeling is what we do – it’d be “moderately conservative,” as you’d likely expect from an average Christian family in rural North Florida in the 1980s.
I’m a passionate guy, so whenever I become interested in a topic, I generally become deeply informed and involved in it. This started happening with politics while I was in college.
One aspect of my commitment to Christianity became a deep concern for how best to care for other people, which fairly naturally translated into a growing care about politics, since politics is the art and science of how one best orders and runs a society, the base concern of which is ultimately how to best protect and maximize the good for a group of people.
I have always loved history, particularly world history, so I took several different courses in college while initially majoring in journalism (since I also love to write). Prerequisites for my journalism degree included courses in both federal and state and local government, courses which combined my preexisting love for history with an interest in the history of American politics.
I had a pretty dynamic federal government teacher who was proactive in offering students internship opportunities with local government officials, so because I thought it would be a cool experience and look good on my resume, I jumped at the chance to intern with our local state senator at the time, Democrat Rod Smith.
My family had been registered Democrats, which dated back to the old Southern truth since the Civil War that – if you wanted to vote in a primary – you’d better be a Democrat because they’re the only ones that had competition in the primaries. That no longer held true as the post-Civil War dynamic of the political parties had flipped, but it was a truth for over a hundred years.
I, however, registered as a Republican because it seemed the closest fit overall to what I believed about government. To this day I believe that the more people you get involved in something (the bureaucratic process), the more of a mess it becomes, because it necessarily becomes more complicated and leaves more room for more egos and more mistakes and corruptions to enter the process, thus “bigger government” is something I generally don’t favor.
But I’ve never been a die-hard partisan, simply because that kind of thinking never made sense to me. I’ve balked at putting my entire trust and support blindly behind any man-made organization – be that organization a political party or a government – because I believe strongly in the fallibility of humanity: we have tendencies to make mistakes, so one must be open to the possibility that any group of people have the ability to horribly screw things up (it took me a very long time to trust the Church for that reason).
I had a great experience interning with Senator Smith for a semester, though it opened my eyes to a lot of the complications of being an effective public servant. He was and is a good man whom I like a great deal and whom I respected as a Democrat for having a hard core Republican as his Chief of Staff simply because the man was good at his job.
After the internship, I took more college classes on politics and delved into political theory because it combined the spectrum of things I already loved with my growing interest in politics: history and philosophy.
Around that time, a good friend of mine whom I went to church with decided to run for circuit judge, the late and wonderful man, David Glant. For reasons I still don’t really understand, David had a very high opinion of me even while I was still so very young (I was 19 or 20 at the time), and when I expressed interest in helping him out as a friend with his campaign, he not only readily agreed but also gave me a decent little bit of responsibility.
I helped him crunch data on voters and organize groups of people to wave signs at selected events, including Florida Gator football games, an idea that bore a lot better fruit than either of us anticipated (there were very few political aspirants doing this at the time, so David got a ton of name exposure for an office few people know anything about).
While the campaign was non-partisan, David was a registered Republican and legally sought support from political groups of people affiliated with both major parties. He had a good relationship with a law school student who was head of the College Republicans at the University of Florida at the time, Travis Horn (shout out, Travis, if you’re actually reading this). I consequently met Travis, a good guy whom I respect to this day and whom would essentially serve as the link between me and the other two “higher profile” political gigs I would later undertake.
David unexpectedly won the election and went on to a distinguished career as a circuit judge in Florida District 8. I developed a fascination with political campaigning that continued to grow: it was actually kind of fun, at least at the level I participated in.
As my college career progressed, I became increasingly disenfranchised with journalism as a major, as I found out that – while I absolutely love to write – I wasn’t in love with the idea of news reporting as a full-time job (ironic because I’ve been part-time managing editor for a small local newspaper for almost a year!).
I switched my major to public relations because it was still within the College of Journalism at UF and had many of the same course prerequisite requirements I’d already fulfilled in journalism. Plus, it focused on advertising and marketing, two skills that would be incredibly helpful in political campaigning.
