by Sara Clark ’22
I grew up in a world where George Bush could do no wrong. I remember celebrating his reelection on my fifth birthday, oblivious but excited because the right side had won. I spent his presidency dozing off on my living room couch after dinner, comforted by the familiar voice of Bill O’Reilly praising the leader of the free world.
When 2008 rolled around, my tiny state buzzed with energy as politicians and reporters began their quadrennial migration north for the New Hampshire primary. I was eager to take part in the election process, finally old enough to come up with ingenious nicknames for the people I heard about on TV, like Broccoli Obama.
I never learned to outright hate Obama, but after his election, I often heard trusted adults disparage everything from his policies to his personality. I remember having to explain to my college-educated parents that no, our president was not born in Africa, despite what their Facebook friends told them.
I’d like to clarify—my parents aren’t bad people. They didn’t indoctrinate me with their political beliefs. They simply sought to teach their children what they believed to be the truth. They taught me to think for myself, hoping I’d overcome my town’s “liberal” public school system and graduate as an upstanding conservative Christian citizen. But the more perspectives I was exposed to, the easier it became to cherry-pick the truth.
I began my quest for unbiased knowledge by learning all the ways I was lied to as a kid about The Greatest Country In The World. I figured that if I had been deceived about something as simple as Thanksgiving, I had to be misinformed about more pieces of the past. After diving deep into exposés of American history, I committed to reading the whole Bible in a year. I wanted to understand how it had been used to defend such atrocities as slavery and the oppression of women. Let me tell you, I found a lot of wild stuff in there that hadn’t made it into the VeggieTales version. When I got to the part about Jesus, I was comforted to know that the God that I serve cares for the underprivileged, confronts the hypocritical, and loves us all in spite of our failings. As I read the New Testament, I learned that as a Christian, I was called to love my neighbors, not judge them.
It didn’t add up. The news told me that we shouldn’t bother paying taxes to help our struggling community members and often questioned whether they deserved to be treated as equals. Jesus taught me the value of mercy and that helping those who needed it most was infinitely more important than condemning them. As I began to shape my parents’ faith into my own, I secretly rejected the political identity that I was born into.
I kept silent about my growing distrust and resentment of all things conservative. I bit my tongue listening to Rush Limbaugh on the car ride home from the beach the day gay marriage was legalized. I silently fumed in the face of pro-life proponents who failed to consider their role in the conditions that led to unwanted pregnancies in the first place. I heard the argument that “all lives matter” without storming up to my bedroom and slamming the door.
Like for so many Americans, November 8, 2016 was, for me, a day marked by deep-seated longing and premature celebration. Emboldened by favorable polls and faith in the American democratic system to make the obvious choice, I stopped holding back. That day, after my parents, aunts, and uncles cast their vote for You Know Who, I waited in high spirits for the moment they’d all be proved wrong.
Except my festering disdain for political ignorance and hypocrisy had left me impatient. I couldn’t wait any longer. When my parents recited the standard attack on Hillary and her emails, it burst out of me. I’d like to say that in that moment, I was composed and provided a reasoned explanation of my newfound beliefs so compelling that I easily tore down decades of misinformation and party allegiance.
Instead, I gloated over a victory that had seemed so tangible. I belittled my family and chose to look past the logic and life experiences that informed their understanding of the world. It was so much easier to look down on them as ignorant and ignore any validity to the “other” system of belief.
If she had won, I would’ve had the “I told you so moment” I’d dreamed of. If she had won, I would’ve never learned to separate my pride from politics. If she had won, I wouldn’t have seen through systemic party prejudices on both sides and sought open-mindedness in place of partisanship.
It was the humility and hope of her concession speech that inspired me to wipe my tears away and face my family. “This loss hurts,” she said, “but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it.” With her words of encouragement echoing in my mind, I resolved to resist the urge to swear my allegiance to one side or another. I decided to push others to do the same, especially when they responded to any pressure with a quote of their chosen party’s official stance.
Today, I am proud to say that I openly protest at the mere mention of Fox News. I debate with my dad and I lecture my mom about politics whenever I get the chance. I teach my little sister to question the opinions of others and seek the truth before forming her own thoughts. And honestly, things have changed. My parents no longer blindly support whatever the news tells them. They are more tolerant, skeptical, and are beginning to grasp the ways I see Christian values reflected more clearly in liberal policies than in conservative ones.
I’m still learning to pick my battles, and some days all my passion for independent thought feels futile. But it’s got to be better than mindlessly equating the Right with what’s right.