The Anatomy of One American Voter

canstockphoto5811625This post is unusual in that it is excessively long. Apologies on that count. Politics have been eating at my brain all week and it made me think about my motivations as a voter.

The unethical, monied arena of American politics is picking up steam. Political support is reaching all the frenzy of a stock exchange pit.

I find unwavering, unquestioning support of any human or organization to be slightly creepy. This is what puts me off about religion and sports teams and Beyoncé fans. Essentially, any group that seems to demand that one check their critical thinking skills at the door, lay out a bunch of money or spend a lot of time looking for ways to condemn others is too simplistic. And I’m very skilled at being angry all on my own, thank you very much.

This voting cycle is challenging me. So much of it looks like politics as usual, the spewing of vague, unsubstantiated promises, inflammatory rhetoric and sound bite triteness. I stare at the crowds holding signs for this candidate or that and I think What makes you so sure? I’m not. It made me think about who I am as an American voter, uninterested in joining campaign rallies, cynical about every word out of any politician’s mouth, and disdainful of the half-assed reporting being done.

I have prejudices – against the wealthy, against old white politicos, against corporations,  trash-talking politicians, and religious demagogues. Overt nationalism gives me the heebie-jeebs. I have to work with my own biases and critically think about what matters. I need to listen, read and research, because I know relying on my gut feeling or knee-jerk reaction is not rational. I have a history that informs my choices and I need to be honest about that.

Origins

Georgic_postcard.jpgI was born a first generation American. My mother and her family emigrated from England in the early 1950s. Historically, the women were homemakers with little power and unhappy marriages. The men had respectable careers and wandering eyes. Children were born. Divorces were decreed. Poverty happened.

My mother had me when she was 18. My father was around for the first 5 years, but I have little recollection of him. Then a stepfather. 4 kids later, my mother was married to an alcoholic who was irregularly employed and abusive.

I was born into a family comprised of drinking Republicans, raised in the shadows of Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalism and lived in poverty, lining up for government cheese and butter. Judgments from all corners were swift and dogmatic.

Religion

I believed in a vengeful god. As a little girl, I expected to be punished for every infraction. My home life served as evidence. I was baptized in a pool in the front of the church wearing a gown with weights in the hem. The pastor slowly pushed me under the water while my hand scrambled to grab onto his robe. I was 12.

By the time I was 18, I was filled with doubt about the existence of god, the necessity of religion and my ability to believe in something I could not see. In 1987, a 6-year old girl named Lisa Steinberg was murdered by her adoptive father. She was on the covers of magazines. She looked a lot like me when I was her age. It stuck in my head. If I was so protected by faith, why did no one protect her?

canstockphoto7351147It was the studying of Ancient Near Eastern History in college that made me lose my religion. Not some liberal professor or godless academic. It was learning about the Egyptian gods and how gods were changed to suit political purposes and control populations. It confirmed my suspicions that religions were driven by men in power.

It was a nice little set up for them. Ancient texts confirming that they were more important than women, than children, than animals. Organizational rules that ensured women could not lead, corporal punishment could be used on children and that animals could be sacrificed and eaten with alacrity. It was a theological casino where the house always wins. I let it all ride, left with my pockets empty, but my heart lightened.

Military

I signed up for the Army when I was 17. I was a smart kid, but no one ever talked about college in my household. We worked. We survived. We didn’t ask for more. But I wanted more. I took tests and signed on for an eight-year gig in military intelligence as a Russian linguist, 4 active duty, 4 inactive /reserve.

canstockphoto0087452.jpgBasic training was at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I got held up because my mother was not a citizen. When the background check finally cleared, I joined the ranks of women trainees. We were the first company of women to be trained more on par with the men. Except every day, we knew we weren’t.

Physical training put us in thin gray t-shirts and gym shorts. A lieutenant would walk around, watching us do sit-ups, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his dick was always at attention. Drill sergeants bellowed out Jody calls that would only make sense for men and then laughed their asses off when we’d repeat them.

I spent a lot of time doing push-ups, because I had a bad habit of making direct, angry eye contact with people who were bossing me around. My drill sergeant had the red-rimmed, watery eyes of an alcoholic. I hated him on sight.

I graduated basic to spend a year at the Defense Language Institute in California. Then 3 months at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. My final duty station was Wuerzburg, West Germany supporting an infantry division. I spent two and a half years there, mostly out in the field or at the motor pool with a team of 4-5 men. Off-duty I rambled about Europe either drunk or hungover.

For my reserve time, I joined a field support hospital unit, got re-trained as a combat radio operator and waited, with the rest of the unit to be called up for the first Gulf War. Despite the combat-hungry commander, who called Washington nearly every day to volunteer the unit, and all the training sessions about how when I got over there, I couldn’t drive and had to keep my sleeves rolled down, we never got called. Once the war paused, I left the unit and did the rest of my time on inactive duty.

Education

I settled in to use my college fund. I tested out of basic college requirements and did a cheap year at a community college before attending the University of Iowa. I graduated with my BA in two years and with no plan, went to grad school. The college fund was gone, so I worked three jobs to pay for that first year. I was out of my league and regularly fell asleep during lectures. I quit because I didn’t want to pay any more to be miserable.

