As the midterm elections drew near earlier this week, I began to feel excitement to participate in my first major election – I was one among the many who weren’t eligible to participate in the 2016 presidential election.
However, among all the expectation and anticipation, I’ve discovered the unsettling implications of partisan politics. Discussions among friends in person and on social media often turn vile, with very little positive sentiments being expressed about politicians or the state of our country. And although I find many of the issues facing our country as troubling as ever, I mourn the loss of civil discourse.
I had the pleasure of participating in the “Better Angels” workshop on campus that aimed to explore the partisan rift. “Better Angels” formed in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election with the goal to increase dialogue and decrease the effects of political polarization. I sat in a room of 16 students, divided equally into self-identified pools of “red” and “blue” voters. We talked about stereotypes of the political right and left in our country, examined what informs our beliefs and criticized our own “sides” of the political spectrum. It was refreshing to meet peers who care deeply for our country, yet can maintain a polite and informed conversation. The workshop clearly defined that the purpose was not to change our minds, but rather to allow us the opportunity to listen and understand why others think the way they do.
“Remember to contribute positively to the discourse that surrounds the election.” – Jonah Schmitz ’21
After the workshop, I realized how much I benefited from a couple hours of honest and civil discussion. Despite a passion for politics, I find my own personal anxieties about being impolite or discourteous tend to dissuade me from chatting public affairs with my friends. Because I feel that polarized discussion has hurt so many in the last decade of American politics, I believe our campus (and our country) has much to gain from the sentiment behind “Better Angels.” I realize many of my friends hold their convictions deeply, and they might feel that to acknowledge views of the “other” can be hurtful, problematic or just simply infeasible. But, I must acknowledge my own experience and the unique perspective it brings.
I come from a politically split household, where my parents routinely vote on opposite sides of the ticket. When it comes to the reds and blues of modern American politics, I like to think of myself as a purple child. Growing up, I was always encouraged to engage in politics and activism. My family history includes immigration and military service, which I think has been a big motivation for me to be a mindful participant in public affairs.
However, my parents took steps to reinforce that although they may differ on some political issues, their commitment to family and country always came first. Many have asked my parents how they “do it,” how they are together despite being registered for opposite political parties. My parents didn’t allow their political affiliations to permeate family life: they agreed to never make donations to political organizations, to never put signs in our yard or attend political rallies. Instead, they always took us to vote, and both parents invited me to attend their respective political caucuses in the 2016 primaries.
The big picture I want to share is to encourage folks always vote when they can, but to remember to contribute positively to the discourse that surrounds the election. I think if we operate with the understanding that those who vote deeply care about the country, we will start to get a better understanding of those who may vote differently. Whether you voted red, blue or purple, I hope we can all remember to courageously engage in civil conversation with our neighbors who fall at different points across the political spectrum.
Jonah Schmitz ‘21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Rogers, Minn. His major is Music.