A new president will take office in a few days in a ceremony that has been repeated every four years, give or take, for more than 200 years, and people around the world will watch (or not) in unprecedented disbelief. How it happened and how it turns out will long be analyzed in political science textbooks.
But I don’t think it’s premature for every voter to do some serious navel-gazing: why did I vote the way I did? Here’s some click-bait for you: we didn’t need a woman president. But that doesn’t mean what you think it means, because neither did we need a black man. Or a Hispanic. Or, before a crowd comes after me with pitchforks, a rich white guy.
Here’s why. I live in a large and culturally diverse school district. I pass one of the district’s more than 75 elementary schools on a busy intersection on my way to church. Next to the school is parked a cheery yellow school bus that serves as a billboard advertising for bus drivers. On the side of the bus is a carefully posed banner: a sampler platter of a dozen or so smiling children and teens, almost comical in its carefully intentional diversity. I think if I were the parent of the kid in the wheelchair, I might resent them displaying my child to say “See? We have those.” Funny how contrived inclusion can feel a lot like marginalization.
I guess the purpose is to have as many people as possible look at the advertisement and see someone who looks like them. I get it. But you would be hard-pressed to find a group similarly comprised on any bus in the district. It’s trying so hard to be right, it’s wrong. The implication seems to be that the best way to attract people is to hold up a mirror.
But the reason for intentionally getting to know people who don’t look like us should not be so that we can check them off a list like we’re buying school supplies. It should be that we might otherwise miss out on knowing some awesome people.
People. Multi-dimensional people who are more alike than they are different. People who are more than their category, people who fit multiple categories, people who will not be categorized. People whose category doesn’t do them justice. And even people who don’t think much of your category.
Back to the election: Sometimes it’s hard to separate candidates’ experience, visions, and qualifications from the circumstances that preceded their birth — who they are vs. what they are, their integrity vs. their category. Refusing to accept someone based on the latter is considered bigotry, and rightly so; however, rallying around a person for the same reason is somehow considered at least patriotic, if not obligatory. I think both viewpoints are nearsighted.
Whether it’s a friend, a spouse, or a candidate, we’d better choose our allegiances wisely and look deeper than issues of birthright — race, gender, heritage. Selecting “one of those” or even “one of us” for no other good reason is risky and a little bit lazy.
But as divisive as it can be around a holiday dinner table, politics may be a natural arena in which to have these discussions — especially this year, when almost every political comment is punctuated with head-wagging incredulity, and it’s hard for anybody to pretend they totally saw it coming. The birthright philosophy gets tricky when you take it personally to heart, and trickier still when you take it to church — a place where “us” and “them” should seldom be heard. So maybe we can just put down the mirrors and the pitchforks and stop trying so hard to get it right that we get it all wrong.