Work

canstockphoto18405495I’ve always worked my ass off, but seemed ignorant of the fact that I was chronically underemployed. I cleaned toilets and did laundry at a hotel. I waitressed at a truck stop. I cashiered, unloaded trucks and did ungodly shifts at a big box retailer. I was a security guard, a library manager, a medical records reviewer. I made doughnuts and sold VCRs. I translated Russian political documents and managed a medical residency program at a university. My last job was as a small business manager.

I worked with a wide variety of people in very different environments. And the only lesson that really stuck with me is that there is no they or them. Every single person has a story. Which makes life complicated. Which makes politics complicated.

Relationships

I never imagined that I would get married or have children. I didn’t have good relationships and they didn’t fit in with my fantasy of being a writer who traveled the world and sipped coffee over the New York Times.

canstockphoto2872319It took me awhile to realize that I was hungry for stability. I decided to stay in one place. I hung out my single shingle and met my partner. He was a progressive Lutheran with a sense of humor and a MacGyver competence with duct tape and PVC pipe that was damned impressive.

My wedding with 10 people in a park and a justice of the peace dissipated in the face of his beliefs. His wedding was in a Lutheran church with a zillion people and all the trappings of tradition. He got his wedding. I kept my name. Almost 16 years later, we still like and love each other. And vehemently disagree about religion.

Parenting

Having a child is a game changer. At 37, it also meant that I would never sleep a full night again, as babyhood evaporated into the insomnia of perimenopause. I attended parenting classes, because I knew more about changing a tire than I did about raising a kid. It has been, for me, an amazing experience. Older, good job, more money, higher education – people may disavow a need for stability to have a happy home, but holy shit – it helps.

3,728 soccer games and music lessons later, I am raising an amazing person. More amazing than I ever could hope to be. She knows how to work, she’s kind to others and she asks the best questions. What will the world hold for her? Who will represent her?

I’m a fervent supporter of public education, but I’m angry about it. Kids have become guinea pigs for the pedagogical meanderings of disconnected administrators, while teachers try not to drown under the unrealistic expectations of bureaucracy and taxpayers. The unimaginative application of corporate values to education has created a cobbled-up mess of logos and hot air.

Health Care

People can complain (and do) all they want about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but somebody finally did something. Our health care system is unfettered capitalism at best, mercenary at worst. The PPACA may be the wrong thing. It may need some work, but no one seems to have come up with an alternate plan that can be reasonably implemented. At least not with the sloppy mess we now have in Washington.

Guns

Despite my military experience, I am scared of people with guns. The availability of assault weapons, this much-defunct wild west mentality, the insecurity that drives conspiracies, the hyper-machismo, the idea that more guns means we’re safer, is absolutely delusional. Have you met humans lately? Some of them can’t drink hot coffee without injuring themselves.

Politics

I used to say in that pithy way that wishy-washy people do, I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Since none of the major parties represents these ideas, I went from a registered Republican to a Democrat to an Independent. I’m really none of those. Most of the time I vote Democrat, because their rhetoric sounds less likely to kill us all.

Summary

The point of this incredibly long post is that I’ve come to believe that it’s not just the politicians who are lying. Voters unwittingly lie about their motives, their beliefs and their objections. They lie because they don’t think about what informs them as a voter – which means their choices are ones of default.

I see people fervently supporting one politician over the other and wish they’d just take a timeout and ensure that their beliefs are reasonable and for the common good, because it matters. Even if our political system is corrupted, even if we feel powerless, personal integrity matters.

I love my country. I love its potential, its diversity, and in the end, its optimism. What I love, most of all, is its changeability and believing that I can be part of that.

I’m an American voter.

What experiences inform you as a voter?

58 Comments on “The Anatomy of One American Voter

  1. I read this mostly because I wanted to know more about you; I admire your intelligence, fire and insight, and –now that I know — the resilience with which you have come to this point in your life. Also, you’re a helluva writer. Other than that, the idea that our individual histories deeply shape our perceptions is spot on. As is your call for self-examination in that vein, specifically as it relates to the election cycle. Yes: Personal integrity matters, and that much is within our control. Thank you for your personal and political astuteness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The point about what is in our control is so important. I often feel disheartened by the money, the pointless rhetoric and the examples of corruption and it would be easy to check out of the whole process. That seems wrong as well – looking for where we do have power and using it is critical. Thanks for the comment, Cate.

      Like

  2. What a fantastic post. I think we bloggers all give slices of ourselves in posts, but this one nicely summarizes a lot of you and what makes you you.

    Every step we’ve taken leads us to who we are and should, therefore, be a part of what goes into our consideration of what we want for our country’s future.

    I spent 10 years as a (low level) lobbyist, watching government up close every day. In the late 1970s and early 80s, government service was an honor. And I watched it deteriorate into what it is today — a revolving door of greed and ego (well, that was there, too, but fed by accomplishments and that, to me is OK). Had things remained the way they were back then, I would be a liberal republican. Instead, I am a very liberal democrat. I believe in pooling resources (taxes) and addressing challenges and problems. Today’s GOP doesn’t and they seem hell-bent on making life more and more miserable by denying healthcare (I agree with your comment on this 100%); social programs; medicare and social security.