I was set to finish out my degree in public relations until I realized that, through the combination of switching my major and not fully planning my degree path adequately, it’d take me over two years to finish though I only needed maybe six more classes for my degree, because each class was a prerequisite for the others.
My good friend Bob (love you, Bob) had recently switched his degree program to political science and encouraged me to do the same. I balked at the idea because I saw it as a worthless degree (and, well, that turned out to be true), but when I looked at the degree requirements, I saw that I could graduate in less than a year. Done deal.
I decided I’d finish my undergraduate degree as quickly as I could and then apply to law school.
Now fully entrenched in the political world of the Political Science Department at the University of Florida, my buddy Bob and I decided to have fun finishing out our protracted undergraduate careers. We took our classes together and learned of an opportunity presented by the Alachua County Democratic Party to intern for course credit during the 2004 Presidential Election.
That sparked an idea. My old acquaintance Travis Horn had recently parlayed his College Republican days into becoming the head of the Alachua County Republican Party. If I contacted him and my college department head, why wouldn’t they both love the idea of getting an internship set up through the Republican Party in the same way being offered by the Democratic Party?
Sure enough, both the college and Travis were receptive, and so began not only my stint as “head intern” for the Alachua County Republican Party’s George W. Bush 2004 reelection campaign, but also the beginning of recruitment, as at least four other students became interns (including Bob, because of course).
That campaign was an enlightening experience, as it certainly was a lot uglier than the small, non-partisan circuit judge campaign. People were rude and ugly on both sides. Bob and I were uncomfortable with different aspects of the campaign, none more so than the incredibly surreal and bizarre experiencing of witnessing a highly-partisan prayer session at a regular meeting of the Party. To this day that experience makes us reminisce about that time we “joined a cult for college credit.”
But, overall, while depressing on several levels, it was an experience I remember with some fondness. It parlayed two years later into me helping Travis run for State Senate, for the seat Rod Smith vacated in order to run for Governor of Florida.
Had that campaign ended in success for Travis, I was set to become a legislative aid for him in Tallahassee. The odds were never fantastic as his primary opponent had a vast advantage in name recognition (longtime former Alachua County Sheriff Steve Oelrich), but we were nonetheless confident we would win because we would outwork him.
In the end, it wasn’t enough, though in hindsight we actually did better than we probably should have. Not only did that campaign prove abortive for Travis’ political aspirations (he hasn’t run for office since), but it also was the last sour straw that broke the camel’s back on my active involvement with partisan politics.
Politics is dirty, and there seems to be no getting around that. I wasn’t comfortable with many things I witnessed over the span of five years. I hated the often intense partisanship. I hated the polarization. I hated seeing the very small things that started bending my convictions and that I could see all too clearly would lead to eventual moral compromise.
In short, I was disenfranchised by the partisan political process and not happy with the person it would make me be if I remained involved in it. So I bailed on active involvement and decided to by and large keep my mouth shut on political matters because I was far more interested in advancing the uniting cause of Christ than advocating a divisive, partisan political message.
I continued to love and read history, political theory, and to be loosely informed on contemporary political issues. A series of personal crises had the positive side effect of my abandonment of most man-made pretenses and my fuller immersion into Life with Christ that further began reorienting how I viewed life and subsequently politics.
Several years ago, as my growing interest in my family Germanic heritage led me to read more about German history and theology, I became enamored with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a fascinating German theologian during Hitler’s Third Reich.
That dovetailed into an increasing interest in Hitler himself, and intrigue regarding the question of how he was able to gain power in a time not very far removed from our own and in a Western democracy and culture not all that different from our own.
As a lover of history and student of political theory over the course of more than 3,000 years of recorded human interaction, what is far more striking to me is not how different cultures, governments, and groups of people are from one another. No, what is striking is the vast similarities across disparate times and peoples; what is striking is how much everything has in common despite real differences.
Human nature is human nature, regardless of time, culture, religion, ethnicity, or mode of government. We are all prone to fear of the unknown, resentment, mob mentality, and any other host of shared human propensities, both good and bad.
