You owe your candidate nothing
Aside from having to pay attention to a bumbling reality TV star every day, the election of 2016 brought rise to another thing that upsets me greatly, and now you have to hear about it.
Political fandom is the reason everything sucks right now. You know, it’s the “Hillary is like your abuela” thing, the idea that Bernie Sanders is your grandpa, the horrifyingly sexual “Daddy Trump”, painting Tim Kaine as America’s dad and that Joe Biden is for some reason all of our uncles (I already have way too many uncles, thanks.)
I realize it probably doesn’t rock your world too much for me to point out that you are related to none of these people. Unless you are Barron Trump in which case, why are you using your unsupervised internet time to read this? There are boobs out there, man. Google it.
And maybe your response to this is “Anne, this is a joke, we’re all having fun here, can you please stop ruining everything all the time, don’t you always complain about how busy you are? How do you have time to rant about this?” Fair. But I still think it’s important to point out that these terms of endearment suggest an insidious inclination that exists in both conservatives and progressives alike: a commitment to personas that supplant a commitment to principles.
What’s dangerous about giving out these titles, even jokingly, is it arouses in us the unconditional love and loyalty to politicians that one should typically only afford their loving and supportive family. This sense of devotion has absolutely no place in the political sphere, no matter how lighthearted it may seem.
As an obnoxiously vocal leftist, I run into this most often with fans of Hillary Clinton. But clearly, this attitude exists in all camps, with Trump supporters being another highly visual example. Some people react with rage to any criticism of the person, however valid it may be, because they’ve pledged so much of this familial loyalty to a complete stranger, they take any criticism of said stranger to be a criticism of themselves.
It’s tempting to offer blanket defense and support of a politician because it’s easy. Political discourse is hard. Determining what you stand for is a largely personal decision that should be informed by our own unique experiences. This is exhausting and it absolutely is way easier to hear a few talking points from one guy and go “Oh, he’s me! I’m him! That’s it! I’m done thinking! He’s strong like my daddy or friendly like my uncle! Now all I have to worry about are which personal insults to hurl at the whoever doesn’t like my guy.”
But this isn’t sports. You should not buy a sticker or a jersey and then walk around going “I’m for whatever this person says!” If your discourse is completely centered around supporting a person, and working your way to a justification for what they do from there, you’re missing the point of being an educated member of a free democracy. You can absolutely believe and advocate for whatever speaks to your experience, regardless of whether it aligns with what the person you’re voting for says or does.
Politicians are our employees, and no matter how likable they are, and no matter how much of ourselves we see in them, we have to be able to critique them openly and harshly, like the self-interested, careerist, complete strangers that they are. Our country’s very existence is predicated on the notion that we, the regular people, are in charge. We cannot look to political figures as people who are owed loyalty. Every decision someone who holds office makes is a decision they should be held accountable for justifying. “Because I said so” is a fair thing for a parent to argue, it is not something an elected official should ever suggest. Though I imagine if you call Trump “dad” enough, that could begin to feel normal.
So, either you think using free prison labor is worthy of criticism or you don’t. But the attempts at justifying why it’s excusable for Hillary Clinton to have done this are misguided. Yes, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and our two party system forces us to make compromises at the ballot box. But the election is over, and we don’t owe her anything. Most importantly, you can still like her and admit what she wrote, and did, wasn’t great. I mean, really, the movement she’s made on this issue has been a direct result of public pressure. So trying now to spare her criticism only serves to let future candidates know this is an issue you don’t think matters all that much.
Similarly, there’s no argument for being pro-woman, pro-family values, or pro-middle class, while simultaneously defending the fact that Donald Trump is a notorious womanizer and con-artist. But I really cannot imagine a vocal Trump supporter outside my immediate family reading anything I write, so that’s all I’ll say, dad.
These figures should be earning your support by demonstrating a commitment to principles you already care about, not claiming it by default because you like them. And yes, I do enjoy pushing this giant boulder up this hill for all of eternity, it’s great for my arms, why do you ask?
No politician is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Not everyone has to have lived a perfectly moral life to be a progressive. And you don’t have to align 100% with every person you vote for in a two party system. But you can disagree with the things your parents do and still love them, and you can continue to root for your home team even when they’re insisting on being the New York Knicks. But doing logical back flips over your core values to justify the unapologetic actions of a politician you like doesn’t mean you can move in with them if you lose your job. It simply means you’re helping a powerful and influential person avoid accountability.
Unless it’s Barack Obama, who is perfect.