by Karla Freyre
Growing up, I was never the kid to stay up watching Cartoon Network like my sister. I never begged my parents to turn off their news program. Instead, I was that kid who was infatuated with programming from Fox News or CNN and interested in the political climate. I remember asking my dad questions like, “what does it mean that our economy is doing bad and how does that man say he is going to change it?” or even more naively, “do you like the elephant people or donkey people?” Regardless of how absurd and immature my questions may have been at the time, never once did my parents make me believe that because of political differences between people that we were better and others were worse. I am fortunate to have a mentality of acceptance and understanding, knowing that separating myself from someone else simply because of that person’s political differences is trivial.
From an early age, I knew from witnessing my parent’s behavior that political parties are a part of who we are, but not all of who we are. Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we are still humans who have our own beliefs of what is best for this country.
Today, it is hard to ignore the fact that our society has evolved into one where we closely align ourselves with a political ideology to the point at which we have let it create barriers between us. This is not entirely the fault of Republicans or Democrats and one should never stereotype one registered voter for the actions that someone of the same political party has committed. This is a widespread issue that is affecting people of both sides of the political spectrum.
This summer, after I posted a reference to myself interning as a Republican, I was immediately inundated with messages from people who I had not even spoken to since high school. They called me names like “misogynist,” and “racist,” and put me into a category of people that I never wish to associate with.
Soon after, I went for an eye checkup to my doctor of ten years. Like we always do on one of my visits, we discussed what type of job I was looking for after graduation. Upon learning that I was looking for a job in the Republican party, he insisted that I defend my political beliefs because he “just doesn’t understand why I would have the beliefs I do.”
Even the members of my childhood church, who saw me grow up and know the type of person I am, insisted on trying to convince me that there is something wrong about aligning with the Republican party.
However, those within my party are not the only victims. This division goes both ways. While I may be getting criticized negatively for my political beliefs, at the same time my close friends on the other side of the aisle are getting labeled as unfairly as I am.
My close friend, Raven, a Democrat, has experienced her own family members wishing to dissociate from her because of her political views. They take any opportunity to make her believe that her political views are wrong.
I’ll be honest. It is exhausting and often times frustrating to have to answer to people who make judgments about me solely because of who I voted for in the presidential election. It is overwhelmingly sad that I and others cannot show support and in many cases, deep devotion, for a political belief without others trying to guilt us into thinking there is something wrong with our devotion.
It has come to the point that I have to be prepared to defend myself while getting an eye exam, and I cannot freely comment on the current political activities in a college class before bracing myself for the potential pushback from people who do not even know me.
I encourage political dialogue, and I am always the one to strike up a conversation about politics. Lately, however, there is less respectful political dialogue and more political divide. Instead of talking about issues like kneeling for the national anthem, society has resorted to burning Nike apparel in protests of Colin Kaepernick and making hateful slurs on each other’s Facebook posts.
There is nothing wrong with being devoted to one’s political ideology or to show commitment to a candidate. But the climate that is being created in our society where we attack others and label one another simply because of what candidate a person voted for is hateful. This rhetoric has created an environment of anger and resentment to the point where it is hard to form relationships with one another.
Maybe George Washington was on to something in his 1796 Farewell Address when he warned that although political parties “may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Maybe, just maybe, he foresaw the political devotion that we are currently exhibiting as a threat long before we did.
Have we become cunning? Ambitious? Unprincipled?
I would argue that our society is not cunning or unprincipled, but maybe we have become ambitious to the point where we have let our political differences divide us. However, there is nothing more democratic, and I think Washington would agree, than being able to proclaim our beliefs and express our disagreements in a way that is promised to us by our Constitution. I believe that Washington wanted civil political discourse and disagreements but never to the point where the deep commitment led to division.
I go back to my childhood days, when I was naïve and all that I knew about politics was that some rooted for a donkey and some rooted for an elephant. I think about how innocent my perspectives on politics were. I think about the conversations I used to have with my dad regarding what issues needed fixing in our country and him explaining his personal beliefs on how to get it done. Now, even with the strong degree of political affiliation that I consider myself to have, I wish I could go back to the times when my friends and I didn’t care as much about the political parties themselves but instead cared about what issues mattered and how they were going to get fixed.
Sure, there is something beautiful about the fact that our society is involved in political rhetoric more than ever. There is reason to be proud that high school teens, like Parkland High School shooting survivor, Emma Gonzalez, want to have more open discussions regarding hot topics and want to advance causes that they feel passionate about. But there would be nothing more beautiful than seeing a society that can tackle these differences that we are so passionate about with a sense of unity.