    We adopted our son Jacob from Chile. When we visited, we were startled by the physical evidence of a haves-and-have-nots society. High fences and spiked gates surrounded beautiful mansions, and outside on the streets the beggars tried to scrape up enough to eat.

    That, I believe, is where today’s GOP policies are leading us. That’s not where I want to live.

    I love Bernie’s ideas — free healthcare! Free university! But they will never get through. We need to get what we can eke out — so I’m voting for Hillary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure Bernie can’t get through. A few years ago, I’d have said he couldn’t get taken seriously, and that’s happening. I spent most of my life holding my nose and voting for someone who wasn’t as bad as the alternative, so I’d vote for Bernie if I could. Sadly, I vote in a state that holds caucuses, which I can’t attend because I live in the UK and vote an absentee ballot.

      Great post.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Even if he gets through, he wants to implement his free healthcare and free college through the states. You know like the ones blocking ACA Medicaid expansion. Oy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a shitty, stressful job and every single president looks like they age 10 years once in office. If 74-year old Sanders is the candidate, my vote would depend on his VP. The average life expectancy of an American male is 76 years old.

        Liked by 1 person

        • hi Michelle,
          I agree. I worry, since he is elderly. He would have to have an incredible VP lined up to get my vote! Though, the field of candidates is so bizarre and so unappealing, truly, I don’t want to vote for any of them.
          I keep waiting for the “Real” candidate to stand up, and declare him, (or her) self!

          Liked by 1 person

        • The only President who didn’t seem to age any faster was GWB. He didn’t seem particularly bothered about anything and let Rove do all the thinking.

          Liked by 3 people

    • In the Twin Cities, where suburbs are like growth rings on a tree, you can take an hour and drive through every strata of socioeconomic class, from the desolate and abandoned, to the prefabbed monster homes.The gap is growing.

      It has been fashionable since the Reagan years to wail on about welfare reform, but the biggest coddled baby of them all, the military-industrial complex remains untouched. In comedy and satire, it has always been de rigeur to punch upwards, but the conservatives have gone the other way. And they are decidedly NOT amusing.

      My concern, too, is the general ugliness and irrationality of the rhetoric. I don’t want any of these jackasses representing the country on the international stage. High school debate students have a better grasp of civility and logic than some of these buffoons.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I could write a book in response to this blog. I believe personal integrity is possibly the most important consideration for any individual. That our political system rewards corruption is an insult to those who believe in honesty and fair play. I’m not sure it matters who becomes president, because the political machine seems to run itself, with almost everyone so dependent on the status quo that no individual really wants to or can afford to change it.

    The government is a reflection of its populace, like it or not, and the populace would rather look the other way than confront the bullies and cons who control his/her paycheck. As individuals compromise on principle, they get drawn into the vortex and become part of the problem.

    I can make as strong an argument for not voting as you do for voting. To vote means you accept the system, which is not a “democracy” or a “republic.” Instead, voters are asked to choose between two carefully pre-vetted candidates, but know the appointed electoral college or the appointed US Supreme Court will have the final say.

    The presidential race is marketed like a sporting event, with canned questions based on assumptions I do not hold. Genuine game-changing questions are assiduously avoided, with concentration on superficialities. The candidates–like Ron Paul in previous elections–who do have integrity, common sense, and good ideas are discounted, disregarded, or ignored. Ron Paul’s pacifism, his concerns about the Fed, and his popularity among young voters were too threatening to the power brokers for them to give him a forum.

    I believe the US government is suicidal, but like you, I love the potential of US citizens. I would like to think we are on the verge of growing up, realizing the government should be servant, not master or parent. It has commandeered the role of divine authority the churches used to play, to our detriment, and has condemned us all to hell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are much more pessimistic than I, but I think that’s a common sentiment. The divine authority of churches is not a universal belief and many suffered at the hands of that authority. But this is the beauty of this country – growing, changing, evolving to accommodate a wide range of beliefs. Your comment is a good example of how personal beliefs inform political beliefs. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What informs me is what informs you–my life experience. I was raised in a Republican household and let it go not long after my first voting experience. The Money and The Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America had a big impact on how I view banking, national intelligence and other forces at work we do not appear to be able to control in government, but I believe it is important to vote and be in the process no matter.

    One person cannot do all the things that are promised. It takes teams of people working together and the lack of conversation and connection of those in Congress is most disheartening.

    Thanks for your excellent blog!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I, too, believe it is important to vote and pay attention. Politicians are relying on apathy to get their biggest wingnuts elected.

      The lack of conversation and the intransigence of not only Congress, but the direction our public discourse is taking as a whole is disheartening.

      I’ve been re-reading “Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication” by Sharon Strand Ellison, because that is a skill I would very much like to have – to be able to argue respectfully, to get a point across without being uncivil. I wish our politicians could do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like to think of honeybees doing their waggle dance back at the hive to tell the others what they’ve found. One of the foraging bees dances faster and more vigorously than the others. ‘That’s the guy we’re going to follow’ say the others – and off they go.

