Eight years ago I witnessed the culmination of what I assumed would be the most epic presidential campaign ever. I was so, so very wrong. Here are nine things that I’ve learned from this year’s disaster of a civics lesson.
1. Every candidate is flawed.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone described this election as choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Every election is a choice among flawed candidates. It’s typical that all the major candidates will be deeply flawed. This year, one candidate is flawed in remarkable, breath-taking ways. The other has been caricatured as evil for three decades. However, we need to stop pretending that before 2016 there was always at least one wholly good candidate.
2. Donald Trump has forced white evangelicals to experience the tension black Christians have felt for decades.
There are two words I’ve hesitated to use to describe myself, even when accurate: conservative and evangelical. These words have become synonymous with Republican ideology. I strongly disagree with Republican politics and policy. However, I am a Bible-believing, gospel-loving Christian. I am conservative on a handful of social issues: family, sexuality, and reproduction. On most others, progressive politics and policies usually better reflect my views. As a result, I’ve always felt a tension between politics and faith. This tension is not uncommon within the African American community. Sadly, it’s taken a failed real-estate mogul turned presidential candidate to help my white brothers and sisters empathize.
3. My vote is too precious for me to let someone bully me into violating my conscience.
Black votes are precious. We needed a whole constitutional amendment just to get them. It took another 100 years, marches, protests, blood, sweat, and dead bodies to actually use them. Getting us into the voting booth has been more costly than for any other ethnic group in this country. Knowing this, how can let talking heads bully me into using this precious gift to violate my conscience? We’re told that we’re shaming the ancestors if we abstain. We’re told that we’re immature and unrealistic if we don’t vote for one of the two major candidates. What’s the point in having a vote if we don’t get to use it to do what we believe is right? If we’re restricted from voting for half the people on the ballot, do we truly have the franchise at all?
4. Abortion is one of the most important issues, and at the same time one of the least important.
Abortion is an issue of valuing life, and I’d be a hypocrite to shout “Black Lives Matter!” but ignore the brutal murder of millions of children in this country. How can I claim to worship the giver and sustainer of life and be OK with such government sanctioned carnage? Abortion is perhaps the weightiest ill our society faces. However, my experience teaches me that it’s not as much of an issue in our elections as we think. In my nearly three decades on this earth the so-called anti-abortion party has dominated politics. Guess what’s still legal. Abortion. It makes me wonder, are our politicians really trying to save children and help women? What if they just want to get more votes and campaign funds?
5. Racism, xenophobia, religious bigotry, bullying, inciting violence, fraud, and advocating for injustice are all OK as long as you don’t touch white women.
Every-day citizens and even political and religious leaders were OK with Trump for months. One evangelical leader went as far as to offer a painfully twisted argument for why voting for the Donald was not just OK, but actually Christian. Then the Billy Bush tape came out. Suddenly, Trump became radioactive. None of the other things he’s said and done made him an unacceptable candidate for them. Attacking war heroes was OK. Lying about the criminality of black people and stoking Alt-Right race hatred was OK. Mocking the disabled was OK. Calling Mexicans rapists was OK. It was all OK until he threatened the golden calf of American decency: white women.
By the way, I in no means want to imply that what he said was OK mitigate the outrage against his words.
6. As a 20-something (I’m yet holdin’ on) black male, I don’t matter to our society.
What have we gotten in this campaign? A sound bite or two? I’ve heard speeches, seen news clips, watched debates, and viewed convention coverage. I still don’t know real-life, on-the-ground things either candidate will do to protect me from the police. I still don’t know what they’re going to do to get more young people of color – especially black males – involved in the booming tech industry. Are both these candidates going to sit by while white entrepreneurs make billions off the same marijuana plant that has sent scores of black men away to prison? Does either candidate have a plan to re-enfranchise the many citizens – disproportionately black, brown, male, and poor citizens – who have payed their debit to society and deserve a say in how they are governed? Put simply, does either candidate see me as more than another vote?
7. I love God’s family.
A lot of “Christians” have made me want to weep tears of sorrow, but many have also made me lift up shouts of joy. This year, I’ve been introduced to more and more white gospel-loving Christians who are not afraid to speak up against injustice. Not all share my political views, but they do share something deeper: a love for Jesus and for people. I’m encouraged to know that there are people who don’t look like me and who don’t vote like me, but who care about me. I’m encouraged to see other young people of color who are fed up with the foolishness from both major parties and demand a better way forward. I’m encouraged by pastors and preachers – black, white, Latino, and Asian – who have faithfully preached the gospel and have not hesitated to use it to shine a light on our deep racial ills. This year I learned I don’t just belong to a faith tradition, I belong to an eternal family.
8. I will never look at government and politics the same way again.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve strongly aligned with one political party. I rooted for that party in middle school. I went to their rallies in high school. I voted for them when I became an adult. I’ll probably still vote for many candidates from that party. I’ll probably stay registered as a member of that party. However, my allegiance to that party is weaker now than it has ever been. It’s not because my opinions have changed, it’s because my perspective has changed. Parties are shaky, God is stable. I’d rather my anchor hold in a more solid rock.
9. I want Jesus to return.
One of these two major candidates is going to be president. We’ll probably survive either one. I’m relatively confident that one of them will do at least a mediocre job, maybe even a good job. Still, I haven’t looked forward to any election less than this one. I have a feeling that the more I learn and grow, the stronger that unsatisfied feeling will get. It’s not because Donald Trump is crazy. It’s not because I can’t trust Hillary Clinton. It’s because no president can lead America to a place that will satisfy me. For that, we need Jesus.