I’m admittedly a bit of a political news junkie. Raised by proud, engaged, straight-ticket Democrats, I would be thrilled with Hillary, or even Bernie, as our next President. You’ll hear me audibly crying if a Republican were to win. Whether it is a city council election or a presidential one, I vote because I give a shit about what happens in my city and state, our country, and around the world.
With that backdrop, the current events in DC and the campaign trail have me riveted. Recently, on the evening when Congressman Kevin McCarthy announced he was withdrawing as the successor to Speaker of the House John Boehner, I was channel flipping the news while my son was getting ready for bed. He came into the living room as I was watching footage of the woman in Las Vegas who ran onstage during a Trump campaign stop. She was frantically clutching a People magazine cover of The Donald yelling, “I am Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump!!!!” with the same enthusiasm as my niece at last year’s One Direction concert. You can’t make this stuff up.
My son turns to me and asks, “Who IS that guy?” with an expression like he just smelled a rotten banana. I told him about Trump: real estate, The Apprentice, beauty pageants, running for President, leading the polls, blah blah… I turned back to the television and there was an image of a mansion on fire with bold letters shouting “The GOP House is Burning.”
I consume my news in a variety of media formats and typically won’t watch the news with my son because you never know what may be reported. But, in this case, I saw it as a teachable moment about our nation’s political process.
My little man at 10 years old was genuinely interested in what was going on, who I was voting for, who I didn’t like, and why. He wanted to know what politicians actually did once they were elected (snort). I don’t know how exactly, but I managed to answer in a way that kept him interested and asking more questions. I concluded with a message about the importance of voting.
In my mind, the conversation in our jammies while sitting comfortably on the couch went something like this:
“Son, I’m so glad you asked. [Mom holds coffee mug with two hands.] Come closer and listen carefully. Some of these guys are whackos and the rest I just strongly disagree with. Between the 42 republican candidates, they want to build a giant fucking wall – A WALL! – along the southern border. They will take away access to women’s health services, the kind that your mommy uses. They want to deny your friend with two daddies their marriage, never tighten gun laws, and proclaim the environment is just fine by looking out their perched windows on a sunny day. That’s bullshit. Ya know the public school you go to that we both love? They think it’s bad news. Single moms like me are destroying the fabric of this country. Last but not least, they say less taxes for big companies is good for everyone, meanwhile I’m gut punched each year on April 15; as well as behind schedule for college and retirement savings. Also, Reagan. In conclusion, son, please start voting in eight years and in every election ever until you die. Now go to bed, sweetie.”
Okay, the conversation may have sounded a little different than that, but you get my point and so did he.
Contrast the evening news of that night to this week’s Democratic debate, which I consumed with as much interest as football fans watching a playoff game. What some deem “boring” is, in fact, shorter than a football game AND a rare moment when the electorate – that’s us, people – is delivered first-hand, substantive discussion in a relatively unscripted format on policy that impacts real American families. We get to hear directly from the candidates instead of through the filtered sound bytes of the media.
A statement by Bernie Sanders in the early minutes of the debate resonated with me, and I wish it would with the non-voters out there. He said, “The Republicans win when there is low voter turnout and that is what happened last November. Sixty-three percent of Americans didn’t vote. Eighty percent of young people didn’t vote.”
Young, old, left, right or undeclared…I don’t understand the pervasive apathy about our political process. I really don’t. And now we have Trump leading the polls. He should only be on the cover of People for that “You’re Fired!” show but instead he’s on the cover of Time with the somebody-had-to-do-it caption, “You’re Hired!” George W. Bush now looks like a moderate. Thanks, America.
And thanks, GOP, for the teachable moment. I used it to impart to my son that we have a responsibility as citizens to be informed and engaged. We need to think critically for ourselves and be educated as voters because it matters now and for future generations. When we don’t participate, the fringes take over and we precipitously lose our way as a nation.
If a 10 year old can understand that, surely the millions of non-voting adults across America can understand it too, right?