    Bees don’t lie.

    It’s not good voters who lie: People lie. It’s a big part of our makeup.

    I’m British, but if I were American I would vote Democrat because I think the party and the people who vote for it are by and large is more open minded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect it is much as you describe, except in this case, the bee has a comb-over and thinks all the other bees are just stupid.

      I think I went with the word “lie” for contrast, but perhaps it is more a level of obliviousness to their own motives.

      Neither the Republican or Democratic Party are the parties they used to be. The Republicans have become a group of self-loathing malcontents and the Democrats have become centrist, paralyzed mouthpieces.

      However, I’d like the people to be in charge who don’t seem to hate everybody who is not like them. I’d like all those others to go back to their lives of shouting at everyone to get off their lawn.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I spent the first thirty years of my life as a progressive Democrat and the next thirty-five years working for government. Now I am a Republican.

    I buy into very little of what Republican candidates have to sell, my problem is with the Democrats. I will point to two experiences that were pivotal in my change of heart.

    The first was reading a 1999 article in the Washington Monthly titled What Lou Gerstner Could Teach Bill Clinton: Lessons for government from IBM’s dramatic turnaroundIt is a long read but an extremely good article which speaks of the same problem with institutions that confounded the ancient Chinese who expressed similar complaints in their Discourse on Iron and Salt (written in 81 BCE). Here is the money quote:

    “If you leave institutions in place for too long, whether governments or corporations, they get focused on maintaining themselves as institutions,” says Jim McGroddy, who ran IBM’s research labs from 1989 to 1995. ‘What they achieve for the customer becomes very secondary.'”

    It speaks volumes about the fiscal melt downs of Detroit, Chicago, State of Illinois, Puerto Rico, Greece and Argentina which is caused by the resistance to change failed models of government.

    It also perfectly explains why the Twin Cities spends close to $20K per student per year with shockingly terrible results.

    But that is not what radically changed my views – that happened in a hallway of Minneapolis City Hall.

    I had arrived early for a meeting to set up a presentation – but the previous meeting had run late, so I had to wait on a bench in the hall. Across the way, two very young girls sat by themselves on a bench. They were role playing. While their peers might play act teacher/child or doctor/patient – these girls were play acting social worker/client.

    That in itself was heartbreaking but listening to them was more than mortifying. Their game would be more accurately described as power holder/manipulator. They were literally practicing how to game the system and avoid being manipulated while being manipulative.

    They were learning how to function within the confines of institution that was more interested in its own rules than the welfare of its clients.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand what you are saying, but no one, including the Republicans have offered a viable solution for better governing. Idiot Trump wants to cut whole departments without even understanding what they do. The rest of them seem hell bent on only cutting those agencies that regulate any business that they’re shilling for, which is not at all for the common good.

      I’m very careful not to be swayed by anecdote, because for every one instance there are ten more unseen to counter it. I wrote a long screed in response about how easy it is to target the poor for reform while letting corporations shit on us in a hundred different ways, but I’m tired. Thank goodness I don’t write political posts too often. Thanks, Greg, for taking the time to share your experience.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I certainly do not want to get into a back and forth about politics because most political discourse is little more than tribal chest-thumping.

        I will say this though – both Democrats and Republicans should focus on their own failings rather than those of their opponents.

        As I see it, the Democrats are taking the Christopher Walken approach toward government, yelling “More Cowbell” while the Republicans madly play air-guitar as they shriek about the evils of rock and roll.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. If only every voter took the privilege and responsibility of voting as seriously (and thoughtfully) as you do there’d probably be no need for this post. That’s what is more terrifying about this election. If you can believe what you read and see on TV (questionable on a good day) people are voting for either hatred or idealism, neither of which is going to serve anyone well. In truth people American voters (and elsewhere btw) could have been voting smarter for years and years, the dysfunction has been building for a very long time. But this time they are really playing russian roulette with their futures and they haven’t figured that out — neither do they seem to care. And the media is definitely not helping. There is an important and meaningful role they could play, but predictably (sadly) they’ve decided to help themselves by seeking out content that will garner high ratings instead of helping viewers cut through the bullshit and make informed decisions. I’m Canadian and for the first time in years I am happy with the outcome of our recent federal election. For once I feel like we united, put our country first and picked the candidate who most shares our values, hopes, dreams and goals. Of course it helps that we finally had a candidate we could believe — and believe in. Wonderful, thought-provoking post Michelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I secretly hope that this election cycle is a peak of our dysfunction. It seems preposterous that a know-nothing loudmouth narcissist like Donald Trump could be a contender. Ross Perot was at least funny and not a mean bastard.

      The media is definitely uneven in its reporting and it is tiresome to have to research their reporting to figure out what is true and what is not. I thought that was their job. And please, for the love of all that is reasonable, can they stop using Tweets in their reporting? Sigh… I feel like an old bag shaking my fist at the wind.

