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April 7, 2016

Don't Polarize the Party

Political isolation leads to stunted conversations and stagnation

I was raised in a Republican household, which meant watching only Fox News, honoring my family’s shrine to Ronald Reagan, and worshipping Satan. At Christmastime, we sat in front of our TV screen nodding our heads at Bill O’Reilly’s snark while the liberal hippies conspired in their liberal-hippy vans to legalize cocaine and streak naked through our suburban streets to cry, “Anarchy!”

Wait, really? No.

I respect Bernie Sanders. I respect John Kasich. I believe in a minimum wage increase, gay marriage, pro-choice legislation, and strict gun laws. But I also don’t believe that the wealthy should be taxed more just because they make more money, and my views on foreign policy are fairly right of center. I’m a self-interested voter who prioritizes my views over anyone else’s. I’m a registered—brace yourself—Republican. Yes, our party has been infiltrated by bigots, racists, sexists, *and* Donald Trump. But I am still a Republican who deserves the respect and consideration I give to those whose views differ from my own. I am a Republican who despises Donald Trump but who doesn’t believe shutting down his rallies and denying assembly and free speech is the right plan.

I’m a self-interested voter. But stop and think: democracy is a system that prioritizes self-interest. Yes, it’s a system for the people, by the people, but each individual’s self-interest works against determining what’s really best for the majority. I’m pro-choice because I believe in a woman’s right to choose; as a woman, I’m pretty qualified to defend my right as a woman, regardless of what the majority of women want. Because I want the right to choose, I will vote for pro-choice legislation. My defense is self-interested. But what about the women who are pro-life because they believe in a woman’s responsibility to honor life? American journalist Norman Cousins once defined democracy as a gateway in which “the individual enjoys not only the ultimate power but carries the ultimate responsibility.” Democracy is about both choice and responsibility.  Some people vote for what is best for them, and some vote for what they believe is best for others. Who is to criticize the woman who votes to defend her own right to choose? Who is to criticize the woman who votes for the Republican candidate because the right to life is, in her eyes, best for the majority?

American politics has become dangerously polarizing. You’re either on one side or the other, and if you don’t pick one, you’re not taken seriously and lose credibility. The polarization is so isolating on college campuses that reasonable discourse between the two sides is either denied or frowned upon. I liked nearly every candidate’s Facebook page, including Donald Trump’s. When more than one person messaged me asking, “Are you aware that you liked Trump’s page?” I was pissed. I am not going to deny myself access to what candidates advertise just because I don’t agree with them; that’s dangerous. Beyond that, I felt attacked. When someone asks me, “Why do you watch Fox News?” I’m not going to shrug and play stupid—Megyn Kelly is a strong woman whom I look up to, and I don’t have to apologize for it just because she’s affiliated with a network people don’t like. I don’t believe in isolating myself politically—that’s exactly what extreme supporters have done.

I will not defend a racist and sexist candidate. Just because Trump aligns himself with my party does not mean I believe he’s fit to represent it. The GOP is not a breeding ground for racism and sexism; these ideologies exist independently of any political party and manifest differently in other spheres. If you voted in the primaries, great. But get out and vote in November. Celebrate with the people who share your self-interest, but don’t shame those who don’t.

Brooke White is a second-year in the College majoring in public policy and political science.

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