It is the height of hubris to believe you are better than anyone else at anything. Even if the sentiment is actually true, actively believing it and accepting it as irreversibly true will lead you astray. Pride comes before the fall because it blinds us to the realities of the ever-changing world. Pride breeds complacency and delusion.
The truth about politics is it is ultimately about people. People govern other people; it sounds obvious, but it isn’t. In the end, the strength of whatever form of government holds a group of people together is dependent more on the people currently in charge than it is on the form itself.
Americans seem to generally not believe that. We tend to think our Constitution is so great that it will protect us from any destruction that could come from within. To give the Constitution credit, it has to this point done a remarkable job in doing just that. It is indeed one of the more successful attempts people have made in governing themselves.
But let’s be clear: ultimately, the Constitution is a piece of paper that only has as much power as those who are in charge are willing to allow it. If a substantial number of people are willing to – for whatever reason(s) – either ignore aspects of any governing document or remain oblivious to its breach, then it should be abundantly obvious that the document will be (in part even if not the whole) ignored.
A substantial portion of Republicans have for the past eight years believed that President Obama has abused the Constitution. Somehow, this same group of Republicans is now arguing that the Constitution is strong enough to not be abused by an overly authoritative president. That is the definition of a complete contradiction.
For over a decade, I have disliked Hillary Clinton. I haven’t cared for her personality, her methods, or for many of her policies. I’ve stated in the past that I would never vote for her for any office.
The emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee has completely changed that dynamic. Trump represents an unparalleled threat to American government from within. He fits exactly the mold of nearly every authoritarian tyrant that has emerged in the last 200 years.
These tyrants operate by inducing a society to be afraid. They play to several different fears that are natural human responses to terrible events.
Hitler took advantage of a German society that was humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I and was economically reeling after the Great Depression. He took advantage of a preexisting European anti-Semitism and blamed Germany’s capitulation during the First World War and its subsequent humiliations on Marxist Jews. He provided a clear scapegoat for multi-faceted and complicated problems and offered a clear solution: himself as protector and savior of the German people.
Trump is taking advantage of an American society that has felt humiliated by 9/11, the largely impotent results of two vastly expensive wars, and the perceived weakness of the Obama administration. He is taking advantage of preexisting American prejudices against Muslims, immigrants, and political correctness. He is providing a clear scapegoat for multi-faceted and complicated problems and offering a clear solution: himself as protector and savior of the American people.
Let Trump speak for himself. From his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:
…we will lead our country back to safety, prosperity, and peace. We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order. Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life…Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities…I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored…America is far less safe – and the world is far less stable – than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy…My plan will begin with safety at home – which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order…Every day I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned…I AM YOUR VOICE. I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens…I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
Law. Order. Strength. “I alone can fix it.” In other words: totalitarianism.
Heck, even the fictional point of the much-maligned Star Wars Prequels was to tell the story of how a peaceful republic can be taken over by a totalitarian tyrant: all in the name of safety and security by a person whom the populace willingly embrace as a savior.
Any government can be undone if a majority of the population is willingly convinced that an alternative course is the proper answer. This is exactly what Donald Trump is attempting to convince us all of at this very moment. Of course he would deny this and instead give lip service to supporting the Constitution – he’s not an idiot. But his actions and the broader meaning of the totality of his rhetoric clearly states otherwise.
So you can label me however you like. I’ve hoped to present a clear telling of who I am politically so I could avoid any easy stereotypes, but completely avoiding them is impossible.
It’s up to you, of course, who you are going to vote for. I once thought I’d vote third party in this election, but I’ve become convinced that the danger of Trump being elected is too real and too potentially horrible for me to risk doing so, so I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton who – despite all her many faults, moral failings, and her many policies with which I disagree – does not represent the real potential of our nation devolving into a variation of either a third world dictatorship or the Third Reich.
God is in the end the only judge of any of us, and I’ll be accountable to Him for my actions just the same as you, so as Ted Cruz recently said in a rare moment of truth, “Vote your conscience.”
And God have mercy on us all.