      I do think there’s a quiet majority out there who thinks it’s all whack-a-doodle as well. I just hope they show up to vote.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m with you. All true. I KNOW I’m “an old bag shaking my fist at the wind.” If Iowa and New Hampshire are any indication I think they will show up to vote. Let’s hope and pray they bring their brains with them.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Wow, we have quite a few things in common…

    I may be more firmly in the left camp, but also grew up in a Fundamentalist (extended) family, becoming more and more skeptical as I learned more history (for me, the the great flood of Ancient Greek mythology was a tipoff).

    Also skeptical of gun agendas (despite military training) and support healthcare (Obamacare didn’t go far enough, IMO, but its tough the navigate toward a single payer system).

    I also went to DLI (Arabic, but I was hoping for Russian) and wasn’t sure if I even wanted kids before having them past thirty. *highfive*

    While I’d love the extra energy of my 20’s, I think having kids now is mostly great. You feel like you had your time to explore, you are more secure, more emotionally stable…

    But yeah… I’m a left-leaning Democrat who wonders how much it all matters anyway, what with all the pocket-lining backdoor political deals going on. I’m in the Bernie camp and Trump scares me, but I think it’s no coincidence those two are the frontrunners right now. They both come across less “for sale” than the other candidates (everyone else seems motivated by lobbyists and poll predictions), and this is attractive when people are growing more and more disillusioned with political maneuvering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do have a lot in common! Learning history did wonders for my perspective – human patterns start to emerge and it puts current events into a broader context.

      The gun agenda is built upon the greed of manufacturers, insecurity and a lack of common sense. It’s simple math that the more guns there are, the more dying there will be. I just think less dying, less grief might be a good thing in this world.

      DLI was a unique experience. When I signed up, I wanted to be a French linguist. My sense of world events and military needs hadn’t quite evolved!

      As you point out, there are some pros and cons to having kids when older. I’m tired! On the other hand, I feel like I had so much to learn about myself and the world before consciously bringing another being into it.

      I haven’t decided to be in anyone’s camp at this point. A lot can happen between now and November. I’m torn between idealism and pragmatism – it’s the same thing when I cast my vote for an Independent, knowing that it’s a throwaway vote, but frustrated with this two-party nonsense.

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree. Traveling when I was little and reading a lot… anything that gives you more perspective is good, in my opinion. Then at least you can form your own opinions rather than accepting everyone else’s by default.

        Funny, I wanted to be a French linguist as well! Of course, we didn’t get to choose. We were assigned a language after the DLAB test (I’m guessing you took the same) and they were assigning all the group 4’s Arabic or Korean at the time.

        Yes, tiring! I tell myself that kids will probably keep us in better shape. I’m motivated to take better care of myself for the kids, and really I think the fatigue is the biggest drawback. I bet we’d be tired in our 20’s too, though… just a little less tired.

        I get the pragmatism thing. I’m disillusioned with the Democrats, for example, but worry about throwing away my vote. I wonder if third parties will ever have a viable shot.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The Anatomy of One American Voter – chopipilipil

  10. Your thoughtful post as a younger voter (I know, you’re a Mom, so not that young in your own opinion!) is encouraging to me as a member of the first group of individuals ‘allowed’ to vote at 18 years of age. Yep, 1972 was my first Presidential election and I barely made the deadline as my b-day is in October. I registered as an Independent and only declared a party for one election in a state where you had to do that in order to vote in the primaries (that one was basically an independent write-in….very interesting – NM in 1980) Then I switched back as soon as ‘allowed’ to do so!
    My point? Over the years, I’ve noticed that with increased access to so much info, there is actually less out there for those of us who truly try to ‘vet’ the candidates via our own research and fact finding…
    So, much of what ‘informs’ my vote is unavailable for me to attain and is reduced to candidates basic voting records –
    Bottom line: in the old days (way before me, even!) politicians weren’t paid too much more than average Americans so a good portion of their motivation for running was a healthy desire to make America a good place, etc….of course corruption, and running for power has always been in the mix for political rule, but just saying that salaries do make a difference IMHO.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for sharing your voting history – that’s so interesting to get that perspective!

      I think money has corrupted the whole process, starting with the campaigns. The “stump speech” is now an auto-tuned staged performance, monitored and controlled by people who are paid ungodly amounts to keep the robot politician on “message”. It’s quite stultifying to a voter.

      As overwhelmed as I find sorting through all the information, I’m glad that I can do enough digging to satisfy basic questions for myself. It does take critical thinking skills to sort the dreck from the solid bits of info. And a lot of time, which really impedes most of us from getting what we need to make good decisions. This was supposed to be a function of journalism and there are still some sources that are useful, but again, it’s all about being able to recognize the good from the fluff.

      I don’t even think it’s the salaries that are the issue – it’s the campaign financing and lobbyists and deals that get made, much kept from the voting public’s eyes.They come into office indebted to big donors and corporate shills, when we need them to represent us with agility and a need for the common good, a phrase much lost in today’s culture.

      Still, there’s us, the voters. And that’s not nothing. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. One of the best, most thoughtful, engaging, and articulate posts I’ve read yet. It didn’t seem so long at all. You have to hope people will have the wits to elect a decent candidate and consider more than one issue (like, abortion or “family values.” Other than that, pray for the decent candidate to do some good and less harm. I’m Episcopalian (sort of like cousin to Lutherans) and in our Prayers of the People we include a prayer that those in power will act wisely and exercise good judgment.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the kind comments about the post. You bring up a really important point about electing candidates on single issues. I think this is one of the reasons we see our political parties catering to the wingnuts on the fringes. You have these dogmatically inclined individuals that only care about one issue and they are very loud.

      I think single-mindedness and the belief that their truth is absolute is the result of needing to make things simple. It’s an understandable desire amid all the complexity of this country’s issues. But it’s damaging in the long run.

      Your comment reminded me of the medical affirmation to “First do no harm”. It seems like the very least we should expect of our politicians!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I recently wrote a post called, “On the Subject of Politices” in which I discuss some of these same ideas in a more general way. Because I don’t believe you can ever know all there is to know about any one issue and acting as if that’s the case, and as if your view is therefore the only correct view, is just foolish.

    You can read it at: http://wp.me/p5gu6h-dT

    Like

    • I read your post and I liked the phrase you used from Stephen Hawking about the danger of “the illusion of knowledge”. I always believe the first step is to thoroughly know yourself, your prejudices and anecdotal beliefs and then you work to understand others, with no expectation that you will.

      We, as voters, know only the tiniest fraction of this machine we call government. The choice is to do the best we can or throw our hands up in the air and give up any semblance of effort. I go with door #1.

      I laughed when I read in your post when you said your family didn’t discuss politics. My family did and loudly. However, with social media these days, sometimes I wish people didn’t do that all the time. It always spirals into this ugly, disrespectful space with everyone just shouting at each other. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Most of the time I vote Democrat, because their rhetoric sounds less likely to kill us all.

    Me too. I have no answer to your question, but will be thinking about it from now on. This is a great post, articulate and so spot on with your observations about who you are and how that has influenced you. Well said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ally. When I think about how we, as individuals, are influenced by widely different experiences and then throw in regional, cultural and religious differences, it’s amazing that we have managed to function as a country at all. I think that’s something to remember as well. All is not lost!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post Michelle. I was a Republican when I first started voting, in the Reagan years. I was a Republican because at the time I was involved in the Evangelical Church, and, ya know, Jesus was a big time Republican, heh. As I have grown away from the control issues of the church and have gained a deeper understanding of the inequalities of our society, I have become more and more progressive in my thinking and I’m now an Independent. I find it difficult to understand what people are voting for when they vote strictly down party lines, when they vote for politicians whose platforms are counter productive to their own well being, and when they support policies that are irresponsible and unjust. You are so right. We are so often voting for a carefully packaged and presented product. We are voting for ideologies that can’t possibly persist in reality. It’s a frustrating process to observe and it’s impossible not to get crazy at times. But it’s what we have to work with now. I really believe we need a system more like some European countries, with more than two parties in attendance, where the debates are lively and people shout “Here, here”, and “Boo”, but the respect is not lost and the division isn’t toxic. Thanks for posting this timely and very important message.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed, Ilona! I admire people who evolve with learning and a changing environment. It’s these people, these thoughtful, mindful, intentional people, who lead movements of progress and hope. I want to be one, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suspect that you are a thoughtful mindful person Catherine! We all have so much to learn and the opportunities for learning have never been greater. Thanks for your comment!

        Liked by 1 person

    • I do enjoy watching the UK House of Commons at work – it’s so raucous and seems counter to the civility that the Brits often pride themselves on. They openly mock each other as a matter of practice, but I don’t see how that would work in our current Congress – they’ve become so incredibly rude and snarky to each other, I don’t think volume and interruption would help.

      There does seem to be some massive hoodwinking of voters when, as you say, they’ve taken to voting against their own interests in pursuit of ideology that has no bearing on their daily lives. I think the Tea Party Scam of 2009 to recent years is an example of this – posing as a popularist party in nature, but ending up simply as another fundraising arm of the Republican party.

      One of my favorite things to do before an election, is printing out the ballot from the State Secretary’s website and spending time pouring over the names with a red pen. I research, make notes, add a couple of write-ins and I take it to the ballot booth. I’ve done that the last few elections and it changes how I feel about my contribution. It keeps me from voting straight party lines or voting for single incumbent judges of whom I know nothing.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences!

      Liked by 2 people

  15. There is a comedian (I don’t remember which,) who says he belongs to neither party because he doesn’t want to always be wrong half the time (or something like that!) I agree. I’m amazed that there is a whole class of people (the incredibly shrinking middle class to be exact,) who are completely snowed by the ruling majority (aka upper class.) They’ve been some how convinced that the poor folk in this country are dragging us down, when it’s the rich folk that are sucking us dry! Some day, the legislation of the oligarchs is going to hit them where it hurts and they’re going to realize that they aren’t rooting for the right side, they’ll be facedown in the mud like the rest of us and wondering what just happened!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That joke’s funny, but also sad, since it points out how we’ve thrown in the towel on anything but a 2-party system.

      I think it’s easier to target the poor. What are they going to do to fight back? And that’s what makes the conservative attack on social programs so appalling – it’s cowardly and repugnant. They are not equal opportunity fiscal bullies, going after the corporate loopholes, jobs being shipped overseas, military bloat, financial trickery – they go after single moms and children and the elderly (until they are old, of course).

      It will be interesting to see how the next few years play out. And when I say “interesting”, I might actually mean “scary”.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Michelle!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Great post. I can’t even get my head around this whole political mess enough to get out a coherent post on it. My favorite bit was what you wrote in one of the comments, “I secretly hope that this election cycle is the peak of our dysfunction.” The cynic in me is fearful that it still will get worse before it gets better and the moderates retake some control from the fringes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I fear as well, Nancy. The last two election cycles seemed pretty bad to me – extremist rhetoric and wingnuts coming out of the woodwork. Hopefully, the grip of fundamentalism and isolationism that holds so many people in its thrall will loosen. It feels like there will be a seismic shift in our political landscape, but that might be the optimist in me talking.

      Like

  17. What an excellent post. Thank you for sharing about your life and background. In some ways you and I are so alike: “I never imagined that I would get married or have children. I didn’t have good relationships and they didn’t fit in with my fantasy of being a writer who traveled the world and sipped coffee over the New York Times.” This sounds like my dream. I had way too many examples of poor and painful marriages to want that for myself. But then I met my husband and somehow realized that as hard as marriage can be, I wanted that more than spending a life of solitude. I grew up in a religious home (Catholic), but didn’t like religion.

    But we also have significant differences. In college I finally figured out what Christianity was actually all about, and now I love God more than anything. Politically, I’m independent, but usually lean toward the conservative side.

    But despite the differences, the most important thing is that I wholeheartedly agree with your statement, “Every single person has a story. Which makes life complicated. Which makes politics complicated.” Yes. Each person has a history and a reason for their actions/beliefs that everyone else can barely begin to understand. Add to that there is so much going on behind each and every political scenario that not one person can possibly know all the intricate details that make political decisions so complicated.

    Everybody wants the world to be in black and white, everything to be either good or bad, but that’s just not how the world works. There is a certain amount of grey and for us to want to play God ourselves and pretend that any one person can know all the answers and think everyone else is an idiot is so frustrating to me. Every time I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook I see both my liberal and conservative friends posting things that can only be described as mean nastiness.

    It makes me even angrier when it’s the people with whom I politically agree who are doing the nasty posting. I am not a socialist. And I hope my country does not move in that direction, but one of my conservative friends posted an article about Bernie that discussed the “dangers of socialism” and the cover picture was a pile of dead bodies. I didn’t open the article, but posts like that are fear-mongering. Fear-mongering is not how we should convince others to vote or not vote a certain way–education is. But I guess we can’t do that anymore. Our culture has gotten to the point where we don’t really want to listen. We want all the information we can get in the form of sound-bites and pictures.

    I’m sorry to vent so much. I don’t even live in the US (I’m a US citizen living in China), but the political environment surrounding this election is infuriating. What ever happened to kindness? What happened to educational and informative discussion where people can respectfully talk, share, agree to disagree, and walk away without insulting the other?

    As a side note, I’m in the process of reading Steve Sheinkin’s book Most Dangerous Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. I’m only 20% of the way through, but it’s a fascinating example of what happens behind the scenes in a political decision and how there is so much of the story that doesn’t get told to the American public. The dishonesty happened then, too. I love reading history . . . it helps me to make sense of the present.

    Thanks again for the post. I enjoyed reading your background and thoughts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the great comment, Lonna and for sharing your background.

      I think the most frustrating thing about social media is that it short-circuits people’s critical thinking skills as they pass on meme after meme, repeat talking points and throw around words like socialism, without any context or understanding. I don’t know if they think it makes them sound knowledgeable or what the deal is, but it’s incredibly lazy thinking and behavior. When did the bandwagon seem like such a great place to be?

      In terms of the kind of rhetoric being thrown about. I agree with you absolutely. Basic debate and listening skills seem to be a thing of the past. And if someone knows they’re intransigent in their thinking, why do they bother to engage others? Obviously, the battle to be right is more important to them than learning anything new.

      I read a couple of reviews on the Sheinkin book and it sounds like something I’d enjoy reading, so thanks for sharing that!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Michelle, I bow to you. Thank you for sharing your personal story here. You write so eloquently and succinctly what so many of us feel. Tonight I posted on Facebook an article from The a Guardian US:
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/12/bernie-sanders-voters-supporters-10-reasons-why-us-election-2016
    I added this:
    I like this. Maybe I’ll start reading The Guardian. Of all the candidates, I am most clear about Sanders on what policies he will pursue in office. I have no illusions that college will be free and there will be affordable healthcare for all by the time his term(s! 😜) are over. But I believe he can mobilize fellow optimists to participate. I believe he can inspire us all to engage and find a way, or at least start blazing potential pathways.
    I love that he runs on a platform of unification and collaboration, rather than criticism and blame.
    Most of what the others say about policy feels vague. I don’t know what they plan to build or contribute, other than a wall against Mexico. They want to dismantle Obamacare. But replace it with what? What are their plans? How do they plan to unify anybody to accomplish anything?
    Please comment, if you feel so moved. But please keep your words respectful and civil. My goal is to understand how we all think and feel, not to argue over who is right.
    Michelle, I feel a kinship with you, based on our published words today as well as in the recent past.
    Please continue reading, learning, sharing, and writing. We need us, we the thoughtful and the hopeful. This country is great and the outcome of this election will not make or break us. But we do have a tremendous opportunity to choose a different direction. Let us each do our part, one step at a time! Best wishes to you, my writing friend! 😊😘😁

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Catherine, for reading and sharing the article and your beliefs. I’m not gung-ho about either Democratic candidate, but I am most assuredly not voting for any of the Republican candidates who all sound a bit rabid and disconnected from reality. Having just gone through the list of Independent candidates, there is little of joy to be found there, either.

      You make an important point about this election not making or breaking us. It always begins to feel like a doomsday scenario before elections. I remember how I thought we’d go straight down the toilet with Bush and in some ways we did (6,717 service men and women dead, international relations distorted beyond recognition), but we survived it and hopefully will retrieve a few of those irons from the fire.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. After reading your article, which I liked very much, I am amazed at how similar our stories are. Substitute Irish for English, alcoholic mother for father, I worked my way through school at everything from dorm cleaning to musician, taught the DLI books in Wiesbaden as a teacher corp member.
    I married a German, and have spent a lifetime here keeping things together through family health crises and listening to Europeans, especially Germans, talk, in every newspaper and at every party,, about how much they hate Americans. (the idea is to build a united states of Europe, with Germans as the Washington DC. Thus, the US is the enemy)

    A survivor is a survivor.

    Oh, and I left my fundamentalist background for a while, while working for the church, because I was told that I had to lose weight and be more cheerful in my choirs or be fired. (While working two jobs, moving us to a smaller place, keeping two families running, and helping my husband get his health back after a serious health problem. I never lost my faith in God, but I no longer believe in churches and church made law.

    As to politics:
    I agree with you on medical. It has to be done, but Obama care is ridiculous. I have checked with doctor friends on this, and the answer is always, what program.

    And we have an unemployment and welfare problem. that should be first priority. Financial conservative, socially liberal. yup.

    As to the present election: anyone who runs against Hillary is fine with me. She wasn’t there when he needed her, stood like a statue and accepted, and rode his coattails the entire time. This, in my opinion, isn’t a real woman. Like I said, anyone but. At least so far.

    Ps. Glad to see so many thinking women on one page.
    PPS sorry this was so heavy. There are many many beautiful things in the world, if you look for them. WHich is probably why my blog is a humor blog.

    Like

    • It’s always interesting to see that despite commonalities, people can end up with such different perspectives. There are so many factors that go into forming our opinions and beliefs. It’s baffling we’ve managed to hold it together as a country.

      I don’t trust people who say they hate entire countries and its citizens. It sounds like creeping nationalism and simplistic thinking. We see a lot of that in this country – hatred directed towards entire swaths of people. It never works out well for anybody.

      As for Ms. Clinton, I am always amazed about the conversation that surrounds her candidacy. For hundreds of years, Washington politicians (mostly men) have abandoned, betrayed and neglected their spouses. And no one says boo about that.

      As for the PPACA, it was amazing that anything got done, flawed or not. I’m not surprised doctors know little about it, as mine barely makes eye contact before typing into the computer and handing me a printout in record time. Gotta love modern medicine.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and to share your thoughts. I love the comments here – so many viewpoints and life experiences!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Wow. That was NOT what I anticipated from the title. And I can’t express how much I loved it.
    Not understanding our biases and how our own histories push our choices, is a type of blindness we can’t afford any more. I know it’s graduate-level work in citizenship, but it’s either that or keep driving in the dark and running over kittens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was trying to sort out some ambivalent political feelings, but it ended up being more personal than political. But then, I’ve always believed that the personal informed the political. And that is where I see a disconnect with a lot of voters.

      I loved the last sentence of your comment – just perfect, Sandy.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Once again I am astounded by how clearly you articulate many of the same ideas and ideologies that terrify, amaze, and (however occasionally) delight me. The horrifying abyss of obsessive, jingoistic, self-righteous politics on the part of most individuals, whether the ones in power or the ones who put them there. The mystifying ability we all have to bypass and ignore logic and reason whenever it suits our tastes. And the astonishingly beautiful truth that most of us are still able to find things to like, love, admire, and nurture in each other in our own ways, seemingly despite all reason. We’re a mess. I am fearful and hopeless much of the time when considering the future of a world full of *us*. But when I come down off my various precipices of fear and distrust, I see the good people around me and think I’ve had a surprisingly soft landing: that must mean something positive, I say to myself.

    Your relentless railing against thoughtlessness and ignorance—that’s one of the comforting foundations on which I land.

    Thanks.
    Kathryn

    Like

    • Kathryn – I’m so sorry I missed this comment so long ago! I was reviewing some old posts and saw this. But it’s more relevant than ever! Things are getting might ugly and I find myself being more deliberate in seeking out the positive stories and reminding myself of the good in the world. Hope all is well and again, sorry for the delay (good grief – 6 months).

      Like

%d bloggers like this: